Do you know any relatives, friends or colleagues who have habitual “cuts” on their arms, legs or other parts of their body? They may be suffering from an emotional disorder called “cutting”—an attempt at bodily mutilation that is the physical sign of an emotional release.
Despite its appearance, cutting is not usually intended to do grievous bodily harm. It typically doesn’t represent a suicidal tendency or desire. Youngsters, especially teenage girls, perform this self-abuse as an escape from a deeply felt trauma.
Females are more prone to cutting than males. As Dr. Drew Pinsky, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California Medical School noted, “Men act out, and women act in.” When stressed and irrational, “men go out and do violent things, while women tend to perpetrate violence against themselves.”
Dr. Pinsky says cutting is often “not a cry for help.” As a rule, individuals who cut themselves know it’s “wrong” and they usually hide it, cutting in places normally covered by clothing, such as on their thighs or inner arms. “Often,” he says, “parents don’t know about it for years.”
Typically, cutting is usually seen among youngsters between 9 and 14 (although people in their 20s and 30s may be cutters as well), and teenagers usually know someone who cuts. Observers of teenage trends say that the practice is an accepted part of the “Goth” culture, popular among youngsters and young adults. Dr. Wendy Lader, a psychiatrist who works with a Chicago-based treatment program for self-injurers called SAFE (Self Abuse Finally Ends), says, “Self-injury is definitely a coping strategy for unhappy kids. Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers.”
A study conducted by researchers at Yale University reported that 54 percent of the 10 to 14 year old girls they interviewed reported engaging in cutting at some point in their life. Researchers have also found that cutters cannot be stereotyped.
One might think that the lonely outsiders, the kids called ‘losers’ would be ideal candidates for cutting. But this stereotype isn’t usually accurate for girls. In fact, a girl who is very popular, very pretty, active, smart (your “ideal” teen) may in fact be the girl at greatest risk for cutting herself.
Although self-injury can be a symptom for serious psychiatric problems like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, many youngsters who cut themselves are “regular kids” seeking self-identity or blaming themselves for a trauma in their past.
Cutting is a behavior not unlike drug use. And like drug use, it can be dangerous, not only to a youngster’s physical well-being but also to his or her short- and long-term emotional well-being. I think it’s crucial to address the problem and the underlying events.
When we can understand the causes of someone cutting, and why cutting has become the coping mechanism of choice, we can collaborate on healthier methods of coping. With healthier coping skills, healing can truly begin.
For further information regarding cutting and its treatment, please contact:
The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping
Tel: (516) 822-3131