Understanding Teens and Cutting (Part 1)

cutting and teenagersTo parents, cutting is a scary and baffling trend. However, for many of our teens, it’s a desperate way of coping with pressures and emotions that are difficult to define.

Cutting is a form of self-harm that has seen an alarming rise in the past decade or two. The initial reaction to learning that someone you know is engaging in self-harm is shock, confusion, and even fear. But it’s important to understand a few basic things about cutting, so that you can find productive reactions and solutions.

1: It’s Not the Same as Attempted Suicide

The vast majority of the time, cutting has nothing to do with suicidal tendencies. This is a major mistake that most people make at first. For the majority of patients, cutting isn’t about ending one’s own life; it’s an attempt to feel better. Confusing the two behaviors is a mistake. Cutting isn’t usually a cry for help. Most likely, teens will hide self-harmful behavior as much as possible, and be ashamed and alarmed when they’re discovered.

However, cutting can still be life-threatening. It’s a sign of severe emotional trauma that can eventually lead to suicide, and it can break down the barriers most of us have otherwise to protect us from fatal self-harm.

2: It’s an Emotional Self-Regulation Strategy

…albeit a bad one. But since it is usually effective in helping teens moderate out-of-control emotions, it can be addictive, repetitive, and very difficult to end. It can be a struggle that lasts through years and years of serious work. There are two common profiles that we see in those who cut themselves. One: a teen has far too many emotions, and cuts in order to achieve a removal from oneself and a way to focus pain and attention on something different. Two: a teen is already feeling far too removed from their own emotions and body, and they cut in order to experience something.

Many teens have a hard time understanding their own feelings. Those who are eager to please and accommodating to others sometimes make the mistake of undervaluing or trying desperately to hide “negative” emotions like anger, fear, sadness, depression, and self-esteem issues. Cutting gives them a way to make emotional pain physical instead. It can provide validation and a feeling of control.

The vast majority of patients who exhibit self-harmful behavior fall under these two categories. Very seldom, cutting is a cry for help, a form of self-punishment, or a flirtation with suicide.

Come back in a couple weeks’ time for more that you should know about cutting.

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