I recently discovered that my daughter has been cutting herself. I’ve tried to let her know how much this concerns me, but she’s very sensitive and perceives this as criticism. Do you think we can work this out between ourselves, or is that a naïve assumption?
Answer: We’re sorry to learn about your daughter’s struggles. With great sensitivity, let us say yes, it’s naïve to assume you can handle this alone. Cutting is a serious problem, usually with complicated underlying causes. You should insist that your daughter get professional help. In fact, it would be best if counselling involved the entire family.
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In the meantime, it might help to understand what’s going on in your daughter’s mind. Cutting is often a response to overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression. Cutters basically want control. If a teen is being abused or hurt by someone else, cutting may represent an attempt to “release” the pain through bleeding. She may also be trying to “drown it out” by incurring even more intense suffering upon herself. Cutting can also be a way of expressing anger—by taking it out on oneself rather than running the risk of exposing it to others.
In every instance, cutting is a coping mechanism, a method of managing pain. The cutter can’t be set free from this self-destructive habit until she finds a way to replace cutting with a healthy coping mechanism. Because of this, it’s a mistake to interpret cutting as a suicide attempt. The cutter isn’t trying to kill herself. Rather, she’s groping for a way to get through life.
Finally, cutting can be addictive due to the endorphin rush that normally accompanies the body’s self-healing process. For this and many other reasons, we urge you to solicit the help of a counsellor.
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