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Who Cuts and Why
Christine M.

A: Self abuse is anything that injures a person's own body or mind. Some people find self abuse releases feelings that otherwise they couldn't stand.

Self abuse is more common among people who have been abused before. Often with people who have been abused, there's a dissociative process where what's happening to them is so horrific that they can't emotionally stick around. Their mind separates from their body during the abuse. Over time it gives you a relationship to your body that has a certain distance to it, not as if your body isn't real, but as if it isn't yours. It's easier to hurt yourself if you are detached from your body.

Teens who self-mutilate also often come from families where negative emotions aren't expressed so they don't know how to express pain or sadness. Cutting may be a way to release those negative, intense emotions when they get unbearable. They may find cutting grounding, as well. It brings them back into their bodies and a sense of self. It makes them feel more real. It turns emotional pain into physical pain. Sometimes when people cut they are drawing a line between what happened before and now.

Q: As a therapist, how do you help someone who abuses herself?

A: The thing about self-mutilation is it does work in the short-term, because it makes the person feel better, so it takes a long time for someone to stop self abusing. But it's absolutely necessary that self-mutilation does stop. It's dangerous.

I believe that when you understand something, you can have mastery over it. So I'm interested in understanding the feelings and thoughts and past relationships that cause a person to self abuse. Learning self soothing techniques is also important to helping someone stop.

image by YC-Art Dept

Q: How should friends react to an individual's self abuse?

A: A lot of times when someone cuts they'll tell other people they've done it. People who hear about it may feel helpless, because the self-abuse already happened and it's very frightening. So they may be mad or horrified or feel they've been manipulated.
I think it's really important when someone says they're self abusing to express concern, and let that person know that because you care about them, you can't let them continue doing this. People who self abuse need help, and it's sometimes important for them to be reminded that feelings pass, they don't last forever. They need to learn how to manage horrible feelings by distracting themselves instead of abusing themselves.

Q: What can a self abuser do to help herself?

A: Get help, and find different ways to soothe yourself. Exercise, cooking, washing dishes. Many self abusers find meditation helpful because it grounds them. Most people find it difficult to harm their body if they feel attached to it. If you do cut again, you have to consider it a lapse, not a relapse. Just because you have an episode of self abusing once, doesn't mean that you have to keep doing it.

-Reporting by Christine M.

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