Parents, any child can become a cutter. Cutting is not a new epidemic. Cutting is not a problem you can just medicate away. Cutting is not a problem you can let fix itself. And I'm sorry to tell you that if your child starts cutting themselves, you have already ignored their problems long enough. Given the nonsense I've just read courtesy of ABC news, I'd like to debunk a few outrageous myths about cutting. These myths ignore the root problems that incite self-harm and cause more damage than you can imagine.
Teenagers do not cut themselves because they saw it on YouTube. The problem is not YouTube.
Cutting is just one form of self-harm. Usually, it happens the first time by accident. Leg or face shaving, cooking, using a utility blade for some completely innocent chore. Those people who become cutters do not just stumble upon news or video of the act and decide it's the thing to do. Your children deserve more credit than that. They fully understand the gravity of the act.
Posting these videos on YouTube is a global cry for help. In fact, we should be grateful for them. Looking to YouTube to shut down the videos under guise of prevention is foolish and just one more instance of the world ignoring a legitimate problem that is looking for an answer. Cutters are savy enough to keep the problem hidden until they're ready for help. Every cutter has or will eventually try to find help somehow, either by letting their scars show or asking for bandages or leaving blood on an article of clothing or in the sink. Posting the videos on YouTube is just another roundabout way to let somebody, anybody know that they need and want help.
Cutters tend to be very, very smart.
Cutters are often so intelligent and so creative that they don't fit in as well as others do, and are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed as having ADHD. This is particularly dangerous, because then parents begin by telling their children that something is wrong with them and these pills will make it better. As that wears on the self-esteem, soon antidepressants are necessary. And soon enough, pre-cutters start to understand that even with pills to be normal and pills to be happy, they aren't happy. The problem must be themselves. And that's when the self-hate begins.
Cutters do not cut because they hang with the wrong crowd, wear the wrong clothes, or listen to the wrong music. That is completely backwards. ANYBODY can be a cutter.
Humans are social animals. We seek out other people who share similar opinions. Cutters do not self-harm because of peer pressure. Just as fashionistas and Biebettes and cooks and knitters tend to hang out with other people of the same ilk, cutters are people that will sometimes hang out with other people in similar mental positions who may also currently or eventually turn to self-harm as a means to cope.
It's very easy to think that anybody that wears black or listens to Siouxsie Sioux is a cutter because it's part of the culture. This sort of backwards thinking, again, ignores the root of the problem and will only exacerbate it. Sometimes you feel so different, so unable to feel happiness that you don't feel like wearing colors. Sometimes teenagers wear black because other people wear black and it's really nice to feel like you belong somewhere. Human, social animals also tend to listen to music that we can relate to. Songs about being pumped about that first kiss or hitting the dance clubs stopped being relatable to cutters a long time ago. So the morose, the macabre, the sad songs of the gothic genre start to become relatable. Nobody just listens to emo music and is suddenly compelled to go carve up their legs.
In fact, let's not keep this strictly to young people. Anybody in any situation, any demographic, any relationship or occupation can self-mutilate. Cutting needs no equal employment acts. Full-time working moms can cut because they are overwhelmed by all the duties of working outside the home and trying to be a good mother when they get home at night. Stay-at-home moms who spend day after day washing the same towels and vacuuming the same floors, can start to resent their children, feel guilty, and cut to cope. It's very easy to think that this issue only affects people who wear too much black eyeliner. In reality, it's not that easy to spot. It could be your best friend. There are plenty of places on the adult body that aren't noticable. Just like the most together of people can be alcoholics, just like the most grounded of people can be prescription drug addicts, anybody can be a cutter.
Cutting doesn't just happen overnight.
Cutters spend many days and many nights not being happy before they start cutting. They start to feel different. They start to feel like they're missing something critical. Like there's something wrong with them, some missing piece that enables happiness. They start to lose touch with things they should be able to relate to. They stop caring about magazines, or news, or gossip. They start to feel guilty for not feeling happy. They stop joking, they stop smiling easily, they stop being interested in things they used to enjoy. If this sounds at all like the warning signs for depression, you're absolutely right. Cutting is just a symptom. Parents of cutters usually say "I knew she hadn't been happy for a long time but I never imagined this." Bingo. Children should be happy. If they aren't happy for long periods of time, you need to stop hoping the problem will take care of itself, be the parent and take action.
Attention all you mothers out there who have suffered from post-partum depression: You are all intelligent, capable, independent women. Surely I don't have to tell you how illogical depression is. How unlike yourself you felt. How you were moved to think and feel and maybe even do things that you would have never imagined yourself doing. Though cutting might feel beyond you, the depression that causes the cutting is not.
When you are injured, your body sends a rush of adrenaline to get you up and the hell out of harm's way. When you are so depressed, when you feel so broken, so different, so far from happy, so far from feeling anything, suddenly feeling that adrenaline reminds you that you are alive. It brings you back like a slap in the face and for a short time, you remember what it was like when you were normal. Finally having the control to feel again is where the danger lies. That control is the key to all self-harming tendencies: anorexia, bulimia, pulling hair out, pulling eyelashes out, alcohol and drug abuse...even overly promiscuous behavior. The act doesn't make you happy. But suddenly having the control to make yourself feel differently does. Cutting is scary-looking, sure (blood belongs on the inside). But it's no different than dashing to the bathroom and vomiting up your meals or using your sexuality to feel valuable temporarily or needing half a bottle of wine before you can face the needs of your family. In fact, in this way, cutting is the most blatant means of asking for help.
Cutters usually start with self-hate. They want to punish themselves for not being able to feel the happiness that the rest of the world seems to feel. But once they start to feel the adrenaline and the control of the cut, they develop a reward system. "When I feel miserable, when I hate myself the most, I can make myself feel alive again."
They do not do it because they actually want to kill themselves...yet.
Cutting is therapy, and if that's all the person needs, then that's as far as it will go. But the same self-hate and the same need for control that brought about the cutting can evolve into thoughts of suicide. Again, cutting doesn't become a suicide. But the root of the problem that caused the cutting can cause even further self-harm. This is why just stopping the cutting or putting teenagers under constant supervision is like just cleaning up the flood. If you don't figure out what's happening upstream, the banks are just going to keep spilling over, and the damage will only get worse and worse. Medication is not The Answer. Though medication may have its role, only professionally-guided and consistent cognitive therapy is the answer. Where did these feelings start, what triggers them, and what techniques other than cutting are realistic to cope with them.
The urge to cut never goes away.
Ask any recovered alcoholic if they ever think about alcohol. When things get really bad, do they ever think about having a drink? Absolutely. That doesn't mean they do. But they think about it. Once you realize cutting as a means to cope, it will always be in your head. Of course, many recovering cutters will go for years, decades, and hopefully the rest of their lives without doing it again. But the thinking patterns don't often change. Cutters have to find inspiration, self-love, and other means of feeling alive and dealing with the overall depression, the miserable self image, the guilt, and the self-hate. They have to learn the skills to fill the emptiness...just like anybody that has ever felt depressed or turned to any self-destructive behavior. And in times of desperation...after the birth of a baby, extreme stress, death of a loved one...they hope in earnest that they've learned what it takes to not hurt themselves again.
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