By Beka Mullins, M.A., LPC | Contributor
As parents, we have heard of cutting and fear that our children or their friends might try doing it. Here are the facts behind five common myths about cutting:
MYTH #1 | Cutting is the only type of self-harm
Cutting is thought to be the most common of many forms of self-harm. Self-harming behavior occurs any time a person intentionally inflicts pain on him/herself or damages his/her body without the intent of suicide. It can include cutting, burning, bruising by hitting the body or an object, or inserting objects under the skin.
MYTH #2 | Cutting isn’t a common problem
According to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 6 adolescents have engaged in self-harming behaviors. It’s a topic of conversation among students as young as 11 and impacts teens of every race, gender, and socio-economic status. A quick search online yields an alarming amount of information both promoting and discouraging self-harm. While YouTube and social media sites are making an effort to put content advisory warnings in place and remove triggering content, you don’t have to try very hard to find it.
MYTH #3 | Cutting is a suicide attempt
Students who use self-harm may also have suicidal thoughts, but the two are separate issues. Cutting is actually what some people use to keep from killing themselves. It is a way, albeit an unhealthy way, of coping with overwhelming emotions or a way to feel something when a person feels numb emotionally. It provides a sense of release when a teen doesn’t know how to cope or when she feels out of control.
MYTH #4 | Cutting is attention-seeking behavior and should be ignored
Most youth who self-harm are more likely to hide the behavior from the people closest to them than they are to use it to gain attention. For many, shame and guilt are intertwined in the act of cutting, and it is a very personal matter.
While we’re on the subject, can we erase that response to attention-seeking behavior from our minds? If a teen is acting out, and especially if he is willing to physically hurt himself, in order to get someone’s attention, a problem exists that should not be ignored. The youth may need additional support and guidance, or he may need to seek help from a mental health professional.
MYTH #5 | A person should be able to stop cutting without any problem
Unfortunately, this is not often the case. If you simply take away cutting, you have not taken away the underlying problem of overwhelming emotions and a lack of healthy coping skills. Most likely, if the teen does stop cutting, she will simply replace it with another unhealthy way of coping because the root of the problem is still causing significant distress.
Even as healthier coping skills are learned, it can still be a challenge to stop cutting. Because of the way our brain works, when we find a method of dealing with emotions that works well, our brain will turn to that method with increasing frequency each time there is a problem. The more a person cuts, the more it becomes their go-to response. Add to that the rush of endorphins that are released every time we injure ourselves, and you have a potentially addictive combination. For some, cutting becomes more about the rush (similar to a “runner’s high”) they feel when they injure themselves than it is about coping. Thankfully, self-injury is not the only way we can experience that rush of endorphins.
If you are concerned that someone you know is cutting, it’s important to talk to them in a calm, non-confrontational manner. Ask them about their experience, listen, and express empathy. Then make an appointment with a mental health professional.
Editor’s Note: Beka Mullins is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern supervised by Robin Rice, M.Ed., LPC-S. Beka works with children and teens helping them develop skills to live life with resilience. She works with an outstanding team at The Counseling Place in Richardson. www.counselingplace.org