Teen Self-injury or Cutting

Updated on May 20, 2008
M.F. asks from Sterling, VA
23 answers

I need advise from parents who have experienced a kind of situation regarding teen cutting. We got a call yesterday from the school counselor that our daugther is cutting herself. We are very concerned and confused of what's going on with her. I didn't know this is pretty common and we read the following in the internet: Most parents don’t have a clue that their teenager is cutting. It occurs most often with girls/women between the ages of 13 and 30.
Cutting -- when teens intentionally use sharp objects to create cuts on their arms, legs, or other body parts -- appears to be occurring more often, especially among teenage girls. It's a secret and a great shame. Some patients never bring it up. It's very probably beyond what people would report in their practices. Most of the time you would think that people would pick it up, but not necessarily. It's very rarely picked up during the winter because clothing can disguise the syndrome. Once you get into summer though, people start to see the scars. In many cases, people mistakenly think these kids are seeking attention. But they're very often very shameful of what they've done. There are several hypotheses about why teens cut. They may experience it as a release of emotional pain or, conversely, they might do it as a way to feel anything instead of numbness. Whatever the reason, teens are turning to cutting to cope with emotional problems.

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So What Happened?

Thanks to all of you. Your responses are very, very helpful. We spoke to the school counselor to get a better understanding of the situation. The School recommended to see a therapist at the school for evaluation. We decided to go outside the school and found a doctor in our area who treats this type of behavior and have the appointment for this week. Our daugther (14) is receptive to get help.

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T.W.

answers from Washington DC on

My daughter is going through the same exact problem right now. We are just getting to see a psychiatrist. The wait list everywhere I look is very long. have you had the same problem? I can't see anyone until the end of this month or June 18th.

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T.C.

answers from Washington DC on

I used to do this when I was a teenager; my parents never knew. I was intensely ashamed of it. I was a straight-A student and a classic overachiever, but I was dealing with some pretty serious depression at the time.

Your daughter needs to see a good shrink. Unfortunately, good psychiatrists often do not participate with medical insurance plans, because the reimbursement rate is so low (much lower than for "regular" medical doctors--an example of bias in health care, but don't get me started). She may need meds; don't rule it out. And then a good therapist. I can recommend Douglas Heinrichs, in Ellicott City, for psychiatry, and Ruth Stemberger, in Severna Park, as a terrific therapist. Feel free to e-mail me off-line if you want some more background.--T. content

p.s. I also found this excellent story on the web on this subject, from the new york times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/06/health/06brod.html?ex=1...

1 mom found this helpful
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J.B.

answers from Washington DC on

In order to help the situation with your teen, you have get to the root cause of the situation. You can try to monitor her in order to keep your teen from cutting herself, but that want fix the pain in the inside. I would suggest seeking professional counseling so that the reason for her wanting to hurt herself is exposed. Once you know the pain behind her actions, you can start dealing with the pain and the hurt that she is feeling, and then she can mentally and physcially begin to heal. Our kids just go through so much now days. Times are so different than when I was younger. Some of the things these teens have to worry about, were not even an issue when I was growing up. Also, it is important that you keep an open and healthy relationship with your daughter. I pray that all works out well with your daughter. Stay encourage.

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J.M.

answers from Washington DC on

M.,

I suggest seeking mental health counseling right away. There is something underlying that you daughter is not willing to talk about with the people currently in her life. The major risk in cutting is that the cuts, while often shallow may accidently hit a major vein or artery and cause death. Another risk is infections, due to using unsterilized cutting instruments.

I have worked with a few girls who cut and some are deeply disturbed young women, others are (ugh!) following a trend. Either way, it is important to get your daughter to a medical doctor--to have the cuts checked for infection, and to a psychologist--who specialized in treating adolescent women and cutting behaviors. I would be happy to supply you with some questions that would be helpful at ask when calling mental health professionals, so you that get someone that can help as soon as possible.

Good luck and keep strong.

J.

L.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Find a good psychiatrist who specializes in teenagers and these issues NOW.
Best of luck to you.

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S.V.

answers from Washington DC on

first and foremost get your daughter into therapy it may take a few times before she feels like she can open up to the therpist but keep going. make sure she knows she has support. i was one of those teenages that also was involved in the cutting world. for me it was a release from the emotions that i could not or didnt know how to express. so with all the pain hurt frustration that hurt on the inside cutting gave my pain something phyisical i could focus on i hurt b.c of my cut. it was a very shameful process for me no one really knew about it. and it gets to the point when the cutting only brings on more shame to yourself. make sure your daughter knows you love her, hug her she may resisit she may fight back but really all i wanted during my cutting was someone to love me. be strong it will get better

D.S.

answers from Norfolk on

Hi M.,

Get help immediately from a therapist. One who uses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

web site to find one near you. www.abct.org/members/Directory/find_a_therapist....

Good luck. D.

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K.P.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi M., In my previous life before my kids dad deployed, I was a teen counselor. This is a very serious issue with teens/ young adolescents. I would see what your medical insurance will cover with mental health visits, and get her to a counselor who specializes in this area if possible. I have also been a school counselor, and you might start by asking her/ him what the resources there are available for teens in your area. At this point, the issue is to get her help, and let the counselor/ therapist help her figure out why she does it and help her find alternative ways to deal with her "issues", whatever they may be. I feel for you, my kids are still little, but after working with teens for 20 years, I am already wondering what their issues will be and how they will deal with them. We do our best to teach them how to live , how to take care of themself, etc, but we don't know what is going on in their minds and their feelings are so confusing for them. Anyhow, enough psycho babble....Good luck, an outside perspective ( counselor) helps alot, usually. Also, if you find a counselor and are not happy with them, look for another one...there are good and bad like everything else in life. K.

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T.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Dr. Stephanie Glassman (psychologist) in Odenton does a lot of work with teenage girls who cut ###-###-####)

I second the recommendation for Dr. Doug Heinrichs (psychiatrist) in Columbia.

Best of luck to you and your daughter.

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C.J.

answers from Danville on

Hi M.,
I am not one who will suggest therapy and medication unless there is no other alternative. Try spending some quality time with your daughter.(not trying to imply that you don't) Talk to her and find out what is causing her to want to do this. Teen-agers sometimes have a lot to cope with. School, friends, etc. and they don't always handle situations correctly. They tend to feel as though parents will not understand what they are really feeling. Let her know that you want to help her and she can talk to you about anything. My daughter went through a period of low self esteem. After talking to her and it took many tries, arguments and tears, we finally got to the bottom of it all. So I started helping her by finding clothes that looked good on her and making sure that her hair looked good. I know this seems small, however with teens these issues are big to them. Talk to her about school and her friends. How do they make her feel. If she doesn't want to talk to you, ask her if there is anyone she would feel comfotable talking to. Sometimes when we force therapy and medication on them, it turns them away from us. Because they feel as though we would rather have someone else deal with the problem. Keep the lines of communication open.
I pray that things work out well.

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S.C.

answers from Norfolk on

My neice went through this. Get professional help now (not a school counselor). Your daughter needs therapy to learn other coping skills. Good luck.

L.A.

answers from Washington DC on

I just posted this very issue on one of my blogs www.bodyrules.com

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D.Y.

answers from Washington DC on

My daughter had the same problem. I felt awful and really prayed and worried about it. I got her professional help and he was more worried that she cut her hair really short in conjunction with the cutting. Some pros say it is a phase mostly white female teens go through. Our guy found most girls hiding some kind of act that they know from us parents to be wrong or perceived as wrong. We are strongly Christian with Christian values and she was sexually active and felt conflicted about it and her inability to talk about her choices. Her and I talk about everything and I was open to talking about anything but it was her shame from her perception of doing what she knew was wrong. I hope I am clear, she felt shame/bad about herself because she believed she could not do anything but the wrong thing and she was bad because she was willfully choosing wrong and then she would punish herself by cutting. Once she went a few times and talked it over and he assured her she was a good person and able to make good choices in her life the cutting stopped. She was still later diagnosed with depression and has taken depression meds but she does not does not feel that was the cutting issues. Now that she feels OK to talk to me she said she felt like a prisoner and really bad about herself and ended up cutting. I felt much shame too that she couldn't talk to me but she said she was the one that was too confused to even understand until she went to a good counselor. I tried others first and I found interviewing on the phone to be best. The guy that worked didn't require her to stop her behaviors but told her he wanted to get to the root and she would have to willing to work on the root problem until the behavior was no more. People give different advise, many say to wait it out because it is a phase, but I say NO! I have to be an advocate for my children and help and protect them, even from any of their own harmful behavior. I had to act and good prof. help was best for us. THat and talking to her directly about the issue and checking her arms and telling her I love her too much to let her hurt herself. I hope my rambling helps

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S.B.

answers from Grand Rapids on

My younger sister went through this during our parents divorce and seperation. First off keep the communication door open and be there for without critisim. Although for some it is shameful, for others it is a way to release built up tension. Help your daughter find another outlet for her emotions. Not to scare you but I work with teens and this has also became sort of a fad, there are groups of girls who "cut" together. A kind of bonding. Whatever is going on, you need to get to the root of the problem and seek out a therapist to help her find other methods of dealing with this.

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M.L.

answers from Washington DC on

M.,

Sadly, but true this is very common among teenagers. You did not say exactly the age of your daughter. After receiving such a call I can only imagine that you are beating yourself up wondering how did you not know this or recognize any of the signs. Stop beating yourself up. Sit down with your daughter and first and foremost assure her of your love and your deepest desire to help her.

Cutting is very serious and should be taken very seriously by all who have contact with you daughter. I would not suggest immediately that there is a mental problem of great degree but most do it because of strong low self-esteem issues, peer pressure (both real and assimulated), and misplaced anger and emotions that they are not able to verbally express to others.

Do get your child help but make sure that you are not making her feel more alientated in your attempt to get her the right help that she needs.

If you are active in a local church this is a great place to start to help her feel comfortable around those she may have already contacat with. Trust is a very big part of getting teens to open up and discuss their feelings.

Do take seriously all of her feelings, whether they are garnered by what you believe to be true or not is not important. They are her perceptions and thoughts and she is acting on them.

If a local church affiliation is not a viable plan for you there are also peer counseling groups that may be available. This will allow her to be in an environment with others who have had the same problem and get the love and support that she needs while being taught how to direct her actions in a more positive directions.

I do wish you the best and I will pray that you will get the help that you need in handling this very sensitive and delicate circumstance.

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C.S.

answers from Washington DC on

You neen to seek professional pyschiatric help for her immediately. This is a sign of serious depression.

Unfortunately I have experienced cutting with my teenage son who suffers from severe depression and anxiety. I never thought he would resort to such a thing because we had talked about it in the past and he was sure he would not resort to such a thing. However, when the suffering gets unbearable, cutting is a relief for them. It doesn't make sense to us, but to the ones in mental pain, it temporarily releives what they are feeling because all of their concentration gets directed to the physical pain.

Please seek help for your daughter even if she is reluctant. She will be more willing to talk to a professional and stranger before a parent no matter how close.

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B.S.

answers from Washington DC on

At the risk of judgement, I'd like to share that I too was a cutter. You're right, it is not an attention seeking practice in fact, just the opposite, it's something you're very ashamed of. Very often accompanied with bulema and anorexia-keep your eyes open for these. I can tell you your daughter is probably deeply depressed and may not even know why. Does she have irregular periods? My first instinct would be to check for a hormonal imbalence-there's alot going on in a teenage body. Your daughter is probably not on drugs, I know most people would think you'd have to be "crazy" or stoned to hurt yourself but that's rarely the case. I remember being so depressed that I thought God would never have me so in a sense I was preparing myself for Hell. ( I know better now) I don't know if you are a church going family but if you are please don't make the mistake my parents did and tell the congregation-with the best intentions, to have them pray for me-but by making her the center of attention in an embarassing way, you'll make it worse. Remeber she's not seeking attention, she really is trying to deal with her emotions privately, the only way she knows how.
I suggest you find activities or a group for her to join where she can find pride in her accomplishments.Where she has to work as a team with other kids her age. Try and set aside special you and her time, and if she decides to open up to you about cutting just listen. It won't help for you to threaten her with punishment or yell at her. This is not an attack on you or the quality of parenting she's received. This has little to do with you. Stay patient and try and remember that with treatment she will probably get past this as soon as it started. I'd like to suggest a great therapist, his name is Dwight Boston ###-###-####.
I know this is hard to deal with but try and keep the lines of communication open in your family through all this. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any help.
[email protected]____.com

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K.L.

answers from Washington DC on

My sister went through cutting as you describe. She was immediately taken to the hospitol by a very concerned mom, which worked well. Another option is to call social services family unit and ask for emergency mental health number to call. The hospitol had to keep her to make sure she wasnt suicidal. They had a councelor speak with her and ended up putting her in a residential treatment center for one year. She had a lot of internal issues that she needed the professional help to deal with. It worked very well for her, and she quickly went back to the A student who everyone loved. She was also eating very little at that time. Thank God she got help the next day. Time may be of the essence on this.

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K.B.

answers from Richmond on

I have been hearing more and more about this lately. Your daughter needs to know that Jesus loves her and has a plan for her life. She is special to Him and I believe her heart is crying out to know Him. I am praying that Jesus would reveal Himself to her and show his great love for her! Great grace on you and your family.

Be blessed

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M.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Um well I don't know if this helps but I used to do this when I was younger 15-19. I am now 24 and don't do it.I did it because it was a release for me I would get stressed out and wouldn't know how to handle it so that would make me feel better to see the blood running out of me like my stress could escape through it.Talk to her I never really had parents who were there for me.Maybe it would have helped.Thats all the opinion I can offer.

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S.K.

answers from Cumberland on

As a therapist, I can say that this is pretty common among the teen girls that I see. As you wrote, there are different reasons why they cut - depends on the teenager. Because it is an unhealthy way to cope it is important that she learn more healthy ways to cope. You can discuss this with her or role model it to help her find creative ways to deal with the feeling she is struggling with. If she is cutting to allow herself to feel pain, then she could try holding an ice cube in her hand until it hurts - has a similar effect but no scars. It is also important to think about some type of counseling to screen for a more severe issue that she is trying to cope with. This way she can deal with the surface issue (cutting) and also with whatever the deeper issue is. Plus, a counselor could help with communicating with her about this.

Good luck,
S.

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J.S.

answers from Richmond on

M.:
I had this same problem for many many years. In fact, it has only been since finding out I was pregnant for the first time 4 years ago that I was really able to "kick the habit". I have not even been tempted since then. But I know what it's like, so please feel free to email me if you need to talk about it: [email protected]____.com.

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L.F.

answers from Norfolk on

M.,
my teen son went through this same issue very recently....he now has scarred his legs and refuses to wear shorts...he's very ashamed and endures teasing when the other kids see the scars.
He's in counseling now and in treatment for depression. We are a family of faith, but he just doesnt have what he needs to cope w/ the issues in his life(he has a chronic disease which causes him pain and embarrasment).
The best thing we did was take him to counseling, even though he said he didnt need it. His next step past the cutting was starving himself....so please don't let this go.
Your daughter needs to know that you love her NO MATTER WHAT she's done...we have to keep reminding my son of that constantly. He feels guilty and that he's let us down. But we make sure to tell him every day that we love him, remind him that we are proud of him( and he will always ask "why"..he doesnt believe in himself right now, but he will).
Just get that help and love your daugther through it. Also..search her room for all sharp objects and get rid of them! My son had safety pins, pocket knives, broken shaving razors, etc. stashed all over his room; search her room and have her leave her door open for awhile until she moves past this, just in case she's tempted.
We suggested my son take up boxing or karate...something to get our his aggressions. Find out what your daugther likes and get her involved. My son also has a friend he calls when he's feeling weak...she talks him out of those feelings. And the idea the of holding the ice cube from another post is also great for getting past temptation.
Hang in there..it's tough, I know...but it will pass if you take action in love. Keep praying and take some time for yourself..this is very taxing on your emotions...so get out alone and recharge yourself so you can stay compassionate.
Blessings to you,
L.

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