On the problem of cutting: The secret under the sleeve


Writer Amy Sondova, a former student and now friend of mine, has expertise in many areas including the problem of cutting. Playing on my friendship with her I asked if she would write here just a little on the topic. Here’s what she wrote (following her bio):

Who is Amy? Amy Sondova is a writer specializing in media writing, including interviews and reviews, as well as blogging. Having interviewed over 30 of the top musicians, writers, and speakers in the Christian media, Amy has also written countless columns, reviews, and articles on various topics including mental illness, self-injury, working with teenagers, and Christianity. As well as holding a B.A. in communications, Amy holds a M.A. in biblical counseling, and has worked as a professional therapist. You can visit Amy’s blog at amysondova.comor check out her online e-zine, BackseatWriter.com, a faith-based site focusing on God, culture, music, mental health, and photography.

Cutting: The Secret Under the Sleeve

 

By Amy Sondova  She’s a cutter—one of the many in a growing community of self-mutilators who wear their pain, anger, and frustration by cutting various parts of their bodies with sharp objects.  You would not know she’s a cutter to look at her; she smiles broadly, perhaps a little too broadly at times. She seems normal if not a little melancholy.  But look in her eyes and then you will see her torment. You can always tell a cutter by the lack of luster in her eyes.

 

Cutting is a form of self-injury–the act of purposely injuring oneself using a sharp object such as a razor, scissors, knife, etc.  In addition to cutting, self-injury also includes carving, scratching, branding, marking, picking and pulling skin and hair, burns or abrasions, biting, and head banging.   Most self-mutilators are between the ages of 11 to 30 and 97% are female.  

 

Not only is cutting a stress relieving coping mechanism, but the physical pain creates a sense of livelihood, and most times physical pain is dull compared to the piercing pain in her soul.   No one can see her inner turmoil, so she has transformed her emotions onto her flesh to make you and everyone else understand that she is hurting.

 

Cutting is not usually an act of suicide.  One cutter wrote on her website, “I don’t want to die.  I self-injure to stay alive, to deal with the unbearable.  If I wanted to die, then I wouldn’t be here now” (Secret Shame, 2004.) 

 

Along with sexual and other types of abuse, there are several mental disorders associated with self-injurious behavior, which include borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder.  Remember, even if an individual suffers from a mental illness along with her cutting, she is more than her diagnosis.  She is human being created in the image of God.

 

The only hope for a cutter lies in God because no one can ever understand the pain except for Him. He sees the inner torments and can provide relief.  There is no hope attached to the end of the razor blade…only the manifestation of a tortured soul.  Self-mutilation is still taboo in many churches today, but as their forms fill our pristine halls, the church cannot cover its eyes any longer.  We must be prepared to minister to what many are calling “the new anorexia” before a generation mutilates itself beyond recognition.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Depression, Psychology

10 responses to “On the problem of cutting: The secret under the sleeve

  1. Pingback: Post on Cutting :: Secret Under the Sleeve « Atypical Musings

  2. Scott Knapp, MS

    Amy, thanks so much for your willingness to post this here. I’ve not had a “cutter” on my case load as of yet, and I’ll confess some personal reticence about working with them. We have several, both males and females, in our care that self-mutilate, carve, etc. Your explanation about motivation was clear and helpful for me, and actually makes me just a bit more hopeful about the day some of these kids are transfered to my caseload. Thanks much.

  3. Jess

    That 97% female statistic is really startling. I’m not sure how that compares with anorexia, for example, but it is startling nevertheless.

  4. Amy

    Jess, actually, sometimes (a lot of times) cutting and eating disorders co-exist. For example, my one friend who has struggle with anorexia/bulimia was also diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder. Cutting was not only a type of “purging” for her, but a natural path since she already had image issues. When you think of it, if you’re ashamed of your body, why not cut it? I think we also need to look at other eating disorders like overeating, too.

    I think the 97% of those who cut are female is slightly dated, but I haven’t found a reliable source with a better statistic. A startling number of “emo” boys are starting to self-injure. And boys are more likely to burn, or so it seems. However, males tend to injure themselves worse than females. I haven’t done a lot of research into the male side of self-injury/cutting.

    Scott, let me caution you on one thing. Most kids have no idea what they cut; they just know it feels better. Looking back on it from the perspective of a 28 year-old as opposed to a 16 year-old sheds a lot of clarity on the situation. However, since it is so “feeling-driven,” I’ve found that worksheets that allow cutters to write down thoughts before and after cutting and emotions really, really helps. Seriously, I don’t know if I could (or would have been willing) to tell you why I cut as a teen, but I could have told you why I didn’t cut–namely to commit suicide.

    Honestly, cutters are a difficult lot because there’s so much underlying manipulation. I’ve found, even in my own life, that until I was really willing to change and find my value in God, it was impossible to get help. Cutters always e-mail for tips, and I always say, “You have to be willing to fight and fight hard.” It’s also an opportunity to share God and faith with them because that’s a true part of my story.

  5. Scott Knapp, MS

    Thanks for the tip, Amy. Any websites or resources you recommend (in addition to your own, which I’ve perused from time to time)? It would be most helpful.

    Scott

  6. Jess

    Thanks so much for the great insights, Amy. What’s an ” ’emo’ boy?” I’m not familiar with the term.

  7. Amy

    Sure!

    Lyasema Project for Self Injury is my faves. The lay-out is lame but the info is good :: http://www.self-injury.org

    To Write Love On Her Arms is a good place to connect teens to info/support :: twloha.com

    Self-Abuse Finally Ends (SAFE Alternatives) :: selfinjury.com

    Plus some books that are great ::

    A Bright Red Scream by Marilee Strong

    Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut by Marv Penner (Penner is a Christian counselor/teacher at Briercrest)

    *Anything by Steve Levekron

    There are a ton of other resources, but these are staples (well, except for the Penner book, which is new, but he’s been speaking on the subject to youth workers/counselors/others for years). I really like A BRIGHT RED SCREAM, though it’s a hard and disturbing read.

  8. Scott Knapp, MS

    Thanks, I’ll print out this list and go looking! Very helpful!

  9. Tommy Myrick

    Thanks for the helpful links Amy!

  10. emlee

    I have to disagree about twloha. I used to hurt myself (haven’t for 195 days though). Every time I see twloha it is tempting to me to hurt myself. The way I hurt myself was never through cutting, but twloha made me want to cut little hearts and the word love into my arms as the title suggests, so while it may help some, it is deinitely not ideal in my opinion.

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