Cutting and what you need to know.
Things I’ve learned from the crisis center and personal experience about cutting. The types of cutters. Commonalities between the types of cutters. Ideas on things you can do to help your type of cutter. All of these are my personal observations and feelings based upon my experience trying to help others. Take them for what they are and not as some kind of expert.
There are three reasons people cut.
1) Suicide – These cutters don’t have an addiction they see a way out.
2) Control – These cutters use cutting as a way to control or feel. Often victims of violent and terrible crimes.
3) Depression – These cutters use cutting because they think they deserve the pain.
The suicidal cutter.
People hear these statistics about the wrist or thigh and how quickly they would bleed out. They become mislead believing in this limited pain window without all the facts. A friend told me how she had cut her wrist to die and it shouldn’t have taken more than a minute. She told me how it didn’t bleed as much as she thought it would.
These cutters are uneducated to fact. They watched to many movies about this peaceful death. It’s anything but peaceful or fast. First you have to cut very deeply and that cut is painful, very painful. The artery there also doesn’t carry much blood so the death isn’t just painful it’s prolonged. It’s also rarely successful. The center for suicide prevention even has statistics that fewer than 1% of slit wrists for the purpose of suicide result in death.
Then why the wrist? Because it’s visible. It’s a cry for help and the victim of this type of cutting is often the result of bullying or a feeling of helplessness or being ignored. It’s often more that cry for attention than a genuine attempt to die.
But what can I do for this type of friend? Get them help! They are reaching out to be seen or heard. Help is what they want and need but don’t know how to ask for it. Sometimes this type of cutter doesn’t even really know why they feel the way they do. I’ve seen sometimes the friends they have aren’t real friends. I’ve seen sometimes it’s bullying at school, the playground, life changes (puberty, divorce, ect) or even at home.
This type of cutter often has trouble articulating the real problem all they know is emotionally they are in pain. I’ve found many of these cutters to be the shy kid, often the middle child and often just a little socially awkward. They never seemed to develop the tools to build inter personal skills.
Ultimately they need time, safety and calm love to reach them.
Time? Yes they often feel ignored so a little time, real time invested shows them they are important and they mean something. They are cutting for attention most often. They want someone to see them, to understand them. They are struggling with things they don’t understand.
Safety? Self-explanatory I think but I’ll expound anyway. They need a place safe to sort through what they feel. A place free of judgment and where they can figure out what is really happening and why they feel like they do. Right now they aren’t depressed but this can lead to the type three cutter.
Calm love? They need to know you are there every step of the way. You love them and above all you aren’t mad but are concerned. You care for them and you want to understand and really understand. Only with this calm love will you gain their trust and help them come to understand what’s really happening.
An example; A young girl who came to the center had a great home, was always a shy one, and had a few friends. Her friends weren’t “real” friends because they constantly put her down. These friends said mean things and she didn’t want to lose them so she never said hey that bothers me. Most of her friends now had boobs and she still had none. She felt inadequate as a woman and a person. She was being bullied and couldn’t see it for herself. She also didn’t know how to express these feelings and it took a long time to get to them and even then when it came out it was garbled and confusing even to me.
Yeah we all have friends we tease like I sometimes tell Sarah she’s a mean B!tch. Honestly we both know it’s in fun because she pats my butt and smiles and says something like And don’t you forget it missy. But when one or the other is bothered they need to speak up.
When it’s not fun and games this type of cutter because they are a little awkward socially they tend to not speak up because they are afraid to lose a friend and often they don’t have many.
So show them what a real friend is. Listen and help them sort out the problems inside that they don’t know how to express. It can be anything like I said from middle child syndrome to puberty to bullying.
The Control cutter.
This was me. This type of cutter often suffered a tragic abuse or even a sustained abuse. In their abused state to protect what exists of themselves the shut it all off. In the process of withdrawing from the abuse and emotions that confuse them they look for a way to feel in a cold world. Cutting becomes a release, a way to feel something and all the while be in control to turn it all off again.
This type of cutter will attempt to hide it because they want to keep it personal to themselves. They are careful about where they cut and at first might even be in control. In reality they aren’t in control for long. The need to feel as they suppress everything becomes more and more. They cut deeper, slower, longer, more just to feel.
Ultimately this cutter needs serious help to deal with the abuse. As I’ve found the abused can even repress things. In my efforts to control everything I have holes in my memory. Black spaces some very brief and some spanning days or weeks. As I’ve been pouring out the pain some of these spaces have filled in. Like the memory of my beloved dog Jackie. While others remain a pit and I’ve no idea what’s in that pit. Perhaps I never will.
This cutter needs help fast before it becomes an addiction like mine did. They need the same things safety, steady love and time.
Steady Love? Yes steady and patient the kind that doesn’t quit loving and showing the love. The kind that surrounds them and protects them while they heal. They need the time and safety to heal and grieve and recover. This cutter is harder to reach and the longer they withdraw the worse it gets.
It’s normal to some extent for abuse victims to withdraw but there has to be a line someplace. Someone who says you’ve pulled far enough away come back here and let me love you. When that moment is varies I’m sure but don’t stop trying to love them and pull them back from withdrawal.
This cutter needs to reconcile the abuse before they can remove the blocks to feeling the world again. They put up a front so the world sees them as strong and tough but all the while they are crying and alone inside. This is where your time and presence comes in. They need to know they aren’t alone through it all. This time and steady love provides a safe place for them as well.
This abuse is usually deeper than bullying and body changes. It’s not meant to die and it is meant to cause pain. Pain the only feeling which seems real during the time this type of cutter struggles.
The depression cutter.
People become depressed for many reasons. But with everyone there is warning of depression long before the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness come into being. As the person becomes depressed they may begin self-harming or cutting. They feel when they reach this point they are worthless and deserve the pain.
I can’t begin to go into all the things that cause depression. What I can say is if someone becomes so depressed they begin self-harm they need help. Medication may help this type of cutter because removing the depression will help with the self-image.
This type of cutter is dangerous because unlike the control cutter they aren’t careful about when and where. They tend to be binge cutters who cut deeper faster. They have little thought to life so unlike the control cutter who wants to live but wants to feel the depression cutter often doesn’t care if they live.
Depression cutters tend to be less discrete about where they cut. They tend to be isolated from others by choice or circumstance. They are less likely to seek medical attention if things get out of hand.
They need time, kindness, and understanding love. They need the time for the same reasons you can’t understand them without an investment in them.
Kindness? They need kindness because they see themselves as not worthy of it. They need to see it demonstrated over and over until it sinks in that they are worth your time and kindness. You aren’t giving up on them and that is just a fact.
Understanding love? Well you have to understand them to know what is causing the depression. You have to invest the time to strike the roots of that depression and only then will they see the love. They have to understand that you want to understand and they have to build trust you’ll stick around.
As you can see all three types of cutters have similar needs.
They need to be loved, they need to be safe to work out whatever is causing them to cut, and they need an investment of yourself, your time and energy. If you really want to help a cutter please be in it for the long haul. It takes time to build enough trust to open up and talk.
For me even having a great family the investment of time was a long and arduous process. It’s nothing that will happen overnight but if you already have a bond of trust the time and effort investment may come faster. Once the trust is built by time they will know they are safe to talk, to really talk to you.
Be careful here not to be judgmental they are already having troubles expressing some pain. The trust can be lost in a moment of careless judgment and could then take lots more time to rebuild. So judgment free safety and you will be showing them the love they need right now.
These are the things I do for all cutters I encounter.
1) Talk and build a trust with an investment of myself and my time
2) Never judge them or belittle their problem because whatever the underlying problem to them it’s bad enough to cause themselves pain.
3) Once I have them talking about the real problem free of judgment they generally work it out themselves.
Only time and investment of self will get you to the ultimate goal of trust. Trust will only come when they feel safe to open up and really talk. Healing only comes from the love built by trust.
Hope some find these words of my experience helpful if you’re dealing with a cutter of any type. Last thought I leave you with is this both types 1 and 2 the suicidal (attention) cutter and the control cutter can spiral quickly into the dangerous depression cutter. If you can stop it early it’s best.
I’ve also found sometimes parents are too close to the situation to see what’s really the problem. They see and love their child daily and the changes over time maybe obscured to the parent. While the parent is the best to love their child and the best base of trust they are also so close they don’t see the little changes.
The example of my loving parents. They didn’t see me withdrawing more and more. The little changes were gradual and subtle. Since they saw me daily they missed some signs. We had a trust but to a point there are also things children feel not at ease discussing with mom and dad.
I still believe the home (parents, family and spiritual family) is the best place to get help for a cutter. But my loving parents punished me for cutting so I got smarter about hiding it. Natural reaction of many parents is to punish to stop a behavior. For me this wasn’t what I needed.
The advice I’ve given parents once I’ve discovered what type of cutter their child is. Is to remind them right now they need love and not judgment. They are hurting and don’t know how to explain what is hurting them. So don’t punish them because it won’t stop this behavior. Make them safe, talk and love and it will work itself out as they trust they will talk more and as they talk more the problem will reveal itself.
It maybe all garbled up at first but the more they talk the clearer it will become. Once you know the problem you can formulate the best ways to help them solve it. As they feel safer talking they will talk rather than cut. And if your child or friend is a type one cutter the safety and trust can stop it cold before it becomes far worse.
~Michelle Styles – February 6, 2014