Bleeding Hearts: Is Your Teen a Cutter?
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com "I lower the blade to the pale skin on the inside of my arm, and using a sharp corner of the blade, I quickly make a two-inch slash. I know not to go too deep. And when I’m in control, like now, I can do it just right. And just like that, I’m done. I hardly feel the pain of the cut at all. It’s like it doesn’t even hurt."
"I watch with familiar fascination as the blood oozes out in a clean, straight line. There is something reassuring about seeing my bright-red blood exposed like this. It’s like this sign that I’m still alive and, weird as it sounds, that someday everything will be okay."
Ruth Wallace may feel like everything is okay, but really it is not. The young teen carries a secret that is slowly ruining her life.
Ruth is a fictional character in the author Melody Carlson’s teen novel Blade Silver. But for many teens this type of self-injury, known as cutting, is a very real problem.
Carlson writes books for teens that deal with difficult issues including suicide, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, and sexuality. In her book, Blade Silver, she said she decided to write about cutting because the practice is on the rise among teens both in the U.S. and other countries.
As strange as it may seem to those not familiar with the behavior, cutting is a practice that many teens, especially girls, use as a way to deal with the stress and emotional pain in their lives. It is a coping mechanism that allows them to feel that they are in control of whatever situation is bothering them.
Cutters use knives, razor blades, pins, broken glass, or other sharp objects to cut marks into their skin, usually on their arms, legs, or stomach. Many cutters say they use the practice as a way to release the feelings that they can’t seem to let out any other way. Others say they feel so dead and numb inside, that seeing themselves bleed makes them “feel alive,” if only for a short time.
According to SelfInjury.com, most cutters are from upper to middle class families and are of average to high intelligence. Often they have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. However, Carlson said, parents should note that there are many other reasons that a teen may begin cutting.
“Sometimes it is things that seem minor to us,” Carlson said, “like their identity or feeling like they are less than others.”
She said that often emotional pain comes from teens feeling rejected by their peers, or from conflict in their home. Many teens that project an appearance of being “tough” on the outside, are actually very sensitive and are hiding their emotions rather than expressing them in healthy ways.
Most cutters do not want to truly harm themselves or commit suicide. However, the behavior can lead to serious health risks if the cut is accidentally made too deep or becomes infected.
Unfortunately, Carlson said, cutting also becomes an addictive cycle for most of the teens who try it. Cutting produces a temporary “high” for them and provides a short-term relief from the emotional pain they are feeling. Unless they find a more suitable way to deal with negative emotions, they will return to cutting the next time distressing circumstances arise.
She said many of these teens also fall into other addictive behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse or eating disorders because they are looking for ways to escape their emotional pain.
It may be difficult for parents to know if their teens are injuring themselves because cutters often cut themselves in secret in a bedroom or a bathroom. Cutters often hide their scars by wearing long sleeves and long pants, even in hot weather. Some teens, Carlson said, will also poke holes in the cuffs of their shirts to keep their sleeves from riding up.
When parents do learn that their children are cutting, Carlson said, it is important that they approach them lovingly.
“The best thing to start it off is not to condemn them for it,” she said. “They are already condemning themselves. They are not happy that they are a cutter.”
She suggests that parents have an open conversation with their teen and seek out a professional counselor who has experience working with cutters. Therapy is important because the teen needs to learn better ways to deal with stress and emotional hurts. He or she must also learn to identify the triggers that lead to the desire to cut.
For many teens, admitting that they have a problem is one of the biggest obstacles they face.
“Cutters are like anyone else; they are in denial,” Carlson said. “My character (Ruth) keeps saying, ‘I’m going to quit this.’ And she would get up in the morning and she would say, ‘I’m not going to do this today.’ And finally, she had to get to that place where she realized, ‘No, I need help. I’m not able to stop this on my own.’”
Carlson said it is also important for teens to realize that they truly cannot stop the behavior on their own. They need God to work in their lives.
“The reason that girls cut," Carlson said, "is because they think it is going to remove their pain.” She said teens think, "that little temporary pain (from cutting) will take away their deeper emotional pain that really only Jesus can take away. Pain does remove pain, but it’s not our own. It takes something beyond us.”
Carlson wrote her book Blade Silver, as well as the other books in her True Colors series, with the hope that teens will be more attracted to a novel than they would be to a typical “self help” book.
“I think it’s just the beauty of a story that you can lose yourself in a story and you can totally identify with a character,” Carlson said. “It’s like a safety net because you are not really experiencing these things, but you can experience them vicariously. Whether it’s their own problem that they are dealing with or someone else’s, it’s an educational tool.”
In Blade Silver, she portrays the steps that her character Ruth must take to get help and stop cutting.
“It gives teens some tools to deal with it,” she said. “What I do try to offer is hope and the fact that God really does have the answers for our lives.”
If you would like more information about cutting, or about Carlson's other books for teens, check out the links below.
www.self-injury.org – Christian-based self-injury information and resources
www.selfinjury.com – S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self Abuse Finally Ends), also 1-800-DON’T-CUT
Beautiful, Beautiful Scars: One Teen's Story
Dr. Linda Mintle Discusses Self-Injury and Cutting
Other Books by Melody Carlson:
Burnt Orange : Color Me Wasted (Alcohol Abuse)
Fool's Gold: Color Me Consumed (Materialism)
Pitch Black: Color Me Lost (Suicide and Death)
Dark Blue: Color Me Lonely (Insecurity)
Deep Green: Color Me Jealous (Envy)
Torch Red: Color Me Torn (Abstinence and Sexuality)
Bitter Rose: Color Me Crushed (Divorce)
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