Cutting / Self-Injury
Introduction: Earlier today, someone asked me what I would do if a close friend of mine was in the habit of cutting herself. This is the reply that I sent.
In general, if a close friend of mine started (or continued) cutting, I’d pretty much do the following:
A – Teach them some immediate coping mechanisms
B – Start sleuthing, to be able to guess at the underlying issue, and then try to fix *that.*
Details for part A:
There are two basic ways to cope with the type of pain that makes you want to cut: lessening it, and enduring it.
1 – Lessening it. There are some generic things that a person can try, when they feel like cutting, to make the feeling less intense or to distract themselves from it. I’ll list those below. But generic can only get so far; it’s also useful to know what works specifically for *that person.* A good way to find out is to ask them: “Sometimes when you’re sad, you find something that makes you feel better. Sometimes it only a 2% difference; it only makes you feel 2% better, but it still feels slightly better than way. So it’s worth it. What types of things make you feel even 2% better when you’re having a hard day?”
At it’s core, cutting is a method of self-soothing. So, the more healthy methods of self-soothing that a person knows, the less they will feel like they need to rely on cutting to get through those periods of intense pain.
Some generic methods:
- Put your hand in ice water
- Take a hot bath
- Listen to some music (find the music that matches what you feel)
- Snap a rubber band against your wrist
- Cuddle with a pet
- Cry (tears carrying stress chemicals out with them, when they roll down your cheeks)
- Call or hang out with a friend you can confide in
- Write in your journal about the situation that made you feel this way (writing can be validating, just like physical pain can feel as though it proves that the emotional pain is real and valid)
- Go for a walk or hike in nature
2 – Enduring the pain. Two things can encourage (lit: add courage) a person to endure the most intense of pains. One thing is someone to do it for. For example, I used to cut; it’s been over a year, though, since the last time I cut. My main motivation was my husband; it makes him very sad when he knows that I’ve cut myself (and I don’t believe in dishonestly as a solution to that). So, when I felt like I was on fire on the inside, I just said to myself that it hurts, and I can take it, and I will wait for it to eventually go away – because I don’t want to make Peter sad when I cut myself.
The other thing would be a REASON for not cutting. Like, recently, God was leading me through a whole bunch of passages about the awesomeness of suffering and how it makes us purer, and more awesome. It’s like a fire, and we are like gold. I personally like the idea of being awesome, and so by extension, I like painful situations that purify me. And when my heart hurts inside of me like white hot gold, I embrace that feeling and I allow myself to feel it, and pray that it does me some good. Anyway, having a reason to endure, a reason not to cut, that can help a person to endure the pain without just clicking “escape” by cutting oneself.
Details for part B:
Ask: Is cutting to make you feel something, or to stop a feeling? (Then ask: what feeling?) [Follow up is dependent upon information received]
What situations trigger them to cut? (Primarily Pain or stress)
1 – If stress, then usually modifying thinking patterns helps. Stress is pushing yourself. Over-stress, unhealthy stress, is pushing yourself past what you can do. Expecting more than is possible. Not giving yourself grace.
External situations can also make you push yourself too hard. Like, if I’m in such searing internal pain and can’t do my homework cus I can’t focus, it might be tempting to cut myself so that the blinding pain goes away – in order to get my homework done. I also can feel that pain BECAUSE I can’t do everything I need to get done.
2 – If pain, then I’d ask various questions and try various things to figure out which of these three is causing the bulk of the pain: A past trauma that’s not yet mentally/emotionally resolved; Chemical imbalances (do supplements help?); or negative interpretations of normal situation (like, you get a B, and you give yourself a tongue lashing about your failure until you feel like crying or punching something).
Current rage, shame, or self-hatred can be a red flag that indicate past trauma, or un-dealt-with situations from the past.
Now, ALL of that is about how to help your friend. But what about helping yourself when you know that he or she is cutting? Well, it hurts, if you care about them. It just plain hurts and there’s no way around it. But the pain can help you to empathize with them. They are feeling pain, and then you care about them and you feel pain for them. When you are that close in the worse of times, that closeness makes a bond that lasts. Me and my younger sister, for instance, we weren’t close growing. It was after years of her hurting, and my hurting for/with her that we have forged such a close, trusting, and lasting bond between us.
One last thing I’d like to add is that trying to help someone (yourself or others) give up cutting should be done in love and gentleness. What doesn’t work? Shaming the people, belittling or invalidating their feelings, pain, or temptations, pressuring them to change, withholding affection until they change, yelling at them, expressing disgust, mentally condemning them for “weakness” or other stuff. That stuff is precisely what is NOT needing – and this is especially important to keep in mind when you are dealing with yourself. If you are trying to motivate yourself to stop cutting, be compassionate and understanding toward yourself. That’s what you need to heal; not more shame and pressure.
What does work? Empathy. Listening. Showing understanding. Showing grace. Gentleness. Encouragement. Hugs.
If a strong feeling comes up, don’t shove it away and tell it to leave. Rather, be willing to empathize with the feeling – hold it and feel it. Be loving. And then that feeling will naturally go to sleep.