Teens Cutting: 5 Things to Know About Teens Who Cut Themselves

Cutting has been around a long time and it seems to be a topic no one talks about, but everyone knows exists.  I get about 5 to 10 emails per week specifically about self-mutilation.  Cutting, bruising, puncturing or pulling out hair or eyelashes—these are all forms of self-mutilation.

If you have thought about cutting or are worried about someone in your life who might be, here are a few ideas to think about.  After speaking with a couple of therapists, former cutters and teen interns, here are a list of topics I wanted to mention.

What to Know About Teens and Cutting or Self-Mutilation

1) The Pain Brings Relief

There are many reasons that people self-mutilate, one is that cutters and self-mutilators often express the feeling of relief once they hurt themselves and they feel pain.  They have so much emotional pain that somehow the physical pain feels good, like a pressure gauge opening or numbing cream to the internal pain.

2) Someone Might See

Another reason that therapists point to for self mutilation is a cry for attention.  Some cutters put their marks or scars in a location on their body that might be seen by someone, and this is their way of asking for help with their internal crisis.

3) Cry for Attention

There is a cry for help and a cry for attention.  One of the many issues that teens brought up while talking about this issue is that they feel friends of girls surface cut themselves “just to get attention” and it is not really dangerous.  This may or may not be true but I think it is ESSENTIAL to point out, whether or not they are doing it as a cry for help or for attention something is wrong.  If they need attention that badly then they do need help whether the cutting brings physical relief or not.

4) Not always a suicide attempt, but accidents happen

Many teens report knowing many friends who cut themselves occasionally, but do not seem to worried about it because ‘they are not doing it seriously.’ I think that self-mutilation is a serious issue and mistakes, cuts to deep, infection and not to mention the psychological damage it can do means it is serious.

5) Control

Often times, therapists point out that cutting can be used as a way to express emotions and keep control over what they feel like are uncontrollable emotions or life surroundings.

Most importantly, everyone should take cutting seriously and confront the issue directly.  It should be brought to a school counselor, therapist or parent as soon as possible.

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  • Marian Merritt

    Hi Vanessa,

    Great post. In yesterday’s session at the FOSI conference in DC, danah boyd shared her insights into cutting and other forms of self-harm such as anorexia. Her research finds these concerns are tied to issues of control and often found in homes with higher socio-economic status. So you start to envision the child with every possible opportunity, but also elevated expectations and responsibilities who feels overwhelmed and out of control for their life.

    Thoughts?
    Cheers, Marian

  • pamela

    hi im worried for my 13yr old girl she is the youngest of 4 she is cutting her self when she gets stressed out. she says she dosent know how she got these cuts ?but i know she is doing this i found a knife in her room.this week for instance i wont let her talk to an 18yr old asian boy on line she thinks shes in love and sees no problem with this and she had a major breakdown saying she dosent want to live and new cuts have appered what can i do and were do i get help ? a worried mother.

  • Vanessa Van Petten

    You should talk to your school counselor about seeing a therapist or going to a treatment center before she really hurts herself!

  • Claudia

    Dear Vanessa,

    My entire family has suffered from emotional illnesses (mom, dad, brothers and myslef) from depression to anxiety to bi-polar disorder, we are all adults and are doing quite well and very successful with the treatment we have received; my concern now is my 14 year old daughter.

    She began cutting herself since last August and while we are seeing a therapist and a psychiatryst, she has a couple of friends who are doing the same and has formed a bond I do not seem to be able to break. One of them has lived in foster homes and was raped in the past (and made the comment that she liked it). On top of the cutting, this girl is now making sexual advances towards my daughter, who is not able to handle this while she is emotionally unstable and I am ready to show up at school and tell these friends to stay away from my daughter, the truth is I am not sure how to handle this.

    I will be reaching out to her doctor to check on the medicine dosis and also speak with her therapist, is there anything else I can do to stop this? I feel so out of control with this situation.

    Help!!! Extremely worried and concerned Mom.

  • Vanessa Van Petten

    Claudia

    Thanks for reaching out. I think this is a very serious issue. From the girls we hear from who are cutters, the best thing parents can do is stay non-judgmental and get doctor support if there is something chemical going on. Going to the doctor is really great. I am sure you feel so out of control! It will get better, there are many fully recovered cutters who have great relationships with their families.

    Best,

    Vanessa

  • Claudia

    Vanessa,

    Thank you very much for your reassuring words that things will be okay.

    Claudia

  • jade

    hi, umm i’ve never done this before. but i’ll give it my best shot.

    my name is jade, and I just turned 18 bout a week ago. I used to cut a little in 8th grade, and a lot more entering high school. my mother took me out because there was to much stress and i didn’t have the urge to do it anymore, but recently that urge has come back, and i’m trying to fight it the best I can, but i feel I will lose this fight once again. I can’t control when it gets that bad, and im scared of hurting my mom if i do. I have no friends i can talk to about this, and if i dont want to worry my mom by talking to her. I was thinking of searching for some homes for teens with depression and who cut. Im not sure what to do, but i really need some help.

    please give me your honest opinion on it.

    thank you.

    JJ

  • Vanessa Van Petten

    HI JJ

    I totally get that you are uncomfortable talking to your friends or mom about it. I think you should try to contact a counselor who can get you help so you do not have to struggle alone.

    Teenline is also great and they can give you resources of places to call locally, plus you can just talk to them anonymously:

    (310) 855-HOPE (4673)

    Best,

    V

  • Anonymous

    Hi I have a 14 year old daughter that is cutting her self and she refuses to talk to anyone about it. What do you think I should do?

    Thank you,
    Anonymous

  • Vanessa Van Petten

    Hi Anonymous,

    I think it is really important to get her help even if she refuses it. It is her safety. I would talk to a therapist or school counselor and ask them how you should bring her in.

    Best,

    Vanessa

  • Rochelle

    hello, well im 14 years old and i have been cutting for a little over 1 years…off and on now, and my mom is going crazy about it…i told her about me cutting my self about 5 mounts into it. and she just made a big joke out of it then i said i need to talk to someone and she said fine so i have been going to this person since like aug 2010 in the start of 2010 she had me in this group thing that i liked ALOT.
    and well i guess im just asking whp do i make my mom see this is not a big joke?

    anything would help…thanks :)

  • Vanessa Van Petten

    Your mom should definitely not joke about this. Im glad you are in a group for it. You should tell them that a big part of this for you is that your mom doesnt take you seriously. Perhaps if another adult tells her, she will realize that she is under-reacting!

  • Elisabeth

    I was a cutter for a long time. I think the most important thing my mom did was not to over-react. She would come into the bathroom and find that I had cut myself; she wouldn’t freak out, she would just help me dress the wounds and hug me and tell me that she loved me.

    I was going to counseling and a psychiatrist at that time and she would sometimes come in with me. She wouldn’t force me to show the counselor the cuts, but she was just there to give me emotional support.

    I am so blessed for all my mom did for me. I think she did the perfect thing. I often think parents take it personally when their child indulges in self-harm actions. But it’s important not to make it about the parent. This is about the child asking for help, or trying to lessen the pressure they feel.

    I understand how cutters feel so deeply and I just want to say that you’re not alone. And you’re not evil or stupid or weak for doing it. It’s sometimes all you can do to let the pain out.

    That said, I know that once started, cutting can become an addiction. The more you do it, the more you need. Which is why it is important to let someone know. Because it just takes one more step to make a decision that will ruin your life, or even take your life away.

    Thanks for this blog. I don’t agree with everything :) but I appreciate a place where teens can come and feel like they are understood. Keep up the great work.

  • Hotezzy97

    Hi I am a 15year old who often cuts herself beacuse of the negative relationship I have with the ppl around me that cuz for me to get angry and cry . I also cut myself with anything I found and often drink pills to relief the pain I feel. Sometimes I need help but I like to show it in phisical ways so they can see I am serious when I get mad . Everytime it gets worse beacuse the more I get mad the more I intend to cut myself more and more . But I can’t stop what should I do?

  • Hotezzy97

    Hi I am a 15year old who often cuts herself beacuse of the negative relationship I have with the ppl around me that cuz for me to get angry and cry . I also cut myself with anything I found and often drink pills to relief the pain I feel. Sometimes I need help but I like to show it in phisical ways so they can see I am serious when I get mad . Everytime it gets worse beacuse the more I get mad the more I intend to cut myself more and more . But I can’t stop what should I do?

  • Anonymous

    Hi!

    I am so sorry you are feeling overwhelmed, please do not struggle with this alone! There are people who can help you even if you are afraid to tell them. Can you tell a parent or a counselor? or even a friends parent you are close with or an aunt or uncle? You do not have to suffer alone. Please please please reach out to someone.

  • Anonymous

    Hi!

    I am so sorry you are feeling overwhelmed, please do not struggle with this alone! There are people who can help you even if you are afraid to tell them. Can you tell a parent or a counselor? or even a friends parent you are close with or an aunt or uncle? You do not have to suffer alone. Please please please reach out to someone.

  • Carina Fender

    hey i am 15 year old girl as well and i was just able to stop. the only way i was though is because someone who i really cared about told me that if something happened and i ended up in the hospital she would not come to see me. if i were you i would tell an adult who you trust the most and know you will listen to. also think of the person you care the most about. what if something went wrong and you never saw them again? what would that do to both of you?

  • Kristielozada

    Hii…!…am 14 years old an i have bine cutting myself signs i waz 12…an i doo diz cuz its my way of not being angry an i usaly drink pills 2…any pill i find i drink 6….some times i argu wif my mom an family members an i end up cutting myself….i have bine 2 doctors an ppl dat say dat they kud help mii but were now jn 2012 an am still doing it..an akshualy i just did it rite noww…time 2:46…date:february 17 2012…am a kuiyit person i dnt like 2 talk dat much..an i dnt like to talk about my feeling…i keep every thing inside…some times i start 2 think bout how life is triting me an i kry an end up cutting myself….