You got that from trimming the roses?-River City Counseling

First, I want to thank all of you for reading my blog posts regularly and for sharing them with people you know.  I hope you’re finding them helpful.

My experience is that cutting comes and goes in popularity with our kids.  I’m starting to hear that it’s on the upswing.  With this in-mind, I’m sharing an article I wrote a few years ago.

Coping with cutting
Land Park News Family Columnist

Not long ago, “Dave,” a 15-year-old boy, came into my office for his regularly scheduled appointment.  Almost immediately, I noticed that he had about a two-inch, vertical cut on his left wrist, and I asked him about it.  At first he told me that he’d brushed up against something and accidentally scratched himself, but when I challenged his story he eventually told me that he’d cut himself with a knife.

When I asked what was happening in his life, he told me that the academic pressure from both his teachers and parents was really getting to him.  He felt horrible and hadn’t known where to turn.  Without giving it much thought, he’d cut himself, and the bad feelings went away for a little while.  But before long, the feelings returned.

When I asked Dave if his parents noticed his cut, he told me that he wasn’t sure because they hadn’t said anything.  As the cut was hard to miss, this left me feeling more concerned.  After talking it through, Dave decided that it was be a good idea to have his parents join him for his next appointment.

At the family meeting, I helped Dave talk about his feelings and what led him to cut.  I also asked his parents if they’d noticed the cut.  They admitted that they had and wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do or say, so they kept silent.  This admission helped open up the conversation, and Dave got the support he needed.  He hasn’t cut since.

I know there are times in which it’s tempting not to talk about difficult issues like cutting with our teens.  Rather than having what could be a heated, emotional conversation, parents choose to stay silent.  That way they don’t have to deal with difficult feelings that might surface because of their teen’s struggles.  It’s easier to hope the problem goes away on its own.  And sometimes, particularly when teens cut to try it out and then dislike it, it does.

Unfortunately, cutting is often a sign of something more serious and doesn’t just stop on its own.  Sometimes, talking about what hurts deeply is too overwhelming, so teens use cutting as a way of getting out these feelings and showing others just how much pain they’re in.  Other times, teens feel numb on the inside, so they cut as a way to feel something on the outside, even if it’s pain.

Either way, teens are communicating that something isn’t right and they want someone to pay attention.  They’re shouting and waving their arms in hopes that you’ll notice and do something before the avalanche hits and problems get worse.  This doesn’t mean that you’ll have any easy conversation.  Your teen is probably going to get defensive and deny that there’s a big problem.  At the same time, he or she is also going to be relieved because you’ve noticed that things aren’t OK and you want to help.

It’s important that you let your teen know that he or she isn’t in trouble. Tell them that you’re worried, not angry.  Tell them that you want to hear how they’re feeling, and try to be open to what they say.  Do your best to remain calm throughout the conversation.  If you get defensive and angry and threaten to do things like taking their door off its hinges and grounding them indefinitely, you’ll probably leave your teen feeling that he or she never should have said anything.  Help your teen seek the support of trusted adults, including a counselor, when necessary.

In the end, it’s scary for parents to learn that their teens are injuring themselves by cutting.  Fortunately, I’ve found that if parents provide necessary support when they notice that their teen has started cutting, rather than ignoring it or getting angry, teens often are able to cope with their strong feelings without hurting themselves further.

3 Responses to You got that from trimming the roses?-River City Counseling
  1. elizabeth
    October 1, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    Very interesting article. Has similar components to bulimia and anorexia….

    Hopeful message for children and the parents of those who are doing these very sad things.

  2. Bill Layne
    October 3, 2014 | 5:29 pm

    The cutting could be the way that David tries to get his parent’s attention. And, since they noticed it and didn’t say anything, I’d say it’s a safe bet they haven’t been communicating very much with him.

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