Cutting and self harm


Cutting and self harm


your avatar   Holly, 13-year-old girl

I am 13 years old and have been cutting since I was 11. The reasons I cut is because of boys, school, home issues...the normal teenage stuff. But when I first started cutting I would only scratch the skin; now when I cut I get in deep and bleed a lot. Sometimes I get so deep and bleed so much I pass out. My parents know and I have been hospitalized once for 2 months but that didn't do anything. Now my parents are thinking about putting me back into the hospital, but I don't want to go.

How do I deal with my cutting? I know the normal advice: "Try hard! Don't get so attached! Get help!!" Well I have and nothing has worked. So I came here for some real help. If you could, can you please try and give me something to help. I will be so grateful. Thanks.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Holly my dear,

Those things you listed are not the reasons for the cutting, but the triggers for the feelings you are running away from. At first, when you had an uncomfortable emotion, you could distract yourself from it by causing yourself a little physical pain. This seemed to work, so you did more, and it grew until the cutting has become a bigger problem than all the things it was supposed to help you avoid.

This just goes to show that running away never works. Avoiding problems ALWAYS causes bigger problems. If you handle this situation right, then you will have the courage to face the challenges and sources of unhappiness for the rest of your life.

Cutting worked at first. You worried about boys, school, and whatever else, and the cutting distracted you for a while. But now it does not work anymore. Now, the cutting is what gives you the bad feelings. So, something upsets you and you have the urge to cut. That upsets you, so you cut more, and deeper. And that upsets you even endless vicious cycle.

Fighting the urge to cut doesn't work, does it? You know you shouldn't, and you don't want to, but you cut anyway. And then you feel terrible about having given in, about being weak and stupid and crazy, and whatever other lies you tell yourself. The truth is, just like running away always causes more problems than it resolves, fighting a problem also always causes more problems. When you struggle with an urge, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And when you lose the thoughts in your head are so nasty about yourself that you just have to cut to run away from them, right? But there is something else you can do. This is actually two things taken together:

One of them is to realize that when you have an urge to do something, it is not a command. Nobody is making you follow the urge. OK, so you feel like cutting. OK, it feels dreadful. OK, it seems as if you couldn't do something about it. But you have a choice. You can say to yourself, "I can feel this urge to cut. I know I have this urge to cut, and so what! I can watch myself have this urge. But that doesn't mean that I have to cut, only that I feel like doing it."

You are not your thought - you HAVE the thought. If you have it, it can't be a part of you any more than if you have a pair of jeans on. It's only something that's come into your head, that's all. And you know what? Research shows that if you just keep watching your urge like this for five minutes, it will fade away. Sure, it may come back another time, but then all you need to do is to watch it again. It's like standing in the surf, and this huge wave is coming at you. What happens if you fight it? You get bowled over and tumbled about. What happens if you run away? It catches you and tumbles you about anyway. But what if you go on top of the water and surf it? You ride along with it. You go up and after awhile you go down. Sure, the next wave will come, but you can ride that one too.

The second half of the solution is to decide what kind of a person you want to be. Do you want to be a weak person who has to run away from anything that's hard, or a strong one who can face up to difficulties, solve problems and live a good life? If it's the second, you'll only get there by doing it. Every day of your life, every hour, every moment, act as if you were the kind of person you want to be. So, when the urge to cut comes, simply observe it. Surf it. Ride it out. It will fade in five minutes or less. And when you have managed to ride it out and not cut, you can congratulate yourself for being the kind of person who can stand up to pain instead of running away from it.

So what if, every now and then, you slip and end up cutting? OK, so you slipped once. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has slip-ups, and it's OK to be human. If you have any bad thoughts or feelings about having cut, then simply do the same thing to them as to the urge to cut. Watch it, ride it out, and do what fits your view of how you want yourself to be.



This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


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