By: Sarah Zucker, PsyD.

Teen Therapy San DiegoCutting is a form of self-harm that some teens use as a coping skill. It is often done out of desperation, when nothing else seems to work. Parents frequently have a very difficult time understanding why their child would choose to injure themselves, and parents play an important role in helping teenagers to stop cutting (and to stay stopped). But this blog post is not for them. This is for the teens who feel alone, ignored, and sometimes helpless to control their emotions… who feel like cutting is the only thing that works.

First off, you are not alone. It’s hard to get the facts on cutting because it isn’t something most people openly talk about. Researchers estimate that roughly one in 12 teens engage in some type of self-injurious behavior (although the true numbers are hard to come by). For some, these behaviors resolve on their own as the person ages. But for others, cutting continues into adulthood if left untreated. For better or worse, cutting has been in the spotlight more often lately. Many see others doing it and it seems like a viable option. It’s also sometimes glamorized on social media. Singer Demi Lovato, who has been open about her struggle with self-harm, started cutting at age 11 after seeing peers doing it and watching it on TV. In an interview with ABC news, Demi said cutting made her outsides match how she felt on the inside. She said she didn’t fully understand it, but it seemed like a way to deal with how she was feeling. In our own office, we see many teens who cut or have cut in the past, and they have different explanations as to why they do it. Some of the main sentiments we hear are: “Nobody was paying attention and it helped people see how bad I was really feeling,” “It released the emotional pressure that was becoming too much,” “I hate myself and deserve to be punished,” “It feels good right after,” and “I didn’t know what else to do.”

We want you to know that if you don’t want to cut anymore, you don’t have to. There are other options, and they really work. They may not be as instantaneous as cutting, but they are effective and stand the test of time. The problem with cutting is, like all quick fixes, it doesn’t actually work. If it worked, you wouldn’t have to keep doing it! It also will never be a sustainable solution to the very real pain you’re experiencing on the inside, because it doesn’t treat any of the underlying factors that cause you your pain. Often, it just makes you feel worse after the initial rush wears off. Another problem with cutting is that it is not safe. You may not think about the dangers of cutting when you’re doing it, but the safety concerns matter (especially to your loved ones).

Life is super hard. The first line of one of my favorite books, The Road Less Traveled, is “Life is difficult.” This is an understatement if you’re a teen going through all of the stuff teens go through. Academic pressure, identity struggles, wanting to feel accepted at school (which is totally normal, by the way, because we are social creatures), dating problems, feeling misunderstood by parents, making the right choices about drinking, drugs, and hook-ups, body image concerns (acne, anyone?), and hormonal changes all add up to make the teenage years the most tumultuous. It’s understandable that you felt desperate and turned to cutting, but it’s also your choice to make a change and head in a healthier direction. Think about this: You’re one of kind… There is no other you on the entire planet. Your energy, your smile, and your heart are all completely unique. Treating yourself with love and compassion helps you to know your own worth, and you can’t practice true self-love when you’re physically hurting yourself. You wouldn’t intentionally harm someone you love and you deserve to be handled with the same care. You deserve to be free.

It’s never too late to take charge and start managing your emotions more effectively. Often one of the hardest things for teens to do is to tell their parents about their cutting, which is usually one of the first steps in getting help. Sometimes teens come to therapy for something else (like depression, anxiety, being bullied, questioning their sexuality, losing a relationship), and the cutting doesn’t come out until later. As a result, we help a lot of teens figure out how to tell their parents, and we are often there for support when they do it.

Most people who cut find it helpful to seek some sort of professional treatment. There are many groups for teens who are figuring out how to take better care of themselves without cutting, and we can provide you with referrals. In our San Diego office, we work on an individual basis with teens and young adults who cut. Sometimes our clients are forced to come to therapy by their parents, but they usually end up finding it helpful to have someone they can confidentially talk to about things. (Right when therapy starts, we review confidentiality so you know exactly what will and will not be shared with your parents.) We also know that a lot of people have mixed feelings about cutting when they come to therapy. They don’t think they want to do it anymore, but they’re also not sure if they want to completely give it up. Those feelings of ambivalence are common. We respect how you feel, we won’t judge you, and we will meet you wherever you are.

If you’re cutting and need help, you can call the Access and Crisis Line anytime at 1-888-724-7240. If it’s not an emergency and you think you might want to come in for an appointment, give us a call. We’re here to help.