Cutting is symptom of a deeper psychological problem

Q: I have so many feelings going on inside me that I hardly know where to begin.

I am angry, sad, depressed, disappointed, embarrassed, and most of all, incredibly lonely. We found out just days ago that our 14-year-old daughter has been cutting herself. She has a piece of glass (looks somewhat like the bottom of a broken pop bottle) that she uses to pierce away the tops of her legs until she bleeds.

We saw the sores, and some of them look deep and painful and of course none of them have been properly cleansed. I am sure that some of the sores are infected.

We don’t know what to do.

Our daughter is not talking to us at the moment except to say that she is not suicidal and that she is cutting just to cut. It doesn’t mean anything more than that.

But something is wrong, we know that and so does she.

How we get to the bottom of this is way beyond me.

We need help here. What do you think?

A: I am glad that you started your note to me by going through that panorama of feelings that seem to be hitting you from all sides.

I hope you and your husband are talking about everything that is going and working really hard to resolve as many of those feelings as you can. The more both of you can settle yourselves down, the better are the odds that you will be able to help your daughter.

The big scare in cutting for most parents is that they think that their children are heading down the road to suicide when they start to cut.

Most of the time that is not true. Suicide and cutting are two different acts. People try suicide because they do not want to live. Kids cut because they want to hurt themselves. It is as if the pain they get from those self-inflicted wounds distract them from some kind of an overwhelming emotional pain that is otherwise haunting them.

It is so sad. Sometimes it is hard for me to imagine this. But it is true and what is even more disconcerting is that cutting becomes addictive.

When that happens, stopping the whole thing is even more difficult than it might otherwise be.

Be clear with your daughter. You are not ashamed of her, you are not embarrassed to be her mom, but you are scared for her and you want to do whatever it is you can do to discourage her from more cutting.

You are going to make an appointment for both of you with your family doctor and when you are talking to her, you are not leaving that office until she has made a further appointment for you and your daughter to see your local child and youth mental health team.

Let’s not fool around here. The sooner you get professional support for you, your husband and your daughter, the better it is for all of you.

Something is going on here. Cutting is a symptom, not the problem. Chances are good that none of the three of you fully understand the emotional caveat glued on to the cutting. But if you get together daily for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, get rid of the cutting tools your daughter has hidden away and talk together without judgment, you can explore some of those emotions that jar all of us a bit.

The three of you can look for something besides a broken pop bottle to resolve problems of daily living.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com

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