Tag Archives: cutting

Abuse and Cutting, Part 2

Alternatives to self-harm: sensory and emotional substitutes, Author MissLunaRose12 (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

We continue our examination of the relationship between child abuse and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) or cutting.  Up to 79% of those who self-injure report having experienced child abuse [1A].

Intervention/Treatment

Because NSSI tends to be a compulsive behavior, professional help is important [2].

  • Adults engaged in cutting should be urged to seek medical and mental health treatment [3A].  Accusations and threats should not, however, be used.
  • Young children can initially be assessed by a pediatrician [3B].  Tweens and teens should be encouraged to confide in a parent or trusted adult (a teacher, school counselor, or the like) [3C].

Treatment must be individualized to the patient.

It is essential that the abuse which gave rise to the cutting be addressed [4A].  Emotional abuse and neglect are not always obvious, since they do not lead to physical bruising.  Medical professionals working with children must be aware of this.

Alternatives

The person engaged in self-harm – whether child, tween, teen, or adult – must learn healthier coping strategies for stress management [3D].

There are alternatives to cutting [5].  Sensory substitutes include applying an ice cube to the skin, snapping a rubber band on the wrist, intense exercise, cold showers, and listening to loud music.  Emotional substitutes include writing on the skin, journaling, creating a unique playlist, and dancing. Continue reading

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Abuse and Cutting, Part 1

Healed scars from prior self-harm, Author James Heilman, MD (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

Mental health issues including drug abuse and suicide are known to be long-term consequences of child abuse [1A][3].  Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI), more commonly known as cutting, is another [1B][4A].

Definition

NSSI is defined as the deliberate damaging of the surface of the skin – whether by scratching, cutting, piercing, or burning – but without suicidal intent [1C][2A].

“After I’d seen the blood, it was like a release of anger or some sort of release.  I can’t really explain the feeling, but it was just a release.”

-Alex [6]

According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of self-harm is a maladaptive means of coping with profound emotional pain, anger, or frustration [2B].

Cutting (in whatever form) acts to distract from internal turmoil; restore a sense of control (at least over the body, if not the underlying situation); inflict punishment; and communicate distress to the world [2C].

Though cutting may bring temporary relief, calm is generally followed by guilt and shame [2D][7A].  Soon enough, the troubling emotions return.  More-serious (even fatal) harm can follow.

Prevalence

Studies have shown cutting to be extremely common among adolescents.  Over 20% of adolescents are now thought to self-harm at some point [7B].   Approximately 18% continue into adulthood [1D].  This does not make the practice benign. Continue reading

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Punishing Ourselves, Part 1 – Numbness and Deprivation

Isolation cells at Fremantle Prison, Australia, Author Gnangarra (CC-BY-2.5-AU)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear!’ ” (Gen. 4: 13).

Though there are some hideous punishments inflicted on children, I will not be focusing on those here.  I want instead to talk about the punishment we inflict on ourselves.  The two are linked.

As abuse victims, we come to believe ourselves deficient, sinful, unworthy of love.

We may be told this directly by curses, blows, and cigarette burns, or indirectly by food, warmth, and shelter denied; by affection, comfort, and encouragement withheld; by the absence of laughter, except at our expense; by the absence of protection from sexual predation; and, above all, by the absence of hope.

Whatever the details in our case, we come to see ourselves as guilty.  We may not be able to name the sins we committed to “deserve” our abuse.  But we are certain of our guilt.

It is as if we bear the mark of Cain without ever having committed the crime.

Punishment and Deprivation

My soul has been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is” (Lam. 3: 17).

Those of us who were deprived of the basic necessities as children may deprive ourselves the same way as adults.

We cannot keep the refrigerator full or the pantry stocked.  We have difficulty using the new sheets, and may prefer sleeping on the couch or floor.  We resist purchasing a favorite food or appealing item of clothing for ourselves.  We take time off from work only reluctantly for a vacation.

Collateral to this, abuse victims who were physically and/or emotionally starved may hide food (or money and valuables) in secret spots around the house or yard.

While it may be painful to us, none of this behavior is a sign of “insanity” on our part.  It is simply a residual scar of the abuse inflicted on us, the rational response to irrational circumstances. Continue reading

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Falling Knives, Part 2

“Self-Injury Awareness Day – Open Your Eyes. Open Your Heart.” Photo by AndyCandy94 (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication).

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5: 5) [1].

For many abuse victims, assaults on ourselves are more than an emotional echo of earlier trauma, more than metaphorical.

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI)

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury or NSSI (commonly known as “cutting”) is generally viewed as an attempt to deal with emotional pain [2]. Estimates suggest that as many as 14% of teens engage in cutting, at one time or another [3].  But adults are not immune.

In sexual molestation and rape, the violation involves the body. Therefore, the body becomes the “enemy”. Self-inflicted injury is one way this can manifest. But negative feelings ranging from loneliness, worthlessness, and shame to stress, rage, and racing thoughts may prompt the same behavior [4]. Continue reading

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Healing from Abuse

Child abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect – is likely to have permanent consequences. The wounds of abuse are grievous, inflicted when we are most vulnerable.

The extent to which we heal varies from one victim to the next, as does the rate at which healing takes place. This makes perfect sense. Victims are violated at various ages, for varying lengths of time, in countless evil ways. They have unique internal resources, and varying degrees of external support (sometimes none).

All these are factors in recovery. We must not, therefore, gauge our progress by that of others.

The “Inner Child”

Experts often refer to the wounded “inner child”. This is not to suggest that victims develop multiple personalities, though some may. It is an abbreviated means of saying we remain sensitive to issues relating to abuse, and – at an emotional level, at least – retain a strong recollection of the trauma inflicted on us.

Misplaced “Coping” Strategies

Unable to defend themselves against abuse, some children adopt desperate strategies in the effort to cope with it. These childhood strategies may continue into adulthood, becoming a hindrance where they once served a legitimate purpose.

Dissociation is one such strategy. The child, in effect, imagines himself or herself elsewhere while the abuse is taking place. This is the “out of body” experience. Dissociation may later be triggered by events which recall (or mimic) the abuse. Though meant to be protective in nature, dissociation can produce serious gaps in a victim’s memory. Continue reading

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