I learned recently that I now have three friends who are the parents of a child who cuts themselves, on purpose. It is called self-harm. These teenagers are from respectable, church-attending, families. Two of the families are homeschoolers. The parents love each other dearly. I have known these kids since they were in early elementary school. It made me wonder what makes a kid self-harm like that? Would I know if my sons cut themselves?
So, I did what I always do when I have a question. I googled it. What I found shocked and dismayed me. They do it to try to control something in their life while others do it just stop the anxiety in their heads. The teenagers that I know who self harm also have ADHD. I do not know of any scientific study on the correlation between the two. Still it was enough of a red flag to me to share this with you.
I felt that I had to share this struggle with you, my readers. I asked one of my dear friends to write about her struggle with her son. It is a misconception that only girls self-harm. Many boys are doing this, too. My friend is writing under a pseudonym to protect her child’s identity. He is working on a very public career and she wanted to make sure this did not affect that.
I totally respect that and I ask that you do, too. This is a painful struggle but again, if I can help one momma who discovers that her child self-harms it will have been worth sharing. My friend thinks so, too.
by Rosie Kianna
Raising kids is hard enough. Heaven knows they don’t come with manuals and each one is different. You have stages and growth spurts and before you know it you have teens. Yep, the teen years that every parent hears about. And with all the social media, 24 hour access and the need a teen feels to fit in and belong these years can be some of the most daunting.
As your child grows up they become more dependent on outside sources for worth and value and to withdraw from sharing with you as much. Add in the mix of puberty and raging hormones and you have a drama and attitude waiting to unfold.
I remember experiencing teenage angst. I tried to be supportive as my young adults started entering into their portion of growth towards adulthood. Much to my surprise however, my teens dealt with emotions differently than I did. I guess I should say they didn’t deal with emotions…they cut.
The Day I Learned The Truth
While working in the yard I noticed what looked like scratches on my teens arm. I asked what happened and was given a “the cat scratched me” answer. I didn’t think much of it. As time went on I noticed scratches again and every time I asked there was some handy excuse about rose bushes, tree climbing, cats, etc.
Little did I know at the time, my teens were cutting themselves. Causing self harm. WHAT?!?!? Who heard of such a thing? Sadly, in this generation of tweens, teens, young adults and 20 somethings it is a common practice.
When I first discovered what was really going on I had the knee jerk reaction that I think everyone has…How could you do that to yourself? What were you thinking? Why don’t you just talk to me? Where did you learn such a thing? At first I started out with the concerned mom voice. But, as it continued the angry mom voice accompanied the line of questioning.
As my teen stared at the floor, looking shameful and saying nothing I did what any parent would do. Removed every sharp object from the house and put all kitchen knives in a locked safe. But somehow, some way they still cut. That is when I knew…that I didn’t know anything.
I tried to approach my teen with a different tone and a different stage of questions but still got no response or answers. I was stumped…and dumbfounded. I started searching for information about cutting but wasn’t finding very much. And if I mentioned it to people you would have thought I had brought up the Salem Witch hunts or something like that again. It was taboo to talk about so I felt lost, confused and scared. I thought for sure my teen was suicidal and had no where to turn. Then one day, my teen came to me and said I should listen to a song entitled “She wrote Love on her arms”. As I did, I must’ve cried for almost 2 hours straight. Because that is when I realized how I was dealing with the cutting and my teens was all WRONG.
Searching For Answers About Self-Harm
I kept searching for information and finally stumbled on a book called Cutting by Steven Levenkron. He is an expert on the subject.
An expert?!?! How could you be an expert when cutting had just started?
As I read the book my whole outlook and perspective changed. While the book was difficult to read simply by the nature of it I did find that I saw a glimmer of hope. You see, to my surprise it’s been an addiction for years. Yes, I used the word addiction.
You see, I thought it was something they did to try to get attention, a way of acting out, something they used to get others to notice them. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about if you’ve discovered you have a cutter. You couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s an addiction and it is as strong as an addiction to smoking or drugs is.
Once I learned that it was an addiction and not just some teenage attention getter, then I went into the whole “Where did I go wrong?” “What did I do to cause this?” place. As I came to find out, I actually didn’t do anything. And I’m pretty sure you didn’t either.
My Husband and I Felt So Lost
When my husband and I tried to approach the subject we had a hard time at first. I would try to talk about it and he would just kind of shut down. We drifted apart a little and found it was a subject we couldn’t approach right away when we first found out. He needed time to process because as a father. He wanted to just fix it all the while realizing that he couldn’t. When we are trying to deal with a situation and take turns being the leader. As we began to be able to talk about it, he asked me if I could take the lead because he honestly didn’t know how to handle it. I told him I would. We agreed that he would read the book I had so we could have similar understandings on what we were dealing with.
I learned that Cutters have emotional challenges and their way of coping with emotions is to cut. There are two types of cutters; those who cut to release emotions and those who cut to make sure they can still feel. They struggle with the emotions that are in a given day. The emotions build up over time and to release them they cut. And cutting is not reserved for a person dealing with depression or anxiety. Even the most popular of teens can have this hidden addiction.
Along with being a cutter comes a lot of shame for doing it. So, as the cutter harms to release emotion and feels a short relief from it, they then find themselves feeling shame for cutting. And so the cycle of addiction goes on.
Discovering The Silent Scars Did Not Stop Them From Coming
At first, my teen would hide as much skin as they could but as I tried to slowly get them to understand that I was trying to understand they slowly opened up a bit. They explained the cycle which I describe above and the two types of cutters. They explained that cutters will cut more than their arm, and some will scratch with their nails and some will even burn themselves. As I tried to wrap my head around the information I knew there had to be a way to help my teen beyond just trying to “understand”.
I searched for counselors but found it hard to find one that knew about cutting let alone specialized in it. Thank God, I finally found one. Once I did, my teen started seeing the therapist once a week. The therapist recommended a psychiatrist in order to get medications to help balance out what my teen was going through. We found that my teen was very normal yet they struggled to deal with how they felt. Society is fine with someone who needs a shot everyday to balance their insulin. Yet not so accepting of people who needed to balance chemicals they were not making enough of in their brain.
The Silent Scars Are Quieter But Ever Present
Meanwhile, I was struggling with how to deal with the attitude driven teenager without sending them into a cutting episode. It felt like walking in the forest in the middle of fall and trying not to make the leaves crunch. With time, I came to realize that if I watched their body language closer I could see when they were having a harder time. I would approach them in a very what felt like fragile way to see if they would talk. Most of the time that was to no avail. I tried not to push and I would try to change their environment somehow to try to avoid their self harm. I did learn that when someone cuts there is a trance like state that they enter into; and if I could successfully distract them I could prevent that time. This, sadly, was not very often.
I deliberately let my teen see that I signed a paper in the therapist’s office that they would not share every session note with me. The therapist educated me about the addictive nature of cutting, or self-harm. He informed me that the journey to end self harming was long. On average it can take 1 to 3 years to work through it. And it comes with setbacks and very small shows of strength.
We’re still working through it and we have longer periods with no self harming. It IS a slow process but I can see where our relationship is ever so slightly opening a little more. It is hard as a mom to see your teen… your child… your baby, go through such an ordeal and know that since it is an addiction that it is completely up to them to do the walk. I feel powerless and helpless and want to scream and cry all at the same time. But with each step, each little success they achieve you realize that their walk is different from yours. You smile a silent smile together knowing what they have accomplished and you walk beside them.
And in a gleaming moment, every once in a while they will reach for your hand and pull you in closely and whisper “thanks for being there”.