DEAR READERS: I promised “Heartbroken Mom From Anywhere” to print letters from readers offering suggestions about helping her teen daughter, who is a cutter:
DEAR ABBY: I am a 33-year-old woman who has cut for many years, starting early in high school. What concerns me is the mom doesn’t completely understand what’s going on. Not many people do.
Self-harm is a cry for help from someone who doesn’t know how to voice his or her emotions. I, too, was bullied and didn’t know how to express the pain I was feeling, so I took it out on my body. Over the years it became my coping mechanism, although an unhealthy one.
Helping someone who is self-harming requires understanding AND A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL to identify the emotions and suggest better ways to express them. One that worked for me was doing puzzles. It was a way to keep my mind and hands busy.
This teen also needs to know she is not alone. Parents need to listen. I cannot stress how important it is for cutters to know someone is there for them with love and no judgment. — Knows From Experience in Missouri
DEAR ABBY: I grew up in a dysfunctional household with abusive parents. When I would cut, it was like I could feel all my pent-up emotions leaking out through the wounds on my legs. The physical pain was bearable and distracted me from everything that was going on in my life, and I would feel a little bit better about myself and a little less desperate.
Cutting is a powerful addiction. Even now, more than 10 years later, when things get bad I feel a compulsion to just make one small cut. What helped me to stop cutting wasn’t counseling or medication. It was becoming passionate about active hobbies that allowed me to release my bottled-up feelings and stress and feel good at the same time. — Former Cutter in Minnesota
DEAR ABBY: I have worked in psychiatry for 10 years and have found that some of these children have been sexually molested. Some told their parents and were not believed because it was the mother’s boyfriend, a family friend or a relative. Carrying this around is a heavy burden.
Parents need to show the child they will look into the allegation. We should be a safe place for our kids to offload all their fears and insecurities, because we have a duty to protect them from abuse. —– In the Field in Brooklyn, N.Y.
DEAR ABBY: I have been a cutter from age 9 to the present, age 22, though now it’s less frequent. The biggest mistake my parents and friends made when I was really destructive was forcing me to commit to ultimatums. It turned my cutting into a shameful thing, isolated me and made it impossible to talk about it.
I advise “Heartbroken” to keep talking to her daughter (not nagging) about cutting, bullying, school and things the girl likes. Share activities with her. Take her hiking, bicycling, to museums or movies. Spending time with her is important for distraction and bonding. Physical activity can help depressed individuals feel better.
And she should understand that recovery is never a straight line. There will be hiccups, setbacks and days when it doesn’t seem like it will get better. Eventually, with therapy (via counselors, bonding with friends/family, connection with nature/animals) and learning better coping habits, she will improve. Patience and support are imperative. — Kyle in Pennsylvania
Write Dear Abby at DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.