Tuesday, October 26, 2004

What Do You Tell a Cutter?

Oh boy!
This is a topic which never came up in any of my teacher education classes while I was in college:
What do you say to a cutter?

I'm not talking about the kid who occassionally skips a class to go catch a smoke in the restroom. I'm talking about the kid who rolls his sleeve up and you see the marks. Scabbed over slices, or patterned scratches, occassionaly words, cut into a young arm... or arms, or chests, or faces, or necks.

Each year I meet them.
The kids whose lives have been so very painful to them, who repress anger, who have spent a short lifetime trying to kill feelings, whose lives feel out of their control.
These kids discover one type of pain they can control. Self-inflicted.

The technical term for this behavior is Self Injury (SI) in the pysch books. If you look it up online you can find all of the medical descriptions, case studies, and therapies. Most informative are the message boards and the SI chat rooms. Here people with SI share their stories, and give each other support and tips on how to deal with this disorder.

Although I have known and taught kids who cut themselves throughout my entire career, It wasn't until I discovered the message boards that I truly began to understand what is going on in the minds of the kids who manifest this behavior.
They are not typically suicidal, in fact most suicides don't cut, and most cutters don't attempt suicide. But they are in pain.
They have just found an unusual way of dealing with it.
The cutting brings relief.

So what do I say to the kid who shows me his cuts, either purposely or accidentaly?
I say. "Makes you feel better doesn't it?"

The kid is always so amazed that I understand. I don't tell them they are doing something wrong. I don't presume to judge them.
They start to share their stories.
We talk about safer methods for dealing with the emotional pain. Creative outlets; painting, poetry, music, writing.
The arts can be such good therapy.

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