Hi. I'm a 14 year old girl who has been cutting since I was 12. I've tried stopping multiple times, but I never seem to last longer than a few months. I never injure myself majorly, just scratches. I usually cut more during the school year, because there is more stress in my life and the weather is colder so I'm wearing long sleeves and pants. Starting tomorrow I am going to be in high school, and I really want to have a positive high school experience because my middle school years weren't that great. I don't think cutting is going to help me have a positive experience. No one knows I cut except my 2 really close friends. I don't really understand why I cut, because I have a healthy home life and nothing very traumatizing has ever happened to me. I would probably benefit from seeing a therapist, but I can't because I really don't want my parents to know about my problem because they would treat me differently and be disappointed in me. Is there any way of a minor seeing a therapist without their parents knowing? If not, do you have any advice on how a person could stop cutting on their own?
Self-cutting is generally not an attempt at suicide or a way to cause any kind of major harm. Rather, it is an unhealthy method of coping with emotional pain and intense anger. There is no easy explanation or one single cause as to why people self-cut. However, the Mayo Clinic does a good job or summing up what some of the contributing factors may be:
There's no one single or simple cause that leads someone to self-injure. The mix of emotions that triggers self-injury is complex. In general, self-injury is usually the result of an inability to cope in healthy ways with deep psychological pain. For instance, you may have a hard time regulating, expressing or understanding your emotions. Physical injury distracts you from these painful emotions or helps you feel a sense of control over an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
When you feel emotionally empty, self-injury is a way to feel something, anything, even if it's physical pain. It also offers an external way to express internal feelings. You may also turn to self-injury as a way to punish yourself for perceived faults. Sometimes self-injury may be an attempt to seek attention or to manipulate others.
TeenHealthFX thinks that it would be very helpful for you to meet with a therapist so that this issue can be addressed. However, we do think that at some point it would be very helpful for your parents to understand what is going on. If you want to start by saying something like, “Mom and Dad, I would like to meet with a therapist to address an issue that is troubling me. I’m not in any kind of immediate danger or anything, but I’m also not ready to share what is going on with you yet. So what I would like is to meet with a therapist so that I can begin to address this issue and so that the therapist can help me get to a point where I feel more comfortable discussing it with the two of you. I get that this might be difficult and confusing for you not to know right away what is going on, but I really need you to meet me where I’m at with this and help me get started with a therapist so I can get to a point where we can all discuss this together.” Your parents may or may not be able to handle waiting on details, but you can certainly try it.
The other approach you could take with your parents is to say something like, “Mom and Dad, I want to let you know that I have been self-cutting and I want to see a therapist so I can learn to handle my negative emotions and deal with stressful situations in a healthier way. It’s really hard for me to tell you this because I’m afraid you’ll think differently about me or feel disappointed in me. So I’d like us all to meet with the therapist, too, since I am concerned about how this news is going to affect our relationship.”
While we appreciate that you may need some time with a therapist to get to a point where you are comfortable involving your parents, we think that it is really important that family therapy occur at some point. If you feel like your parents would treat you differently or feel disappointed in you because you are struggling with something, it is a concern. For one thing, it could leave you feeling alone in dealing with this. For another, it might have left you unsure of how to deal with negative emotions and difficult situations if the message you have gotten from them is that you always need to keep it all together. It sounds like you may be viewing keeping this from your parents as a solution, but FX thinks the fact that you feel the need to keep this from them is part of the problem here.
Everyone has struggles in their lives and it is important to feel like our loved ones will be supportive and understanding of what we are going through. So we encourage you to get the guidance and support from a qualified therapist with this problem, and to find a way to work this out with your parents as well.
If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.