Typically, the first thing most of us think about when we hear that someone has deliberately cut themselves is that they are suicidal. In this article, I would like to frankly explore the underlying intent of cutting, what it is attempting to accomplish, and why it seems like such an effective coping strategy in the moment.
I have been privileged to work with many clients who struggle with cutting. According to the mental health world, cutting is classified as a "para-suicidal" behavior. While it is easy to mistaken cutting as a reflection of suicidal behavior, most people who cut are not trying to end their life. Instead, they are trying to alter and change their current emotional state.
Each of us experiences hundreds of emotional disruptions each and every day. Usually, the first emotional disruption of my day happens when my alarm goes off, and I am abruptly shocked from my deep sleep into a state of semi-consciousnesses. From there, I experience disruption when I am rushing off to work, when I am in traffic, when my wife reminds me that I have forgotten an important event, and many other daily occurrences. If you have an effective, and reliable method for responding to the emotional disruptions which come your way, you will most likely be able to resolve most of them as they occur. However, what do you do when you do not have an effective mechanism to respond to emotional disruption?
Once someone experiences the all consuming physical and emotional effect of cutting, its hard to trust that anything else can be as effective in the moment for shifting you out of an undesirable emotional or mental state. Once this behavior moves from initial exploration to a place of reliance, it becomes quite difficult to consider that there is any other way to alter how you feel.
Wanting to feel different when internally you are struggling with disruptive emotions or thoughts is a very healthy human response to feeling overwhelmed, fear, stress, scared, defeated, threatened, alone, etc... This aspect is all too often overlooked, and even mental health professionals can make the mistake of invalidating those who struggle with cutting when they demonstrate that their internal desire to change how they feel is working and intact.
The real challenge then becomes apparent.....how do those who rely upon cutting have a new experience which more effectively alters how they feel? I believe that by truly finding alternatives which actually resolve the threatening emotional and cognitive state, cutting can become obsolete.
If you or someone you know is struggling to find these alternative experiences to cutting, please contact me to setup an appointment for therapy.
Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE