Recently, our twelve-year-old daughter came home from junior high with a strange story. At least it was strange to us until we began extensive research on this most bizarre topic. Her story was about a girl at school who had a problem. This girl was cutting herself, inflicting herself with repeated bloody cuts on her arms and legs. Our daughter then said something that shocked us. She said, “Lots of kids do it.”
We share the results of our research in the hope that if you know someone with this problem you will help them seek help. This is a budding epidemic that we can stop with concerted effort. Why would anyone intentionally hurt himself or herself?
When she was only 12 years old, Lisa Bayen began cutting her own stomach and arms with razor blades. In a television interview, Princess Diana confessed to cutting her legs and arms with penknives and razor blades. Not only did actor Johnny Depp admit to injuring himself, but also 2 to 3 million less well-known Americans inflict cuts into their skin. They call themselves “cutters” and the trend is growing.
“[F]or people who do injure themselves by cutting or other means, self-injury offers a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension. Unfortunately, that's usually quickly followed by guilt and shame and the return of other painful emotions,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
"I felt so much anger inside and I was so upset that I wanted to have my feelings expressed," says Bayen, who is now in her twenties and no longer cuts herself. "I couldn't discuss them with somebody, so I felt like I had to put a mark on my body. I felt so relieved afterwards that I continued the behavior every time I was sad or angry, upset or depressed."
People who deliberately harm their own bodies are trying to find a way to deal with overwhelming emotions but do not know a healthy way to cope with them. Like Bayen, they usually begin between the ages of 10 to 16. These highly charged years of volatile emotions and “drama” are a time when young people are beginning to deal with peer pressure and conflict with parents, besides feelings of loneliness.
Nearly 50 percent of cutters come from backgrounds of physical, sexual or emotional abuse and most are female. Social isolation, eating disorders, problems with intimacy, a history of loss or self-injury in the family, marital violence and divorce are often common factors. A family where the discussion of feelings is frowned upon puts one at risk. One thing cutters have in common is a lack of good problem solving skills.