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Millennials: why are they cutting?

A young sad girl with a tear rolling down her cheek looking up to God (Credit: Chepko Danil via Fotolia.com)

It is so easy to ignore at first when you see it.  You may see fresh scars on their arm and think they scratched themselves accidentally.  You may see healed scars and think it’s a birthmark.  But if only you could see their heart.  That is where the true cuts are still fresh and the scars still quite real.

Self-injury is the act of bringing intentional harm to your body without the intent of suicide.  The term “Non Suicidal Self-Injury” (NSSI) was coined in an effort to distinguish Suicidal Self-injury.  Some of the most common self-injury behaviors include cutting, burning, and scratching.  The definition of NSSI is the deliberate harming of one’s body, resulting in tissue damage, without the intent of suicide, and is not culturally sanctioned by the society in which one lives.  This may seem counter intuitive but self-injury is rarely about ending life.  It is about experiencing it.  It is about feeling something in a life that may tell them not to feel anything.  It is about expression.  It is about moving the pain in their heart to their arm.  Suicide would be easy enough.  But their cry is not about ending their life, it is about living it.  It is not about avoiding the pain they feel in their heart…it is about releasing that pain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, while self-injury may bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, it’s usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions.  Self-injury may be linked to a variety of mental disorders, such as depression, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder.  The statistics are sobering: 14-24 percent of youth and young adults have self-injured at least once. And while self-injury is most often noticed among young women, the rates are almost the same for young men.

It is also a fallacy that cutting and self-injury is a teen issue, however, if you have seen injuries on your child or grandchild, here are some ideas on how to approach the topic.

First, do not wait to find scars.  They are often well hidden.  Ask them if they have ever self-harmed.  They will not be surprised by your question.  If they have never cut, they probably know someone who has.  The first few steps are about confronting the reality and starting the conversation.  And it is very addicting.  Cutting releases endorphins into the body and that rush can be very consuming.  Recovering from addiction begins with confronting it.  Seek the advice of a trained Christian therapist.
Second, ask to see the scars.  They may hesitate.  That is shame.  If left unchecked, cutting becomes less what they do and more who they are.  People that cut refer to themselves as “cutters.”  It is their identity.  
Third, if they have cut do not judge them.  Hold them.  Let them know they are not alone.  Tell them you are a safe place.  Ask them about their pain.  And listen to their story.  Hold them close in your arms and let them cry.  Tell them about the Lord and His scars.   Let them know there is healing in the scars of Jesus (Isaiah 53:5).  And, assure them that as they are looking for a safe place to release the pain in their heart, let them know the Lord can take their pain away (1 Peter 2:24).

We live in a world well designed to hide who we really are.  We can hide our true identity behind online avatars and social media profiles.  We can mask our pain through drugs and alcohol.  But we know who we are.  Our pain is real.  We are designed by God for community and relationship.  Help your child feel safe with who they are and expressing their pain.