Cutting: How to Help Your Loved One (and Yourself)

Cutting: How to Help Your Loved One

Why Am I Talking About Cutting?

Cutting is not my favorite topic.  I’ve wrestled with the idea of this article for some time, trying to ignore how strongly I’ve felt prompted to write it.  But it wouldn’t go away, so here it is.  Initially, I thought it would be an article to help people understand the ‘why’ behind self-harm.  Specifically cutting since it seems to be the most abhorrent form of self-harm in the eyes of others.  But, I’m not sure how well I can do that.

Self-harm is different for everyone who engages in it.  There are many different types and many different reasons why.  In my unprofessional opinion, I believe the ‘why’ comes down to control.  For example, whether I’m working out for 3 hours at the gym every day or cutting, it’s because of an inability to control the horrible thoughts raging inside my mind.  

Engaging in self-harm gives me a sense of control in a few ways.  1. I would rather focus on physical pain than try to deal with the emotional and mental pain going on inside my head.  Inflicting physical pain on myself allows me to make this choice; 2. It is a form of self-punishment. I get so frustrated and disappointed in myself for having these thoughts and depression and for not being able to control them.  Hurting myself seems to be what I deserve for not being stronger or more capable of controlling my illness.

There are more reasons why I have engaged in self-harm, but I think I will stop with the explanations here.  In part because they are personal, but also because I am fully aware of the irrationality of all of it.  That is why I determined that attempting to write an article with the intent to help others “understand” would be fruitless.  I don’t think it is possible to truly understand the irrationality behind someone else’s actions.  Especially when the actions seem perverse and repugnant.

My reluctance to write this article is mainly due to not wanting to hurt those who love me.  As this part of my story has come out, I know it has been especially difficult for my family.  My children have no idea, but I know that putting it out in cyberspace pretty much guarantees that someday they will.  Writing about it feels like a bit of a slap in the face to those who don’t want to think about it.  At the onset, self-harm seems like it is exactly what its name implies: only harming yourself.  It didn’t occur to me how this would affect others until my husband found out and I experienced his reaction.

He was horrified to say the least.  It’s still something that is incredibly upsetting for him.  It is so upsetting that he cannot respond in a remotely helpful or supportive way.  I have been self-harm free for five months, with only two slip-ups in the last 2 years.  Still, if I’m going through a particularly hard time, I find myself contemplating it.  If I confide this to my husband in an effort to help him see how bad things are getting, he is angry and upset–even though all I’ve done is thought about it and successfully resisted the desire.  I share this internal battle with him in an attempt to find support during a dark time and instead come away feeling misunderstood and ashamed. And that is why I am writing this article.

Be My Friend

I know my husband loves me.  I know that his response comes because he loves me and is both terrified and horrified at the thought of me hurting myself.  But knowing that doesn’t help me in those dark moments, whether I have already hurt myself or am trying hard not to.  So, here is some advice for him and for anyone else in his impossible situation.  Here are some ways to help your loved one with the horrors of self-harm:

I often find myself relating to song lyrics.  There are two that I feel really help explain the emotions I feel after an episode of self-harm and the need for support. I know everyone’s situation is different, but I’m sure I’m not alone in these feelings, and that’s why I share this with you.

One song is “Breathe Me”, by Sia (although I like this version by Jasmine Thompson).  This song is a plea for love and support.

Help, I have done it again

I have been here many times before

Hurt myself again today

And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame

Be my friend, hold me

Wrap me up, unfold me

I am small, and needy

Warm me up, and breathe me

Ouch, I have lost myself again

Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,

Yeah I think that I might break

Lost myself again, and I feel unsafe

Just Love, Don’t Judge

For those of us that selfharm, we know that it’s not a safe or acceptable behavior.  It scares us too.  But what we really need is a friend.  One who can withhold judgment–or at least the expression of it.  We feel small (as in, insignificant and unworthy of love) during those times.  And all we want is to be held, for loving arms to wrap us up and keep us safe.  Because between thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and self-loathing, there is no safe place within ourselves.  We do feel we’ve lost ourselves.  We don’t know how we’ve become this person.  We’re so scared we’ll never get back to the person we want to be.

Am I No Good To You Now?

The other song is “Falling Apart” by Matt Nathanson.

Maybe it’s because I’m crazy,

Maybe it’s because I just can’t,

Honestly tell you what I want.

It’s never enough to stay still and hold you…

The last thing we want is to talk about what we’ve done.  We recognize it’s a sign of how broken (or crazy) we seem–we don’t need you to tell us that.  And please, don’t ask us why we did it.  No explanation we can offer will satisfy you.  It won’t make sense and it won’t seem justifiable.  Just hold us close and keep us safe.

Am I no good to you now?

Am I no good to you now?

Whoa-oh, whoa-oh whoa-oh

We’re spilling over.

Whoa-oh, whoa-oh whoa-oh

We’re falling apart.

This is the part that is so difficult to bear.  Are we no good to you? In the days and weeks following an incident of self-harm, please don’t look at us with disgust.  We disgust ourselves enough for the both of us.  Please, don’t keep your distance.  We don’t feel worthy of your love, so we probably won’t reach out.  Reach for us.  Hold our hand.  Hold us close.  Talk to us.  Not about this.  About normal things.  About anything.

Be a Safe Place

Spent my days with doctors,

And my nights with crooks,

And all of them who sell me for a song.

So I’m here.

Safe Dear.

A fiction in your arms.

We may be trying to get help.  We’re going to doctors and therapists. We’re trying different treatments.  But still, when it is quiet and dark, we are left with only the thoughts in a broken mind (and they are certainly crooks for stealing any semblance of peace or happiness).  We do feel safe in your arms.  Sometimes that security is only fleeting and lasts only as long as our embrace, but we’re grateful for even a brief respite from the darkness of our twisted thoughts.

Forgive and Support

I’m giving up.

Starting over.

I wanna be,

I wanna hold you.

Whoa-oh, whoa-oh whoa-oh

We’re Falling apart.

Cause all I say,

It doesn’t matter anyway.

All I say,

It doesn’t matter anyway.

I’m giving up,

So call my bluff.

Cause I just need to be reminded who I am.

We try to start over, but it is so hard when we feel like you can’t forgive us.  And we don’t even understand why you’re mad at us about it in the first place.  We’re the ones hurting here, mentally and physically.  We need your help and support.

At the same time, we do understand.  We know it scares you.  We know it disgusts you. We may understand that you’re mad at us, just like you would be at someone else if they hurt us the way we hurt ourselves.  But all we want is to move on from what happened.  

We want to forget about it.  We need to forget about it, or we’ll end up hurting ourselves again.  But we can’t move on when you keep looking at us with condemnation.  We’ve given up trying to say anything to make it better for you because it feels like you are just going to be angry about it no matter what.  We feel stuck.  With your judgmental looks and our scars as constant reminders, how can we ever rise above feeling broken?

Remind Us Who We Really Are

Please, remind us who we really are.  All we see are the scars and the evidences of how messed up we seem to be.  How can there possibly be someone worth love or saving here?  Help us to see that person.  Help us to be that person.

Don’t Shame

There was a time in my life when cutting was the only alternative to taking my life.  I’m not saying that makes it okay.  It’s never “okay”.  But it was the only coping technique that worked.  And it often becomes an addiction.  Don’t shame your loved one or treat this as a weakness–you may not know what other battles they are fighting.  If they are trying to quit cutting, let them take the lead.  I used to get so panicked when my husband would take my razor blades away.  It felt like the only option I had and if it was gone, it was all I could think about. You can help them to seek help from a professional who can offer alternatives, or at least a nonjudgmental environment and addiction recovery.

Provide a Safe Place to Heal

I believe that most people do not want to engage in self-harm.  Provide them with a safe place to try to heal and hopefully they can learn healthier ways to cope.  Be patient with the process.  Like I said, there are many ways different people find “benefit” from self-harm.  It will take time to find alternatives and to change habits.

I’m not saying this response should come easy or naturally.  But responding with support and compassion will do a lot more for your loved one than making them feel even more ashamed.  Don’t dwell on it.  Dwelling on it will either provide reinforcement for the behavior (I’m told some people do it for attention, although that couldn’t be further from the truth for me), or will force the individual to keep reliving it, greatly increasing the risk of a repeat incident.

See the Person Not the Illness

Continue to try to see the person and not the illness or its symptoms.  This gives the individual a safe space to try to leave the brokenness and return to being that person.  And be there to support them during the grief that eventually and inevitably comes with hurting oneself.  Some days I see my scars as evidence of all the times this illness has been more than I could handle.  Other days, I see them as evidence that no matter what this illness has thrown at me, I have fought back and I am still here.  Find ways to help your loved one to discover their own strength.  Reinforce that strength and they will begin to trust in it.

I know this is an uncomfortable topic.  But I think it’s one that deserves some discussion in order to get better help for everyone involved.  I hope what I’ve written here can help those on both sides of the issue with understanding what helps and what doesn’t.  I can personally attest to how difficult it is to directly discuss this with someone you love.  I’m sorry to everyone dealing with this, whichever side you fall on.  It is painful and traumatic.  Hopefully, this article can help lift some of that and help the physical and emotional healing begin.