Self-harm cuts deeper than the surface

 

Photo Illustration by Scott Austin

Photo Illustration by Scott Austin

A home filled with high emotions, unhappy step-siblings and constant disagreements  between family members caused one girl, at the age of 11, to take the advice of a friend, who promised it would bring relief, and cut herself.
Lily Parker (name has been changed), a freshman studying art, turned to cutting as a way to release the pressure of everyday life.

According to www.teenhelp.com, cutting is defined as the deliberate harming of one’s body resulting in injury. Besides cutting, other forms of self-injury include scratching, burning, hitting or biting oneself, hair pulling and deliberately interfering with the healing of wounds. The website said that it is estimated that one in every 200 girls between 13 and 19 years old, or one-half of one percent, cut themselves on a regular basis.

“Every time I would get upset, I would go to [cutting]. After a while, it was how I could show people I was hurting,” Parker said.

Cutting was a personal, secret part of herself that Parker said she could keep—she could own it. She explained it as something in her life that she could control.

“It was something that was mine and I could do it however I wanted, whenever I wanted and it was something that made me different from other people,” Parker said.

Parker said she continued with this form of self-harm until she was a sophomore in high school, at which point she decided it was time she took control of her life.

“I have a lot of nieces and nephews, and I started realizing that if they were doing this, it would hurt me so much. I didn’t want to do that to my family,” Parker said. “It wasn’t my own personal thing that would help me.  It was something that was hurting me and therefore hurting the people who loved me.”

Julie Shiffler, a counselor and psychologist at the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center, said that cutting is not a suicide attempt, but an attempt to deal with overwhelming emotions.

“It can serve a number of purposes,” Shiffler said. “They might use it as a way to punish themselves. Sometimes they might see it as a form of sacrifice or a way to purify themselves. It can function as a cry for help. It can function as a way to distract from the emotional pain and it does that in a number of ways.Some people focus on the pain itself as a distracter; some people view it as a way to disassociate or to detach from the pain so they don’t really feel much of anything. Pain triggers the release of endorphins, so some people will even find the sensation pleasant.”

Shiffler said that over time, cutting can become a part of the person’s identity and they can lose their sense of well-being.

“It’s addictive or compulsive,” Shiffler said. “You can refer to it either way. As they start to experience some sense of relief, or they’ve been able to distract or they’ve been able to numb, that becomes pretty powerful. ‘If I do this, I’ll feel better.’”

Shiffler said she tries to help people understand where the pain is coming from and what triggers these emotional responses because cutting is a counterfeit way of dealing with the real problem.

“One thing I try to get people to do is start to recognize that when they feel like they’re tempted to cut, that there’s something else really going on. I help them try to identify what the real need is, what the real situation is and what is really happening, and to find a way to more directly deal with that,” Shiffler said.

“The Trauma Resiliency Model” is the method that Shiffler uses to treat those who come to her for help with issues related to self-harm.

According to the Trauma Resource Institute the TRM is a mind-body approach and focuses on the biological basis of trauma and the automatic, defensive ways that the human body responds when faced with perceived threats to self and others.

“All of our emotions have physical sensations associated with them. And if we can calm the body as you’re thinking about something that is traumatic to you, then you can find a way to gradually calm your body. Gradually, the sensations you experience in connection with the trauma will be less intense and eventually you’ll get to the point where they can be comfortable or neutral. When that happens, then the way you think about the situations start to change and you can think about it without having a trauma response,” Shiffler said.

Parker said her healing process was not only physical, but it was also spiritual.

Parker said that when she began to realize how important she was to her Heavenly Father, she knew she needed to start to make a some changes in her life.

“I remember how important I am to God and to Christ.  That’s what helps me the most. Sometimes I have to really fight [the urge to cut] because I really want to, but I know better, and I have to remind myself that I know better,” Parker said.

Parker said that she still has hard days where she feels overwhelmed, but she goes to a counselor for help.
Currently, Parker is preparing to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She will begin filling out her mission papers in the fall.

Parker said she would tell those who struggle with this issue that having a problem with self-harm is something they can work to overcome and heal from.

“I would tell them that they’re really important. I know people tell you that all the time, but you really do matter,” Parker said.

Parker said that it really hurts other people in your life when they know what you’re doing and that cutting only hurts in the long run.

“[People struggling with self-harm are] better than that,” Parker said, “They have so much more potential and that it doesn’t help anything; it only makes everything worse.  It’s just another temptation from the adversary. They can overcome it. It’s possible and they are loved.”

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