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Self-Mutilation Can Continue for Decades

  • anonymous Asks ...

    How many times can a girl cut herself (cutting) before she will get addicted to doing this?

  • Dr. Mark Abrahams Says ...
    Dr.  Mark Abrahams

    Until just recently, I spent 26 years working with adolescents in middle schools. I always have had groups where girls (primarily) have practiced self-mutilation. Usually scratching, slicing, piercing, but sometimes friction burns or in more severe cases, burning with hot or flaming objects. There is a cascade effect of neurotransmitters that takes place, with a Dopamine release imparting a sense of well-being, following these practices. Dopamine is a 'feel good' substance, so it depends on how susceptible someone is to this kind of reaction - how addiction-prone. Dopamine is also released by eating chocolate, which is why it is sometimes said that females have 'relationships' with chocolate. Overindulgence in chocolate is, of course, not a solution.

    The only thing that the literature, as well as my own counseling experience tells me stops this unsafe and socially inappropriate response (except perhaps on internet sites that support it), is TALKING. The idea is not to substitute another sensation like ice or a snapped rubber band, the idea is to get at the root of the problem so that this frustrating response stops. I have had to take an ambulance ride with one of my students, who was also my neighbor, when she cut herself in school, and severed an artery.

    TALKING engages the body, the breath, and the emotions. It is important to find the words that express what is going on inside, so begin to develop an 'emotional vocabulary.' Writing one's feelings and thoughts does not work. The emotions need to be vocalized, bringing the diaphragm, the vocal chords, and other body parts into the expression in the body. It is often a self-loathing of one's own body that is behind girls who cut, and body dysmorphic problems (perceiving one's body as ugly, or misshapen), which are a negative aspect of adolescence (which runs to age 25)!

    Bottom line: Find someone you trust, who is qualified to hear your stuff without criticism, but whom you'll allow to provide guidance while you work through this difficult stage of your development. Self-mutilation can result in scarring that a prospective partner may see as a 'red flag' somewhere in the future, and scare them away. You may not be crazy, but others may see it differently. Take care of yourself first! How else will your normal need for loving care be acknowledged by someone who wants to love you?

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