Fast-forward almost twenty years to the early 1990s. It was then that cutting caught my attention. . . again. This time I was studying youth culture full-time, which is why the concerned mother sent me her letter. She wrote, “I am the parent of two students who attend a local Christian school, a 15-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy. Recently, both of them have told me that they have numerous friends who slice themselves with sharp objects. Can you help me understand what’s going on and what to tell my kids???” A quick trip to the medical library at a local teaching hospital turned up next to nothing. . . which was still far more than I had known two decades earlier. But what was known about cutting by the early 90s was this: It was happening more frequently. It seemed to be launched as a thought or idea without outside provocation. It was usually engaged in alone by 13 or 14-year-old girls who simply had a desire to slice themselves as a result of overbearing emotional pain. Few people were doing it with the goal of taking their lives. Among those who did it, there was quite often an early experience of being victimized by sexual abuse. Once they cut, they felt better. Consequently, they cut again and again, leading to more frequent and severe episodes in an effort to achieve the end of emotional relief. Researchers also reached this conclusion: We need to learn more!
The sad reality is that since receiving that letter, self-injury has swept through youth culture like a plague. It’s not only a sign that more and more kids are hurting more and more deeply, but that cutting is no longer an unspoken and solitarily-discovered coping mechanism for those who hurt. It’s become popularized and thrust into the mainstream as an option for self-therapy and self-care through casual conversations, music, and film. In 2003, Catherine Hardwicke’s poignant film, Thirteen, depicted 13-year-old Tracey’s venture into the world of coping with a chaotic and confusing transition to adolescence through cutting. Last year, the always-relevant Pink took music-fans into the bathtub of a teenager who cuts in the video for her chart-topping song, “F___ing Perfect.” These depictions and others stand as brutal reminders of an increasingly mainstream reality many of us would rather ignore.
One cutter says this about a habit that, for those who don’t do it, seems absurd: “I feel like there's something terrible inside me that I have to get out any way that I can. I think that's part of the reason why I have to bleed. Afterwards, I feel cleansed. I feel like whatever was crushing me before has been removed. I feel calm and in control." Beneath his shirt, unbeknownst to even his closest friends, this twenty-year-old wears the cries of his heart and soul on his chest. Because these marks are usually outward manifestations of inward pain, one researcher has called self-injury "the voice on the skin.
I want to invite all of you who know and love kids to join us for our 90-minute webinar on Thursday at 1pm (Eastern Time) for an eye-opening, practical, helpful, and hope-filled look at the issue of self-injury. Dr. Marv Penner, one of the world's foremost experts on self-injury and author of Hope and Healing For Kids Who Cut, will be walking us into a deeper understanding of this crucial issue. This is a webinar for parents, pastors, counselors, and youth workers. You can get more information and register here.