• Kristen Miller

Cutting and Self-Harm


The first time I was introduced to cutting and self-harm was during my first year of teaching. There was a student who was deeply troubled, and one day when he came to ask me a question about the math concepts we were working on, his loose sleeve slipped up and I saw his forearms littered with one inch long cuts. Being that this was the first time I ever saw this type of self-inflicted injury, I kind of freaked out and went straight to one of the counselors on campus to let him know about this student. When I entered the counselor's office, I broke down and started crying. He asked what was wrong, and I immediately explained about the student I just encountered with so many cuts. He explained that this is something kids do as a physical manifestation of the emotional pain they are feeling. He was so calm and seemingly unaffected, but assured me he would check in with the student during the next class period.

Now when students come to me and let me in on their world and the fact that they are self-harming, I have a similar reaction as the counselor did from my first year of teaching. As a vice principal, I have worked very intensely with many students who engage in this destructive behavior. I want to assure you that I care VERY deeply when kids come to me and are self-harming, but it doesn't do anyone any good for me to freak out and panic. I've mentioned before that I am a self-help junkie, and as such, I became voracious for information about cutting and the psychological reasons behind this. There is a really great article from Psychology Today that outlines the reasons for cutting (also known as non-suicidal self injury (NSSI)):

  • To reduce negative emotions

  • To feel "something" besides numbness or emptiness

  • To avoid certain social situations

  • To receive social support

During adolescence and puberty, there are so many changes happening, many of which occur on a physiological and hormonal level. Kids are feeling emotions more strongly than they ever have before, and sometimes these emotions become too much for kids to know how to handle on their own. If they haven't had guidance from trusted adults in their life up to this point, they find themselves experiencing all of these intense emotions, and don't have positive, constructive coping mechanisms and tools/strategies. Much in the same way that adults (and sometimes kids) begin to rely on alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc., as a way to cope with difficult life situations and numb negative emotions, kids explore various ways they can deal with these negative emotions. This is where cutting comes in. Cutting helps kids distract themselves from the emotional pain they are feeling, and also releases endorphins that block pain. There are, however, MANY constructive, productive ways to effectively deal with these emotions, and this is precisely the work I am aiming to do at With Heart Project. Please contact me if you know someone who may benefit from this type of guidance, coaching and re-direction strategies that will help him/her more effectively manage his/her intense, negative emotions.

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