Cutting: A Help Guide for Friends and Family

What's your storyThe following is provided by one of our members, Erica Henderson who has struggled with cutting.  She serves as an inspiration and encouragement to others who have or are currently dealing with cutting.  She has shared her story, you can see it here.  I’m grateful for her honesty and desire to help others, she writes,

“So, what is cutting? Cutting is a form of self injury also known as self harm and mutilation.  A cutter self inflicts physical harm that is serious enough to cause bodily damage or leave marks that last at least two hours.

Is this a form of suicide? No.  It is a coping mechanism to deal with unpleasant and overwhelming emotions, thoughts, or situations.

Is it actually addicting? Yes, highly addicting.  The addiction can be immediate or build over time. The addiction can be formed from the compulsion of cutting or the euphoric high that is achieved.  In studies it has been proven that an addiction for cutting is equal to an addiction for heroin, therefore, as equally hard to stop.

Why cutting? Cutters self harm for different reasons, but typically for more than one reason. Some cut to feel alive, meaning they cut to experience the high.  They use cutting to control feelings and/or relieve emotional pain.  The emotional pain felt is unbearable and won’t go away until they cut themselves.   At this moment they are EXTREMELY tense and aroused in their entire being and once they cut life is then bearable.  Some cut out of punishment. The cutter has an emotional burden that’s overwhelming so they convert emotional pain and punishment into physical pain and punishment.  I.e. I let you down so I must cut myself as punishment.

They’re doing it for attention, right? Most cutters are ashamed and embarrassed by this form of coping.  They, emotionally, feel beaten down and overwhelmed by the world.  Some do cut to gain attention but this is a way of acting out and is a cry, from within, for help.

Why is it so difficult to stop?  Because of it being a coping mechanism and addiction, it can be extremely difficult to stop.  It’s learning to channel their pain in a whole new form.  That is not easy. Imagine learning to write left-handed proficiently if you are naturally right-handed and vice versa.  Highly often it requires intense treatment and therapy. Always, it requires support and love from those around the cutter.

What shouldn’t I do for them? Start with the three Don’ts.  1) DON’T Panic.  It’s not a suicide attempt.  However, do be aware that they are in emotional pain so an attempt is possible or has been tried.  2) DON’T React with Shock or Repulsion.  They could have a few nicks or they could have severe lacerations.  They already feel ashamed of their actions and with a bad response from you they might shut down and not open up to you.  You may not get another opportunity with them being so open to talk.  3) DON’T Judge, Moralize, or Criticize. Again, this may be the one time your friend or family member comes to you with the problem or listens to you openly about the problem.

Then, what should I do?  Start with the Do’s.  1) DO Calmly Listen.  When they are talking just listen, sometimes people have carried their burdens for years.  Let them unload.  2) DO Show Sympathy. Show your sadness for them. Ask a question like, “How can I make things better for you?”  3) DO Gently Ask and Remind.  Softly, tell them how loved and special they are.  They need to feel your FULL support and love.   Simply ask how you can do a better job talking with them. GENTLY ask questions like, “Do you want to get help?  What can I do to earn your trust? Are you comfortable to show me your marks? Are you cleaning your cuts and disinfecting the blade?  Are you suicidal? What triggers you to cut?  Has anyone hurt you physically, emotionally or sexually (be especially with that one)?”  Then, again, remind them, “I love you.  You are loved so much by so many and by God. You are worthy of great happiness and you are worthy of great love.  I am truly sorry you are going through this.”  4) DO be Composed.  Stay in the calm, sympathetic zone.  It’s easy to burst into tears or perhaps show anger, but these emotions will NOT help. In fact, it could make it harder for them to open up, because they have so much emotional pain inside.  If the cutter feels as though they have caused emotional pain to you, then this will only make them want to “punish” themselves harder.

What else can I do? Offer to make an appointment for them to see either with a counselor or a counseling group. Be available for prayer or listening. Research cutting and learn about it.  You may not know what it’s like to be a cutter, or maybe you do, but a little knowledge could help you see the signs or teach you how to talk to your friend or family member.  Be Christ’s Ambassador to them (2 Cor.5:21) by praying for them, praying over them, sharing scriptures. Here a few I like: Romans 12:21 says, “Don’t let evil conquer you, be conquer evil by doing good.”  Ephesians 5:17 says,”Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”  Help this person find a positive outlet.

What is a positive outlet? This means helping them find a positive way to cope with their emotional pain. Teach them that when they are feeling the need to cut they can put their pain into something besides themselves, an outlet. Remember, every cutter is different, just like every outlet. Some people paint, scream, read their bible, punch a pillow, sculpt, write, and make jewelry, or other crafts and much more.  Also, there are help lines and websites for help like, S.A.F.E 1-800-DON’T-CUT or As a former cutter, what really helps me is my relationship with God. I also, talk to my husband David, have special time with my two dogs and my church Growth Groups. All of these help me overcome the triggers I deal with everyday.

Anything else?  Pray.  Pray healing over them and pray for guidance not just for them but for you too. Be patient, this is far from easy.  Remember the Don’ts and Do’s. Most importantly, if you suspect they have attempted suicide or they share that information with you seek professional immediately.  Cutting is very dangerous and it is very serious. It is vitally important that the cutter gets the help and support that they greatly need.

God bless you all.


Erica Henderson”

tx_leander_theridgefellowship_3DPromoCoverYou can also read more about the details of her story in our brand new book, Dark Side of the Soul,  pick one up at The Ridge Leander

About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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