Friday, August 29, 2008

On the problem of cutting: The secret under the sleeve

Writer Amy Sondova, a former student and now friend of mine, has expertise in many areas including the problem of cutting. Playing on my friendship with her I asked if she would write here just a little on the topic. Here’s what she wrote (following her bio):

Who is Amy? Amy Sondova is a writer specializing in media writing, including interviews and reviews, as well as blogging. Having interviewed over 30 of the top musicians, writers, and speakers in the Christian media, Amy has also written countless columns, reviews, and articles on various topics including mental illness, self-injury, working with teenagers, and Christianity. As well as holding a B.A. in communications, Amy holds a M.A. in biblical counseling, and has worked as a professional therapist. You can visit Amy’s blog at or check out her online e-zine,, a faith-based site focusing on God, culture, music, mental health, and photography.

She’s a cutter — one of the many in a growing community of self-mutilators who wear their pain, anger, and frustration by cutting various parts of their bodies with sharp objects. You would not know she’s a cutter to look at her; she smiles broadly, perhaps a little too broadly at times. She seems normal if not a little melancholy. But look in her eyes and then you will see her torment. You can always tell a cutter by the lack of luster in her eyes.

Cutting is a form of self-injury – the act of purposely injuring oneself using a sharp object such as a razor, scissors, knife, etc. In addition to cutting, self-injury also includes carving, scratching, branding, marking, picking and pulling skin and hair, burns or abrasions, biting, and head banging. Most self-mutilators are between the ages of 11 to 30 and 97% are female.

Not only is cutting a stress relieving coping mechanism, but the physical pain creates a sense of livelihood, and most times physical pain is dull compared to the piercing pain in her soul. No one can see her inner turmoil, so she has transformed her emotions onto her flesh to make you and everyone else understand that she is hurting.

Cutting is not usually an act of suicide. One cutter wrote on her website, “I don’t want to die. I self-injure to stay alive, to deal with the unbearable. If I wanted to die, then I wouldn’t be here now” (Secret Shame, 2004.)

Along with sexual and other types of abuse, there are several mental disorders associated with self-injurious behavior, which include borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. Remember, even if an individual suffers from a mental illness along with her cutting, she is more than her diagnosis. She is human being created in the image of God.

The only hope for a cutter lies in God because no one can ever understand the pain except for Him. He sees the inner torments and can provide relief. There is no hope attached to the end of the razor blade … only the manifestation of a tortured soul. Self-mutilation is still taboo in many churches today, but as their forms fill our pristine halls, the church cannot cover its eyes any longer. We must be prepared to minister to what many are calling “the new anorexia” before a generation mutilates itself beyond recognition.

[Dr. Phil Monroe]

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