How to Help Someone Who Cuts: How to Communicate

This week we are talking about cutting—a problem that affects as many as 1 in 12 teenagers, as well as many adults. Do you know what to do if you discover that someone you care about is cutting?

Don’t Demand That They Stop

Those who cut often have loved ones who try to help. Frequently, these loved ones just demand that the cutter stop immediately. Demanding that they stop is often a knee-jerk reaction to finding out about the self-harm. It can be very unsettling to think that someone you care about is practicing self-mutilation.

Unfortunately, just stopping the cutting isn’t that easy. Teri wrote earlier in the week about how cutting can be addictive and compulsive. If you try to help someone with an alcohol or drug addiction, would you just demand that they stop, cold turkey? Of course not!

Demanding that the cutter stop cutting can actually make them feel condemned or feel shame. Shame can contribute to cutting, so the cutter is actually more likely to continue or even escalate the behavior. Obviously, the last thing you want to do is contribute to the problem.

Be careful not to overreact or be shocked. If the individual that cuts feels you are angry, scared, or anxious about them cutting, they may not feel they can trust you to help. Cutting is often more about coping with emotional distress, and less about wanting to die or suicide. Knowing this may help you to approach the individual in a calmer, more supportive way.

For additional information on cutting, I recommend “Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation” by Steven Levenkron.

Guest post written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW, a licensed therapist at Journey To Joy Counseling.