Why young people cut themselves
By Annabel Ong
“I BEGAN CUTTING when I was in Primary 3, sitting in class when I made that first conscious decision to draw the penknife quickly across my thumb, just to see if I would bleed. This continued randomly for fun and intermittently until I was 14, and nothing in the world made sense to me. That was when I started to cut everyday, as much as my left wrist could bear.”
I remember the first time I saw the scars – rows and rows of neat little lines that lined up the wrist of a friend. I had heard and read about the phenomenon of cutting, but prior to this, I had never met anyone who cut, or more precisely, admitted to cutting.
The term “cutting” refers to a form of self-harm. Though it can be traced back to ancient times, it had crept into public awareness in the past decade. Cutting has been referred to as the “the new anorexia”, with most cutters being female teenagers.
“Cutting was something that was mine, and mine alone. And I had the power to do whatever I wanted with it. At the age where I was being told what to do, how to dress and where to go, this was MINE.”
It is often said that cutters do what they do to “get attention”. This is a common myth. Research suggests that teenagers turn to self-injury as a means of dealing with emotional and psychological pain.
Some cut to exert some semblance of control over their life, while others turn to self-injury to remind themselves that they are still “alive”. The pain they cause to themselves seems like the only time they feel anything at all.
“It’s addictive. Like scratching an itch. When you see one line, it’s not enough. For me, it was just feeling the pain. It gave me the space to cry and to feel the angst and the hurt that I chose to bottle. It was a visual diary for words I refused to vocalise.”
Self-injurers are often bright, talented, creative achievers who push themselves beyond human bounds and cover their pain with a happy face. Despite the way it may look, cutting is usually not a failed suicide attempt. In fact, most cutters are petrified of going too far and accidentally killing themselves.
Being a teen in this day and age is no easy feat. We often expect our teens to be able to juggle schoolwork, peer pressure, relationships – both within and outside the family, with the maturity of an adult. Sometimes expectations of our children, whether implicit or explicit, create an insurmountable burden on our children, who then grasp for something (or anything) to express the way they feel.
Let’s take time to listen to our children. Find out what is important to them, what is bothering them. In seeking release from their struggles, may they not resort to harmful means – instead, may they find solace in God, in friends, and most of all, in their parents.
Annabel Ong is a full-time youth worker at TRAC Youth Ministries (TRUTHMIN).