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9900 Willows Rd NE
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Mental Health Counseling from a Biblical Perspective for Teens, Young Adults, Adults, and Couples in the Redmond and NewCastle areas. Seattle Christian Counseling for Teens & Adults emphasizing God's word with Joshua Loy, MA LMHC and Gabe Davis, M.Div, M.S., LMFT.

For Parents: When My Teen Cuts

Blog | New Ground Counseling | Addiction Counselor

Blog posts from Joshua Loy, MA LMHC and Gabe Davis MS, MDiv, LMFT. New Ground Counseling focuses on Bible-based, Mental Health Counseling for Teens in the Redmond, Bellevue and greater Seattle area.  Emphasizing the power of God's Word in Biblical Counseling with Teens and Young Adults.

For Parents: When My Teen Cuts

Joshua Loy


As I continue to work with teenagers, I'm no longer surprised to hear many stories of self-harm.  Cutting (or other “self-injury”) is very prevalent among young teens, especially girls. Up to 5% of girls have engaged in self-harm by intentional cutting by the age of 16 (Muhlencamp & Turner, 2010). Of these, 1/5 become chronic in their self-harm and have difficulty stopping (Affinity Health, 2009).

What Does It Look Like?

Self-injury can take countless forms, giving tailored pain to the individual, based on their preference and their ability to keep it a secret:

  • Cutting with razors
  • Scratching, digging fingernails into oneself
  • Burning skin with an eraser
  • Poking with a paperclip
  • ETC.

Why Do This to Yourself?

I still ask this question, but now know there are many answers.  Some common reasons for cutting are:

  • Sense of control (“I can’t control ______ in my life, but I can control this...”)
  • Self-atonement (“This is what I deserve... this is what I get...”)
  • Relief for unmanageable pain (“This is how I express what my life/situation feels like...”)
  • Punishment (“This will teach them...”)
  • To feel ‘something’ (“When I do this, I feel human/real...”)
  • Numbing (“I can tune out the world when I do this...”)
  • Many More...

You’ll notice that many of these strategies do not achieve what they desire (revenge, atonement, control, etc.). Nonetheless, cutting functions as a coping method and can become THE coping strategy for a hurting teenager.

The Truth About Cutting

  • It comes with embarrassment/shame.  Most teens who cut report knowing that it is “bad” and “embarrassing.” Cutting is usually followed by intense guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions (Mayo Clinic, 2012).  This supports its secretive nature.

  • It’s temporarily effective.  Most youth who cut agree that, although receiving temporary sense of benefits, cutting isn’t an actual way to obtain them (“I know it’s not a good way to cope”).  Reality is, the long term-consequences are bigger than the short-term relief.

  • It can become compulsive.  Compulsive means that the more a person does it, the more he or she feels the need to do it. This is why many youth who cut report a sense of “release” while doing so. The brain can be trained in this way. For those who begin cutting at an early age (<14), there is a higher risk that cutting may become compulsive.

  • It usually isn’t suicidal.  “Most people who cut aren't attempting [or thinking about] suicide” (Kids Health, 2011). People don't usually intend to hurt themselves permanently when they cut.  And they don't typically intend to keep cutting once they start. But both can happen.

  • It’s not usually about attention.  A common belief is that cutting is about people wanting attention. Most often, cutting is about more. It usually is due to serious emotional pain including loneliness, anger, helplessness, and fear. It often can be attributed to specific event: emotional, relational, or other.

How to Help Cutters:

  1. Don’t freak out.  It doesn’t help to get mad at a youth who cuts, reject that person, lecture her, or beg him to stop.  These situations can cause further shame/embarrassment.
  2. Don’t deny or minimize.  Parents and leaders who leave cutting/self-harm unaddressed communicate, “I don’t care” or “That scares me” or “It’s too shameful to talk about.” Some parents assume this is a “phase” teens with outgrow, but statistics show this to be untrue.
  3. Be supportive.  Students engaging in self-injury often feel alone without someone “on their team.” Let them know you aren’t mad, but lovingly concerned for them.
  4. Talk with them often.  Many teens cut when they don’t know how to express pain, sorrow, hurt, loneliness, etc. in helpful ways. Conversation with a caring adult can change that. Additionally, cutting is almost always done in secret. Talking about the issue can keep cutting from becoming secretive, shameful, and unnoticed.
  5. Lovingly search for the reason/purpose.  Cutting is merely a symptom of something much greater. Some youth will know exactly why they are doing this; others may not have words to express. Helping a teen explore this can be an important part of resolution & replacing lies with truth.
  6. Seek help.  Seeking professional counsel can also be very helpful, if only for the purpose of an accurate assessment. 

Jesus, The Answer to Cutting

Jesus is the most powerful answer to pain, suffering, and punishment. Jesus bore scars in the place of all humanity (1 Pet 2:24, Rom. 5); Jesus comforts us in our distress (Jn 14:27); Jesus changes our hearts from evil & harmful desires (Col. 2:7); and we are completely acceptable now before Jesus (Eph 2:13).   In every “reason” for cutting, God gives wonderful promises that can break down these false substitutes for justice, peace, and atonement.  I’m praying that these teens would find Jesus to be a true source of joy, hope, and peace—not cutting.

Some Great Biblical Counseling Resources:

  • Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good by Ed Welch
  • Hurt So Good: Exposing the Lies of Self-Injury by Ed Welch
  • Relief Without Cutting: Taking Negative Feelings to God by Amy Baker