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Cutting- The "New Age Anorexia"

Mutilation, self-inflicted wounds, cutting, parasuicide. We hear about teenagers who cut parts of their body due to emotional distress, but there remains the true question: are these teenagers cutting to gain attention from family others, to fit in with other teenagers who are also doing it, or is it being done in secret to rid of emotional pain? Another point that should be considered is whether or not self- mutilation is an addictive behavior, an impulse that cannot be controlled, or another way to try and grasp life issues that it is felt by these teens, cannot be helped otherwise. If this behavior is for attention, under what conditions should a person cut for the right purposes (if you believe there are right reasons)?

One Argument:

"Contrary to popular opinions these adolescents to not simply want attention or try to frighten someone. The most common reasons for self-aggressive behaviours are to get relief from a terrible state of mind or incredible feelings of tension and / or anxiety! Some of these adolescents also have suicide thoughts or would accept death as one possible consequence of self-harm." (qtd. in web4health). "Broadly speaking, self-injury is the act of attempting to alter a mood state by inflicting physical harm serious enough to cause tissue damage to one's body." (qtd. in focusas). Self-injury usually indicates that somewhere during development that person didn't learn good ways of coping with overwhelming feelings or stress. They’re not sick or insane; they just never learned positive ways to deal with feelings and emotions for various reasons. But coping skills can be learned at any point in life. People who self-injure can learn to use new and healthier coping mechanisms. This process may take years to develop with the help of a skilled therapist familiar with this condition.

For some, hurting themselves is a form of suicidal behavior. In fact, nearly half of the students surveyed who engaged in the behavior said they had wanted to die. But for others, Lader says self-injury is a survival method. "It's a coping strategy to deal with intolerable pain, but it works for them so it's a way of surviving," says Lader. (qtd. in mywebmd). But she says there is always the risk that once the method stops working for them, they could commit suicide -- either accidentally or purposely. Researchers say girls seem to be especially prone to self-injurious behavior, and the study found acts of self-harm were four times more common among girls than boys. Lader says that when girls have a strong emotional response, they tend to act inward rather than outward because it's not "feminine" to be that angry. "Girls will act on themselves and tend to say that they would rather hurt themselves than anyone else - not realizing that no one needs to get hurt," says Lader. (qtd. in mywebmd) Coupled with the fact that girls tend to be very body conscious and more dissatisfied with their bodies, she says it's not a stretch for some girls to take their anger out on their body.

"Skin is a bulletin board," Lader says. "They're saying, 'Can you see how much pain I'm in?'" (qtd. in womensenews)

Argument Two:

"Although no current data exist to prove their hunches, analysts and clinicians say that the incidence of self- injury, which consists most commonly of behaviors such as cutting, burning, and hair pulling, may be increasing. They point to the emergence of a culture in which it is acceptable-perhaps desirable-to talk about it." (qtd in womensenews) Many teenagers are creating personal web sites based on their experiences and are using it as a way to express pride in their self- inflictions. These web sites promote that it is acceptable and even "cool" to inflict pain onto yourself. Other instances of why it is done could be described, as in the following story:

Lauren McEntire was 17 the first time she intentionally cut herself. She was sitting in a darkened movie theater next to a boy who was her best friend. On the other side of him sat his new girlfriend. "I was jealous. I was scared he wouldn't be my friend anymore," she says, two years later from her home in Austin, Texas. "But I didn't know how to tell him how I felt." Instead, fidgeting nervously in the quiet theater, she yanked the tab off her soda can. Without much thought, she pressed its sharp edge deep into the flesh of her thumb. The pain and blood that followed made her feel, for the first time, as if she were in control. But with the blood came something more: anger. "A lifetime's worth exploded in that one minute," says McEntire. (qtd. in archives.cnn) Was this young woman in a stressful situation where she felt she couldn't act with other methods or jealous and wanted to prove that she'd do anything for this boy?

Another debate question to ponder: what exactly is self-injury? As defined in "focusas", it is: "carving, scratching, branding, marking , burning/abrasions, biting, bruising, hitting, picking/pulling skin and hair" to ones own body. It's not self-injury if the primary purpose is:

  • sexual gratification
  • body decoration (e.g., body piercing, tattooing)
  • spiritual enlightenment via ritual
  • fitting in or being cool

Can teenagers stop this behavior? When are making marks on your own body acceptable? (ie- spiritual beliefs, certain areas of distress) If this is a cry for attention, what kind of attention should these teenagers get: to be ignored because it’s a phase or mental therapy for emotional distress?

* Fact: studies have shown that over 50% of "cutters" have been sexually or physically abused. (found through most web sites in "sources")

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Sources:

http://web4health.info/en/answers/border-selfharm-prev.htm

http://www.focusas.com/SelfInjury.html

http://my.webmd.com/content/article/53/61375.htm

http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/1790/context/archive

http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/09/05/self.mutilation.wmd/ 

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