I Think My Friend Is Cutting Herself

Dear Dr. Stacey,
Q. I was in the locker room the other day, and I noticed that my friend had cuts all over her arm. When I asked her about it, she told me she cuts herself. She told me that is why she wears long sleeves all year round. She says she is not suicidal, but I am afraid she might be. Why else would someone cut, and what should I do?

A. Dear Concerned Friend,
People cut for many different reasons, and it does not always mean suicide. Some people say that cutting themselves relieves stress. Others say that cutting is a way to replace emotional pain with physical pain. Lastly some people have difficulty feeling emotions and use cutting to feel “something”. Other behaviors that are just as concerning as cutting are burning and making other markings on the skin, such as eraser burns.

Cutting usually is a symptom that something else difficult is going on in the person’s life and she (or he) is having a difficult time coping. Your friend must really be struggling with some painful emotions and the only coping skill she has is to harm herself. Cutting can lead to suicidal thoughts, but it also has other consequences such as scaring or other medical problems. As a good friend, you can lend a listening ear and hopefully convince her that she should get some adult help. You could even go with her if she wants you to. Let her know that there are other coping skills out there and that she does not have to continue to suffer.

Believe me, she is not alone, and she is lucky to have you!

Stacey Soeldner, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Riverhill Psychological Associates

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