This article originally ran in issue 78:11 of the Moody Standard on May 1, 2013.
“Prevalence of cutting at Moody revealed, myths and motivations explained”
Would you want to know about it if someone down the hall from you was being physically harmed every day? What if the person causing the pain was themselves?
According to an article published by Marquette University, a 2006 survey of 2,875 college students showed that 17% reported a history of self-injury, and that 75% of these individuals had self-harmed more than once. Forty percent reported that nobody knew about the behavior.
In his book “Helping Teens Who Cut,” Michael Hollander says, “Most self-injury begins in early adolescence, around 13 or 14, and affects an estimated 9% of the teenage population.” These numbers only reflect those willing to admit to it — it doesn’t include those who choose to keep their habit a secret.
Many of those teenagers continue cutting into their college years, and that includes Moody students. Holly Porter, counselor at Moody, said, “I would say within the last five to seven years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of students struggling with self-injury. Most are struggling with cutting.”
Tyler Neethling, senior youth ministry major who infrequently cut between his later years of high school and his freshman year at Moody, said, “It was pretty staggering actually, how many people on campus have either dealt with it before or are currently dealing with it.”
Julie DeBoer, senior applied linguistics major, started cutting when she was 15 after two incidents of sexual abuse. It began as a manner of self-punishment for the blame she felt for the attacks, but over time, it turned into a method of both numbing and distracting herself. She said, “It kept my mind off the inner pain and put it on something that was physical.” DeBoer’s cutting lasted through the fall of her sophomore year at Moody.
One 2011 alumna began cutting as a way to accustom herself to a life of pain — something her boyfriend of the time told her was unavoidable. “He told me, and in my naïve self I believed him, that guys were turned on by inflicting pain because it gave them a power trip.” She started cutting, she said, “[because] I am going to have to go through so much pain, apparently, after I get married — I might as well start getting ready for it now.” None of her peers knew that this was going on until long after she stopped, after she ended the relationship in her junior year.
Cutting is not attempted suicide. This does not mean that cutting never accompanies suicidal thoughts, but it more often is an alternative to suicide. Cutters are often extraordinarily meticulous about their process, making shallow cuts to avoid obvious scars or excessive bleeding and carefully cleaning up afterwards. Tyler Hewson, 2012 alumnus, related his own experience with cutting in his early years at Moody: “I was smart. I used razor blades and rubbing alcohol.”
Cutting should also not be mislabeled as a mere cry for attention. While many cutters would admit to wishing someone would notice what they are doing and help them deal with it, most still hide the addiction and keep it a secret.
Despite not being as dangerous as a suicide attempt, cutting is still a legitimate issue. Porter explained, “Self-injury is an indication that the student is experiencing intense emotional distress, and he/she doesn’t know how to handle in a more effective way. ”
Hewson said, “Sometimes it was a high and it made me feel a lot better, sometimes it helped me go to sleep, sometimes I saw it as a pious act to bring me closer to God.” No matter the reason, a struggle with cutting is almost always indicative of deeper issues.
If you are suspicious that a friend might be cutting, DeBoer said, “I would always opt to say something, especially if you have a relationship with them.” Neethling said that along with ignoring someone’s struggle with cutting, another poor reaction can be an overreaction. “Don’t freak out. Don’t express shock, because that makes them feel like a freak. Take it, process it and just talk to them.”
Porter concluded, “My hope for students struggling with self-injury is that they might understand that they are not more defective than the rest of the human race, that God’s grace is available to them and that things can be different.”
If you yourself are struggling with cutting or other forms of self-harm, take the first step: tell someone — a friend, a mentor or someone you know has gone through this. Moody students who are interested in counseling can contact Steve Brasel, who coordinates requests for individual counseling, at firstname.lastname@example.org.