Is Your Teenager a Cutter? Part Two
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Mar 15
Two of our staff counselors encountered a cutter last week. She fit the mold we outlined yesterday in many ways. In yesterday's article, we highlighted who cutters are, what precipitates cutting, and what some signs of cutting are. Today we turn to discuss what to do about cutting including a few things that parents can do for prevention.
In the fourth place, what should you do if your teenager or anyone you know is engaged in such activity? First, get biblical counsel for the cutter immediately. The biblical counselor will be able to deal with the issue at the feeling, doing, and heart levels. Unbiblical heart issues and thinking manifest into unbiblical actions and consequent feelings. Because the issues of life flow from the heart according to the Scriptures, the biblical counselor will help the counselee to discover what the trouble is at the heart level.
If a traumatic event has precipitated the cutting for example, the counselor will give God's perspective on suffering and tragedy, offer hope in Christ from the Scriptures, and assign homework from the Scriptures that will enable the Holy Spirit to work between sessions. Of course the underlying problem could be any number of things including anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of rejection, etc. The Scriptures are sufficient to deal with each of these issues. Only God can heal the hurting heart.
Well I remember meeting with a woman who had been diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder. She had been under the care of a psychiatrist for four years. She had manifested over forty different personalities and "switched" when certain feelings welled up within her. She asked me if I had ever counseled anyone with MPD. I told her that I had not. However, I asked her to tell me what was going on in her life and assured her that God had the answer. She had been abused as a child and had feelings of anger, bitterness, guilt, hopelessness, and despair among others. I offered her sympathy and encouragement from the Scriptures. We worked through each of these issues from a biblical perspective and within a few weeks, she no longer switched into other personalities. She was dealing with her emotions biblically.
The same dynamic holds true for the cutter. The underlying issues must be discovered. Once discovered, a biblical way of dealing with such will be offered. We are not speaking of a Christian coping technique to replace cutting. We are speaking of sanctification by the Spirit so that the cutter is delivered from her propensity to engage in such activity.
If a cutter is not or does not claim to be a Christian, the biblical counselor will engage in pre-counseling or evangelism. Biblical counselors understand the nature of man. Contrary to what psychologists say, man is not good and getting better. Man is depraved by nature. Only a heart change by the grace of God can enable a person to "get better" spiritually. The natural man does not receive the things of God because they are foolishness to him, neither can he understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). Thus, the non-Christian will not be able to do what is asked of her by the counselor apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, evangelism is a precursor to counseling in this instance.
Second, one should not attempt to stop this activity without discovering the underlying issues that have precipitated the cutting. If an individual is using cutting to avoid what he/she considers to be an unbearable emotional state, to take their crutch or coping mechanism would be dangerous indeed. Discovering the underlying issues will enable one to know which direction to take the counseling. In so doing, the biblical principle of "putting off and putting on" can be implemented. The unbiblical practice of cutting will be replaced with a biblical response and practice as the mind is renewed by the word and Spirit.
Third, be aware that many hospitals treat cutters with little regard or immediately refer them to the psychological ward. The problem is that many doctors are uninformed with regard to cutters. Often an individual engaged in cutting, when discovered, will be admitted to an institution and as a result will lose his/her job, or be dismissed from school. Few people understand why a person would do such a thing and the cutter is likely to be ostracized. Persons may fear that cutters will harm them, though unlikely. Institutionalization only makes things worse increasing the cutters isolation from needed support of family and friends. Unless the individual is in immediate, physical danger or threatening suicide, the hospital should be avoided.
(Please understand that biblical counselors understand the difference between physiological and spiritual problems. They affirm a connection between body and soul. We work with a team of doctors in our ministry. Both they and we refer individuals to each other. If the problem is medical, we refer. If not, we must deal with the soul. Hospitals do not engage in that dynamic).
Fourth, while we affirm that psychological counsel may often provide relief or more positive ways than cutting to cope with overwhelming emotions, we must say that new coping techniques simply mask the underlying problem. What the cutter needs is the transforming power of Christ, not a new coping technique. Give your loved one Christ, not man's futile answers.
Fifth, be aware of the threat of suicide. Don't delay in getting help. Again, while most cutters are not immediately suicidal, contrary to standard belief, many of them have indeed had suicidal thoughts. The biblical counselor will want to probe this area and respond appropriately depending on what is discovered.
What should you do as a parent in general, especially with regard to the prevention of cutting? First, you should pay attention to your teenager. Be aware of whom she associates with, where she goes, what's going at school, and in general what's going on in her life. Observe her dress and attitude. Do you see signs of cutting such as long sleeves in warm weather or unexplained scratches? Do you detect sadness or detachment? Make it your commitment to study and know your children. Too many parents are surprised to discover that their children have been cutting themselves for some time.
Second, pour the Scriptures into the hearts of your children. You may have regular devotionals with them or you may use the Deuteronomy Six method of biblical saturation at all times. Whatever you do, simply remember that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17)."
Third, love your teenager unconditionally. Let him/her know of your love through words and actions. Don't let them doubt it for one minute. Your expression of love will prevent feelings of rejection, abandonment, and aloneness.
Fourth, don't provoke your children to bitterness. This dynamic involves consistency in discipline, truthfulness in your words, and fairness in your dealings with your children. Always listen to your teenager and explain your position. Always discipline with love and not out of anger. Don't play the hypocrite.
Fifth, pray for your children regularly and trust in the sovereignty and grace of God. If we do not pray for our children, we do not truly believe that God is the one who can preserve them. We do not do everything within our power to help them. Prayer is a vital weapon in the Christian's arsenal against the world's ideas and in defense of our children's welfare.
Ultimately, we can help to prevent child abuse as this violence is repugnant to the Christian and the most prevalent, common thread among cutters. A former cutter expresses the sentiment this way: "We can fight against one of the main causes of this syndrome, child abuse, hopefully preventing young people from ever having to go through such painful and destructive experiences. We can out the _____ who do this _____ to kids, and increase public awareness of the very real and prevalent dangers children face at the hands of the grown-ups who are supposed to be taking care of them, teaching them, raising them, loving them." While we agree with the sentiment and are happy this individual has found relief and purpose, she also highlights the need for biblical counsel in her choice of words and vengeful thoughts behind those words. Biblical counseling provides a cure, not relief; it provides sanctification, not coping techniques; it provides Christ-like character, not ungodliness. Biblical counsel in the form of education and discipleship should be going on from childhood until your teenager is grown and moved out. By God's grace, our children will learn to do what they do for the glory of God in all things.
[Scroll Down for Part One]