Cutting: A Painful Addiction - Page 2

By McCarton Ackerman 05/02/12

Cutting yourself to quell emotional pain isn’t all that different from drinking or drugging, though the scars are more apparent. The question is: How dangerous is it?

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Some emotional scars are visible. Photo via

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Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) looks at the self-loathing and self-critical behavior of cutters, and tries to help them catch when these cognitive distortions, or harsh perceptions of reality, occur. “An example might be if they see a friend at a party and the friend turns away,” says Hokemeyer. “There’s a snowball effect where the person starts to think, ‘Oh my God, she hates me, I’m worthless, everybody thinks I’m an asshole. I’m going to die alone.’” Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) involves holding and processing uncomfortable emotions—which addresses the typically poor impulse control of cutters. Then there’s psychotherapy, which looks at the psychodynamic issues that unconsciously drive cutters, such as low self-esteem or emotionally fragility. (While SSRI’s and anti-anxiety medications are used in treatment, experts say that they have to be prescribed in conjunction with therapy in order to be successful.)

Alison tried a number of therapies—including CBT, DBT, group and talk therapy—but said she found a particular connection with a website called To Write Love on Her Arms because it connected her with a community of like-minded people. This makes sense to Murray. “Something as simple as third-party validation can be extremely helpful in these cases,” he says. “Cutters can talk to their parents about it—but if they will panic unnecessarily, talking about it with a friend can also provide the same benefits. Meditation or writing in a journal can also be effective.”

Ultimately, overcoming cutting—like overcoming drug addiction and alcoholism—is a work in progress. Both Alexa and Alison are currently in treatment for their disorder—Alexa through a therapy called mentalization that involves one group and one individual session a week, and Alison through twice-weekly therapy (she’s also getting ready to start DBT sessions again). Although the amount of times they cut each month has decreased and they have each found various motivations for stopping (Alison is looking forward to an upcoming wedding where the bridal gowns are strapless), both confess to having cut themselves within the past 30 days. Yet they’re both encouraged by their overall progress. “Once I went through the treatment the first time, it helped me think about the consequences of my actions, like how doing this will make me feel better now but will create scars for my future,” Alison says. “I don’t feel as empty-handed now that I have the tools to distract myself.”

But despite their progress, both say they can’t imagine a time when dealing with cutting won’t be a part of their lives. “I’ve found better coping strategies, but the urge to cut hasn’t gone down and I think that I’ll always have it,” says Alexa. “It’s just like any drug.”

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Time Out New YorkThe Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.