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Part Five: Coping with Emotional Pain by Cutting

Part Five: Coping with Emotional Pain by Cutting

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Maria Shilaos, KSL NewsradioPressure to fit in and to do well in school is stressful for most teenagers, but some kids have a painful way of coping, known as cutting.

Candace: "When I bleed, everything I've ever done wrong and everything that's been done wrong to me bleeds out with the blood, and it felt good like I was purged and I could breathe."

Poulsen: "You know these kids that are doing it repeatedly are usually in a lot of psychological pain."

Bruce Poulsen is a psychologist at Primary Children's Medical Center who works with teenagers like Candace Little.

Candace: "In my past I had a lot of sexual, emotional and physical abuse from friends and family, and I didn't know how to deal with it. And because I couldn't handle it in any other way I just kept cutting. I didn't tell anyone."

Poulsen: "And when I ask 'For goodness sakes how do you feel after you do this?' they respond, 'I feel a little bit better I feel more real a little more grounded, a little more connected to my body.'"

Dr. Poulsen says teenagers who repeatedly cut themselves have usually suffered some sort of trauma or abuse that makes them feel invalidated and disconnected from their bodies.

Candace: "I actually didn't start cutting on my arms until I was 15. I cut mostly on my legs and on my stomach before that. The biggest scar on my arm is about an inch long and there's a good 10 smaller scars. I got stitches on the one that's closest to my hand and I ripped them out because I thought my scars were like my salvation. So why did I have to hide it? So I ripped the stitches out."

Poulsen: "So the self-cutting is a way of connecting. Obviously it's a very dangerous and self-defeating way to do that, but there is a sense that 'This is my body, I can feel it.'"

Candace: "I was getting scared of myself because I was getting to the point where I was cutting so deep that the bleeding wouldn't stop for hours, and I didn't know how to not cut anymore."

Poulsen: "It's reinforcing on an emotional level. In the same way that you can be addicted to substances and things, you can also become addicted in a sense to this feeling of well-being after cutting on yourself."

And like most addictions, the longer the kids have been self-cutting, the harder it is to break the habit.

Candace: "Yes, it's difficult, but when you can deal with stuff without having to do something like that, you feel pride and so much self-esteem because you're finding a new way to deal with it."

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