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The Most Unhelpful Advice You Can Give Someone Who Cuts

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I’ve been to the same inpatient program twice for my mental illness. The first time I went was because of a suicide attempt. The second time was because I relapsed on cutting. Both of these times, I walked away with support and coping skills to help me as I re-entered the real world. However, during the time of my second hospitalization, I received a piece of advice from a music therapist about my cutting, which was not helpful.

Here is how the conversation went.

Music therapist: What’s new today?

Me: Nothing really. I just got here yesterday.

MT: Let’s hear about that then. What brought you here?

Me: I cut myself again. I just think it’s kind of dumb that I ended up here after one relapse.

MT: Well, what if I told you there was a way to avoid coming here? Want to hear it?

Me: Sure?

MT: You can just stop cutting.

At this point, I had heard enough. Who did this musical therapist think he was? I was obviously frustrated. I decided to fight back a bit, with words of course.

Me: You do realize it’s not that easy, right? Cutting is an addiction. The urges are very strong and they’re hard to fight against at times.

MT: The thing is, cutting is a choice. You choose to do it.

Me: Maybe so, but it’s so much more than that. You wouldn’t understand because you’ve never struggled with mental illness and a self-harm addiction.

The conversation was coming to a close as another one of the patients spoke up to defend me. She said she could understand where I was coming from.

It’s a little unrealistic to tell me to “just stop cutting.”

I’m not trying to point fingers at this therapist I do believe he said these things to help me, but he went about it the wrong way. His statements were demeaning and caused me to feel like my problems weren’t difficult at all. He made me feel like I was making a big fuss over nothing, as if my cutting was something that was easy to stop. His comments made me feel as though I was weak if I couldn’t “just stop cutting.”

This ignorant piece of advice can cause people to feel as if their problems aren’t important. It can make them feel as if what they’ve been struggling with is something that has a quick fix. In the end, it can leave those struggling with self-harm feeling weak and hopeless.

There are better ways to go about encouraging people to stop their self-harming behaviors. Tell them you understand it’s difficult to stop and you’re proud of them for making it so far, even if they’ve relapsed many times. Remind them of how strong they are and how much confidence you have in them that they can conquer this.

I can almost promise you these words will put them in a better place than the words, “Just stop cutting” put me in. They will feel empowered and ready to face their ugly addiction head on, which is all they need from you. The rest is up to them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Originally published: August 18, 2016
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