The first time I met Corey she was 13 years old. She and her mom came in and mom did all the talking until I asked to see Corey alone. Mom explained to me how withdrawn Corey had become- secluding herself in her room, barely responding when spoken to, getting angry and “throwing fits” for no apparent reason, failing three classes, and a complete change in her wardrobe. Corey’s mom was justifiably concerned, worried, and spending many sleepless nights thinking about her daughter.
Cory and I began what proved to be a long journey together. A journey of me trying to pull numerous different sand and art techniques out of my “bag of tricks” in hopes she would feel safe enough to share what was going on with me.
Corey spoke volumes with her body language, facial expressions, and the dark colored hoodie she wore every time I saw her. Her big brown eyes seemed to invite me into her world. She gradually began communicating with me through her artwork which led to her speaking and sharing her world.
One day Corey and I were sitting on the floor in the middle of my office. Corey said to me, “Becky I trust you” and pulled up one of the sleeves of her favorite hoodie.
Corey had spent hours carefully preparing, planning, orchestrating, and implementing where she was to take a razor blade and maliciously make cuts in her arm. Some freshly cut, some scabbed over, and others had become scars representing “the pain” she was going through internally.
Corey went to school daily terrified. There were three girls who were tormenting her at school. These girls were quite good at masking the torturous words they were saying to Corey with their sweet smiles, good grades, and “kissing up to the teachers”.
Corey had not told anyone. Not her mom, dad, extended family members, teachers, or school counselor. Her mom had called the school stating her concerns. The Vice Principal and School Counselor tried to talk to Corey to no avail. She denied all negative feelings and shared nothing of her problems at school.
Corey was terrified to go to class. She was terrified the girls would “really hurt” her if she told anyone. So, she told no one. She had learned from another kid the year prior that “cutting is a way of feeling better” and “cutting will release your pain”. Corey remembered this and began cutting.
Corey and I worked through the hell she was going through and the girls who were tormenting her were sent to an alternative school.
Corey, today, is 22 years old and attending college to become a counselor. She speaks very little about her life in middle school. She covers her arms with long sleeve clothing and feels “embarrassed” and “like a freak if anyone sees the scars”. Corey reports, “It was like I was living in a continual nightmare I could not wake up from”.
The girls “were telling me I was gay which totally screwed me up about sexuality at the time”. Her fear of telling someone, of course, was partly the fear of being bullied even more. But, the underlying fear was her dad’s reaction if he learned of her cutting. “My dad was the type to “give me something to cry about if he knew what I was doing”. Corey felt she “had nobody to talk to” because she had few friends and “was not in the popular group”. She acknowledges starting to cut after remembering what other kids had shared with her and adds, “I believed it would really help me feel better”. She “hated school and really believed what those girls were calling me was true”. In Corey’s mind, her cutting was an effective, albeit destructive and dangerous, coping mechanism she was in control of. She convinced herself she was allowing “pain to leave her body”.
Corey was raised by her biological mom and dad. Mom was a “stay home mom” and dad, an attorney. She reports her mom and dad “having a good marriage and relationship”. Cory was “raised going to church and we had no big problems until my parents found out I was cutting”. She now says, “I can’t blame anything on my family life or problems, I just let those girls torture me because I was scared of them”. “I actually was scared of myself after I started cutting”.
Kids learn about self-injury or cutting from other kids, the internet, or social media. This is not a behavior that pops in their head one day when they are feeling overwhelmed.
Adolescence is a time for transition, uncertainty, and the innate longing to belong. Their feelings related to problems and issues feel permanent to kids.
Self-injury often emerges from normal and healthy impulses to feel better, self-integrate, feel connected to oneself and to others, and to manage overwhelming emotion. Self-injury occurs when kids are isolated with no sense of connection and feeling overwhelmed. These individuals have heard stories of self-harm and want to grab on to anything that will make them feel they are in control and the emotional pain will stop.
Many times, kids will “play a role” as an actor in a movie. Self-injury concentrates the pain into one physical area in which the actor plays all roles: inflictor of pain, endure of pain, and healer of pain. Creating a physical injury reflects what they wish to do emotionally – namely to successfully endure and heal their pain.
Self-injury can become habitual for some teens where they report, “not being able to stop” and truly believing “cutting relieves my pain”. Many teens will continue this behavior into adulthood if it is not treated. Self-harm is held as a forbidden secret. Generally, teenagers will let one friend know but, many times, it is their own secret.
Corey reports having “relapsing thoughts of wanting to cut” to this day. What we tell ourselves many times begins to become reality, a reality we feel well-deserved. Until these thoughts change, and coping skills are implemented, self-harm is a terrifying journey of misconceptions, lies, secrets, and a false sense of control.
We all at times feel we have control when, it is false sense of control. A false sense of control is fear based. Grabbing a razor blade and cutting ourselves sounds outrageous to most but there are many self-mutilating sabotaging behaviors people do that leave deep emotional scars that can prove to be horribly painful.
Convincing ourselves we are in control is toxic! Acknowledging a false sense of control and then exploring all of the aspects involved, leads one to finding a sense of peace, many people are desperately seeking.