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Playing with knives

"Playing with knives" Continued...

Issue: "Looking for votes," March 11, 2006

Although Miss Campbell became an expert at hiding her cuts by positioning jewelry and armbands, her residence assistant at Liberty University discovered her secret. Miss Campbell had to sign a "safe-keeping contract" that stated she would attend counseling sessions and stop injuring herself. The university also confiscated her cutting tools. Five days later Miss Campbell began cutting herself again, this time with metal twist ties and the metal from a spiral-bound notebook: "I felt that they were trying to control my life."

Miss Campbell attended 13 counseling sessions that she said did not help much-except that she did not want to go, and the only way she would be allowed to stop going was to stop cutting. Now, she has cut herself only once in the past 2 years, but says that being in crowds and seeing Xacto knives still trigger a desire to start cutting again. Only now, whenever she feels the urge to self-injure, she tells herself: "Remember how long that road was? I'm not going down it again."

Healing deep wounds

When Kelly Campbell tried to stop self-injuring, she found that her recovery required tools stronger than willpower. So she began snapping a rubber band against her wrist, drawing on her arm with a red marker, and placing ice cubes against her skin.

Those tactics sometimes worked, but she says she also needed help from others: "During the day there was other stuff to do, but at night I was free to just hang out. I would tell my friends that I needed a distraction and they would say, 'Let's go do this.'" Health officials agree that interacting with friends and family is an important part of a self-injurer's recovery. According to The Healing House, a treatment center for cutters, "self-injurious behavior happens in the absence of healthy relationships with people."

WORLD talked with several self-injury counselors who explained how parents and friends should respond to self-injurers. "Offer a lot of love-hands-on hugging, positive affirmation, not just verbal, but touch," said Suzy Shellenberger, editor of Brio, Focus on the Family's magazine for teen girls, who receives several e-mail messages each week from cutters: "The reason they're hurting themselves on the outside is because they're hurting on the inside. It's the pain on the inside that needs attention."

Ms. Shellenberger recommends that parents make their child attend counseling: "Sure, she might balk, but if your daughter had a loaded gun, you wouldn't care if your daughter balked." Similarly, she advises friends to be firm in their love to a self-injurer. "Remind her, 'Your body is the temple of God. Every time you cut, you're destroying the temple.'"

Leslie Vernick, a licensed clinical social worker and author of How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong, believes churches can help by having "a genuine response of compassion, interest, practical help, and community."

Parents, she says, should not yell or become hysterical, but should "take their child's behavior as a cry for help and talk about what's bothering him/her and seek to get the appropriate help. Cutting is a way of saying something without using words-I'm angry, I'm hurting, I hate myself, I can't cope, I need to feel something in order to know I'm alive, I don't want to feel emotional pain so I'll inflict physical pain, I want to feel better, I want to punish myself." Parents need to listen carefully and calmly to their child's words even if they don't understand."

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