Not all cutters fit the same stereotypical image of an overly melancholy teen girl who wears black all the time and is emotionally distant from her parents and peers. There are many types of cutters, each with their own reasons behind the behavior. Instead of assuming your teen is a classic self-harmer, consider whether any of the following profiles fit.
The Drama Queen (or King)
This kind of cutter is doing it to show off and get attention. Maybe the person thrives on interpersonal conflict and displays strong Narcissistic tendencies. Whether attention is positive or negative, attention is what they’re after! Look out for cutting following any kind of failure; the inability to get attention in positive ways can lead to negative behaviors bound to get attention. As much as this idea may make you unwilling to give the sought-after attention, attention is exactly what this kind of cutter needs. If they don’t find it, they’ll likely engage in even more extreme and risky behaviors to get it.
The Curious One-Timer
What’s all the buzz about cutting? These teens want to find out. They’re curious about what it feels like, and when they find out, they’re not likely to repeat the behavior. They quickly realize that they don’t want to hurt themselves, after all. If your teen tells you they were just experimenting, you can probably breathe a sigh of relief. But don’t completely let your guard down.
This type of cutter is similar but distinct from the “Drama Queen.” They’re out for more than attention: They want to shock you and send a definite message. What message are they sending? They want you to know that they’re in control of their own bodies, and — by extension — their lives. They’re motivated by a desire for independence and freedom and want to communicate that desire to the authorities in their lives.
The Rebel with a Cause
These cutters are intentionally hurting you. They want to cause others pain and are willing to endure pain themselves in order to make that happen. In a sense, these cutters aren’t aiming to harm themselves, but to hurt or embarrass you, as the parent. Usually prompted by anger, the thought process usually includes vindication for difficulties and blame toward parents or others. Sometimes it’s even retribution for thinking the teen is doing fine; it’s an obvious sign that he or she is far from fine.
The Emotionally Disturbed
If you’ve never struggled with self-harm tendencies, it may be difficult to imagine causing yourself physical pain in order to distract yourself from your emotional pain. Sometimes the emotion involved is anger. Some people punch walls or other people, but others cut themselves; both provide a release, and the latter seems kinder. After all, they’re only hurting themselves (or so they think).
Those Attempting Atonement
This cutter is a bit more serious than the others, and recovery will likely include a lengthy process involving counseling and supervision. The underlying beliefs or issues can involve guilt, shame, and a variety of emotional problems.