What to say to someone who tells you they are cutting

When someone tells you they are cutting, they are struggling and looking for someone to listen.  Connect with the pain first.

In other words, you don’t say things like, “You are so wonderful, why would you do that to yourself?” Because they might not be certain of why they are doing it and second because those phrases tend to make the sufferer feel misunderstood. 

Cutting is basically a negative coping strategy that someone might use to deal with a problem that’s bothering them. Bullying, divorce, death of a parent, for example. It can go from being a habit to an addiction which is dangerous.

So something like the script below, although simplistic and probably corny, will give you the idea of a direction in which to go. 

Friend: I’ve been cutting

You: I’m honored you trust me. That took a lot of courage. It sounds so painful.  Do you know why you are cutting? 

Friend: I don’t know. 

You: When did it start?

Friend: I think it started after those girls texted that embarrassing picture of me with Jason naked from that party. It was so humiliating. I was so drunk.

You: I am so sorry that happened to you. That is really cruel.  

Friend: It’s so stupid but when I think about that or a lot of things, I cut myself and at that moment it feels good… and then later I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I keep thinking I’ll stop but then I get those feelings again and I do it again. 

You: It sounds like something really awful happened that triggered the cutting? Do you cut when other bad things happen?

Friend: I guess I do. Yeah. A bad test score. An argument. But yeah.

You: I feel worried about you. Can we talk to an adult you trust? I can go with you. Who do you think would be good? How about your soccer coach, Mrs. Kerry. She’s pretty cool. 

Your friend brought it up because they  want to talk about it. Use the things attached to your head called ears, have empathy and ultimately you want them to reach out to a trusted adult and get the help they need to develop healthier coping strategies.

Why? Because you are not qualified to fix this. Neither is a trusted adult but they’ll know more about what to do next.

Typically people who cut are trying to cope with a problem and you don’t want this behavior to escalate. It can’t hurt to ask, “Have you been thinking of suicide?” 

Here are the basic steps:

  1. I am honored you trust me enough to tell me about this
  2. Listen with your heart without judgement 
  3. Ask if they are thinking of or are attempting suicide
  4. Basically, you want them to talk it out. And you mostly want to listen.  Say things like, “I’m concerned about you.”  
  5. Unless you are a social worker or psychologist, you are not qualified to fix this friend, so the goal would be to get them to confide in a trusted adult. 

This doesn’t fix everything but it’s a start. It’s a scary, frustrating and baffling behavior for most of us. We want to say, “just stop cutting.”

Please understand that it’s more complicated than that.

My First Tattoo. Covers my Scars, but Not my Journey

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am the mother of two boys and the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am a writer and professional public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief and currently working on getting a book published. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory.

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