“Experts see painful cutting addiction spreading to urban girls”
Posted on the website of KHOU11 news in Houston (www.khou.com) was an article with the above title. I became aware of it from a post to the listserv that has been discussing self-injury. I read the article, was not surprised to be disappointed by it, then wrote my comments to the list serv. That was a few days ago. This morning I realized that this blog would be a very interesting place for this as well…
Here are my thoughts, roughly stated, on this piece. I sure would be interested in yours. And perhaps some of you might even find it interesting to let the author know your thoughts as well? Anyway, here’s what I wrote:
That article is nothing new, in my experience. Actually, it seemed more pathetic than most. It ends, interestingly, by telling parents to pay more attention to their kids, AFTER mentioning that a lot of the youth (in this article, there is no mention of boys, much less men) who cut have histories of abuse…. duh? So, parents who are likely to have been involved in the traumatic events of the child’s life should now “pay more attention.” I can see the inevitable recommendations such as scanning your kid’s body at night… and eliminating the SIV at all costs as the focus is only about stopping behavior, not much on understanding how it serves, really.
I don’t think the language is just short-sighted, I think the implications are far more damaging. Just because you weren’t asking doesn’t mean that people weren’t self-injuring. And who actually feels safe to disclose? And what is the context, esp. when you consider the class/race/culture of who is being asked vs. who is doing the asking. This misperception about who lives with SIV (please just accept that I use the acronym of a term that many here have reactions to) has been going on for a very long time. I teach that I have not ever met anyone who needed SIV that did not have a history of some form of trauma. Traumatic events are not limited to white middle class girls, therefore neither is the concept that some traumatized folks who find SIV as a means of coping just might be male, poor or rich, old, patient or therapist…. The initial, and still often quoted, research that perpetuated this was by psychiatrist Armando Favazza, who wrote Bodies Under Siege (a book in which the content is put in chapters named by parts of the body - I tell people if they hate what I am teaching they will love Favazza’s work, sigh… we were at a meeting once where he introduced himself as “the father of self-mutilation” - I wondered if I should be “granny”?). Favazza was on the Oprah show over 20 years ago and asked the audience members to write and fill out a questionnaire about their cutting. He got a lot of replies and wrote his first paper. So, who are the cutters? Who watched Oprah? That crap is still cited….
They are missing so many people with these comments. And are very demeaning in their language as well as ideas. To say “it’s like anorexia” is vicious. There are no people involved, it’s not about human suffering, just labels, and a sense of diminishment. And the idea that cutting is so dangerous. My God, how many people have we lost from anorexia? That is not true for people living with SIV. It’s just that it really really scares people.
I have done various interviews over the years and the reporters are often surprised at this other info compared to what “experts” say. On occasion there have been some good articles and people have written in and taught that the experts are truly misguided (I think that is true because of the misinformation in the clinical literature). Radio shows have worked better when people are given the chance to call in or e-mail live… I remember one show when a listener wrote in that she started banging her head at age 2, and that it was a time her brother was molesting her. The idea of children beginning to self-injure at a young age is NOT new. But it is not in these clinicians’ experience so they don’t look, consider, listen… those that have not been taught any different perpetuate harm.
Uh oh, I’m going on and on…. I just thought that maybe we were further along than this.
I hope that some on this list might write to the reporter to give them a different perspective from different experts…. what do you say?
Also, I received a question about my thoughts regarding the use of the word “addiction” in that article and want to write my opinion here and see what you all think…
I think addiction and coping get confused. I can see many sides to the word “addiction” and I know sometimes people believe SIV is an addiction. To me some of this depends on how you define addiction - if you see people as becoming addicted as a way of coping with trauma, it stands some chance of making sense. If you see addiction in the pure disease model (it’s a brain disease, what I was taught to teach when I worked as an addictions counselor many years ago) it does not. I think the term can get overused and watered down. I’m personally not comfortable with applying it to SIV.
There was a chunk of clinical writing some years back that “cutters” are addicts, addicted to endogenous opioids. The theory is that cutting caused a release of endorphins and that is why people look so much “calmer” or “stoned” after they cut. To me they look relieved. Made me wonder why I wasn’t ecstatic about paper cuts… really, is it endorphins or profanity that are released most often when someone gets a paper cut? It is my belief that when someone is considering SIV they are in a stressed state, therefore they are having many physical/chemical reactions that normally come with fight/flight/freeze. Besides all the well known release of adrenalin and all that there is also a release of endorphins. Makes sense because if you are going to need to fight or flee it would be best not to be sensitive to pain, right? So the endogenous opioids are already there as part of the stress response, before the SIV. I think that is a factor (along with dissociation) in why many people who live with SIV do not feel much or any pain when they self-injure.
I think there is more comfort for most people in seeing all these behaviors, addictions, pathologies as some sort of illnesses - the avoidance of discomfort is very human and the recognition of trauma, it’s brutality on so many, even themselves…. well, lots of people would rather not get so messy and rather see people as broken brains… With that perspective I don’t know if it matters what labels are used, some just seem less harmful than others. I suppose you’d be better off labeled a “cutting addict” than a “borderline”?
I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book about what I’ve learned and believe about all this. Those of you who know me know that I can’t focus much at all, or sit for long without falling asleep, so this is quite a question for me. I have asked for some people’s opinions about the potential worth of my taking on the task and want to ask the members of the listserv if you think it would be useful… Careful, as, if you support the idea, you might be asked to be a proofreader. Ideas? All I know is that my chapter titles won’t be body parts!