DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Worried Mother, Chandler, Ariz.," whose daughter is self-mutilating. I had this problem in high school. What wasn't mentioned in her letter is that cutting, burning, etc., is an addictive behavior. You hit the nail on the head when you said cutting causes physical pain to express deep internal pain, and a mental health specialist is necessary.
In the meantime, instead of punishing her daughter by grounding her, the mother should try to be very understanding and treat this as an addiction. Anything her daughter could harm herself with should be confiscated -- and the girl should be monitored to be sure the behavior is not ongoing. It's easy to hide.
Please inform the mother that even though her daughter is in a lot of pain, she might not be able to verbalize it. It's best not to prod or force her. Just be there and try to do the best she can. The healing has to come from the daughter. A parent can only help along the way. -- FORMER CUTTER IN EUGENE, ORE.
DEAR FORMER CUTTER: Thank you for the valuable input. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I am almost 17 and have been cutting off and on since I was 13. When I began, I didn't realize how addictive the condition is. At one point, I cut at least once a day for several months -- and experienced physical withdrawal if I didn't.
Sadly, my behavior is common for someone suffering from this addiction. Teen-age girls seem to be afflicted most often -- especially the perfectionist, overachiever types who are also prone to depression and eating disorders.
I have read stories of severely addicted cutters who cut for 30 years or more. I will have scars on my arms, back and stomach for the rest of my life. As you said in your response, Abby, the daughter needs emotional support from her friends. I have been blessed with the most wonderful, caring group of friends who have helped me through my difficult times. I would encourage anyone who is a victim of self-mutiliation to seek professional help immediately. -- SELF-INJURER, STILL STRUGGLING
DEAR STRUGGLING: Thank you for sharing your personal experience. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I have been a cutter for 15 years. People are only recently becoming aware of this problem. I received help when I was younger, and now, as a mother of three, I'm able to control my urges when life gets difficult.
Please inform "Worried Mother" not to punish her child for cutting. Cutters are in need of serious psychological help. They cut because they feel their pain is eating away at them, and cutting is the only way to let it out. Talking and listening to her troubled child is vital. She should not be criticized, and her problems should not be minimized. The smallest thing can feel like an end to her world. -- BEEN THERE IN LAS VEGAS
DEAR BEEN THERE -- AND ALL OF THE FORMER CUTTERS WHO TOOK THE TIME TO WRITE: Most people do not understand the dynamics of this problem. Your taking the time to write and educate us is appreciated. According to other letters from former cutters, the problem may stem from clinical depression, bipolar disorder or sexual abuse. And I repeat: It is a cry for help -- PROFESSIONAL help.
To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600