Writing by Joey Kellog
This is an edited version of some writing by Joey Kellog from around the year 2000. It was found on geocities.com/bnl_jgk/thedarkestsecret.html - Yahoo has since closed all geocities accounts. It is copied with his permission
Beneath the scars and bruises of every teen who self-harms, lies a very dark and hidden secret. For some, it may be the sexual abuse they went through as a child. For another, it could be how her drunken father beat her and her mother every night. For another the secret could be repeated emotional abuse or neglect, more simply put as not feeling loved and cared about. The cutter is raised in a very negative, or perhaps even an overly positive, environment. (see this letter from a mother who tried to use the "be positive" approach) Either way, they have learned to be afraid to express their true feelings, especially their painful or "negative" feelings.
It may be very obvious that they are suffering from emotional pain and depression, or it may appear they are successful, happy and positive. Those who appear happy may actually have no healthy outlet to express their painful feelings. When they have tried to in the past they were invalidated or in some othe way did not feel accepted by their parents, so they learned to pretend to always be happy or "fine."
At the other end of the scale many have grown up in a physical or emotionally violent home with abuse, neglect, rejection and other forms of pain.
They may have been introduced to violence, drugs/alcohol, sex, and other destructive behaviors. These become their only known ways of temporarily stopping or decreasing their pain. As they mature, they often will become drug, alcohol and tobacco users or abusers. Many will abuse or neglect their own spouses and children in some way because they are still trying to fill their unmet needs.
When there is no healthy outlet for the expression of painful feelings and the victim knows they must remain very secretive, their pain grows inside until one day they begin to self-harm and find it brings fast, but temporary relief.
For many years cutting was much less discussed in public. It was not as "socially-acceptable" as eating disorders. It still is not as acceptable or easily available as drugs (legal or illegal), tobacco or alcohol. All of these latter forms of self-medication and self-harm are actually widely advertised and billions of dollars are made in their profits.
More often than not, the relief from self-harm was "discovered" by accident or as an impulsive and almost instinctive response to some form of hurtful event. In one example, a girl got into a major argument with her mother and went upstairs to take a shower. While she was shaving her legs, she suddenly sliced her wrists with her shaving razor and as the blood started to trickle out, she discovered a new kind of relief; thus began her many years of habitual self-mutilation.
For many cutters, their pain is described as a random mess of hurt that is impossible to sort out and clearly identify. Some will be able to link their self-injury to a specific past event, but many will not. It is this darkest secret that will eat away at the victim's consciousness until there is nothing left but a huge black hole.
Remebering and understanding the past, and being aware of the present, is the only way a victim can find the causes of their pain and free themselves from it, and from the sources of it.
It may be easier for someone who self-harms to talk to a friend or a teacher or a therapist, as opposed to a family member. Trust, though, is essential. If their secrets are divulged to the parents, things will often just get worse since the parents are the primary cause of the emotional pain and lack of safety.
Abuse of some kind is always present in the history of those who self-injure. It is the secret of abuse, like the secret of a rape or incest which leaves the victim feeling embarrassed, shamed, hurt, alienated, vulnerable, and very, very scared. It helps the victim to realize they are not alone, and they are not to blame, and that keeping it inside will not work in the long run. Finding someone they can trust is an important first step in the healing process. Many self-harming teens find they can only trust other teens who self-harm.
Most people have no idea how to approach someone who self-injures. Criticism, ridicule, threats and contracts, however, are certainly not helpful ways. Someone who self-injures feels trapped and alone and incapable of, or afraid of, expressing his or her emotions. They have resorted to a pain killer that keeps them in secret, secure and alone. Exploiting them and/or attacking them for their actions will worsen the problem and may lead to worse injuries or even a suicide attempt. Instead, gaining a strong and unbreakable trust is the key to helping a teen who self-harms.
Betrayal is one of the many blocks that make up the foundation of a cutter's pain. When a cutter feels they can trust you, that is a very big step. Once this is accomplished, care, love, and respect are necessary, along with assuring the cutter that they will not be left alone and that better solutions will be found. Once a secure connection is established, it is time to let the dark and painful past spill out. Remember that painful experiences that a cutter holds on to and keeps trapped inside, will always come back and will get worse as time goes on. It is proven that getting out these bad memories and painful pasts does a great bit of good in moving forward from self-mutilation. Keep in mind that you are becoming this person's "emotion journal." They are turning to you to pour out everything they have kept inside for so long. Encouragement and support are necessary to move out from the shadowed abyss of self-mutilation.