One of the first questions I often get when parents come into therapy terrified of their child’s self-harm is some version of this: What should I do with all the knives and other sharp objects in the house? Their first instinct, usually, is to remove everything from the house. This is normal and very common—a completely understandable reaction. And it actually makes some sense…at first. Hide the knives! Hide the razor blades! Hide it all! If there’s nothing to use, how can they cut, right? Wrong.
Here’s the harsh reality: If a self-injurer wants to cut, they’re going to cut. They’ll use a pen, a paperclip, a fork, even jewelry! If that fails, they’ll grow out their fingernails. They’ll even pull up the staples in the carpet if things get desperate. Hiding sharp objects will not stop the self-injury. But there’s a more detrimental effect: Removing these objects can make a self-injurer feel you don’t understand them—that you’re focusing on the wrong thing—leading them to feel even more isolated. This alone can actually lead to an increase in the self-injuring behavior.
Imagine your child has a broken leg and needs crutches to walk. You wouldn’t take away those crutches, even if they were digging into armpits or cutting into hands and wrists, would you? Think of self-injury as a kind of crutch for “broken emotions.” Removing sharp objects from your home would be like removing crutches before your child is able to walk without them, thereby further disabling them. We say a lot of controversial things at KISI, and in that spirit, here’s yet another one: Let them cut, at least for the time being. Removing sharp objects before a self-injurer has begun to deal with past relational failure or trauma can have drastic effects. These folks need professional help, and parents need to do their best to shift their focus from the physical wounds to the emotional ones. The end of cutting will happen organically, especially if the family does its part by participating in professional therapy.
Bodies heal on their own. Souls don’t. “Broken” souls need your love and care for healing, along with the help of an experienced professional.
-Brad Horne is the Training Coordinator at KISI