How One Girl’s Story Of Cutting Set Me On A Journey To Get Real

Early on in my career as a therapist, a young woman called me. She shared that her friend told her I was a good counselor and that she wondered if we could meet. When she arrived for her appointment, I asked what brought her in.

She said, “I’ll show you.”

She took off her shoes and socks and pointed to her feet. They were covered with cutting marks. “I cut my feet and then pour muriatic acid on them,” she said with a blank stare.

My stomach turned and my mind was in shock, but I couldn’t show that I felt this way.

I remained calm and asked, “And what causes you to do that?”

“Why aren’t you horrified at this stupid and repulsive behavior?” she wondered.

To which I replied, “Why should I be?”

She went on to tell me that cutting seemed to numb her feelings of loss in her life. She shared how she was often beaten as the child of a family of alcoholics. Throughout my career, I saw many cutters in my office and usually uncovered the stories of sexual abuse they encountered as young girls.

Feeling numb is often the goal for someone with a history of having been abused. A person who feels lost, alone, disconnected, or invisible sometimes finds physical pain to be the only way to numb the pain of their memories.

After I had my first session with her, I met with my director for a supervision session. I felt I had to be naked now. Had I done the right thing? Said the right words? What was she going to do next? If she came back, what would be my protocol for treatment?

My supervisor asked me how I felt about my session, and I said that I guessed it went okay. I had listened without reacting with disgust or shock to my client. My neutral response seemed to give her a safe place to be vulnerable and trusting with me, someone she had just met.

My supervisor told me I’d done very well, and we talked about details of the case and ways to proceed. Over the course of twelve sessions with her, she changed her destructive behaviors, became more involved in outside activities, met some new friends, and seemed to be on a path of healing. Her revelation to me and my support in return assisted her in unloading a heavy burden. She no longer needed to instigate self-abuse to feel numb.

The work of my therapeutic process with her became a huge stepping-stone on my own journey toward becoming real.

Of course, much more has happened in my journey — both wonderful and hurtful — but these events are how I came to value and honor self-disclosure based upon ages and stages in my life. The early years, the adolescent period, young adulthood, college, marriage, parenthood, career path, and aging are part of all of our stretch marks, bumps, and bruises.

Every one of us is a compilation of our own experiences, memories, and perception of those experiences.

What we learn from these experiences is the key. Chosen changes and un-chosen changes alike eventually have to be accepted and digested by each of us. Then life continues.

These are the times when you need someone to be emotionally naked with.

What key points in your life have affected your way of living?

What do — and what don’t — you share with others?

How might that change if you found the right place and the right person to share with what you haven’t yet to anyone, to say what you have not said, and to dream aloud with a caring listener?

Responses to events are mediated. In other words, once an event takes place, our responses — our behaviors — are shaped by our interpretation of that event, which is based on our deepest beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions, as well as on the feelings generated by those beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions.

That is the preexisting lens we wear and look through, and it determines — or at least colors — our observation and interpretation of events.

What do you really need to share aloud with a committed listener, coach, therapist or some other confidante?

Practice saying your story. And when you are ready, ask that person to hear you without judgment.

See what happens with the revelation. You’ll be surprised.


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