February 24, 2005

Estrogen Week: Michele Versus Michelle

It's Catalano v. Malkin on the subject of teenagers and cutting. Guess whose take I prefer? (Note: Before you rush off to add your two cents to the comments, I really recommend reading the update.)

Longtime readers know I have some personal experience with the whole cutting thing. I don't think it's too relevant for me to go into much more detail beyond what I've already said about it in the "About" section; that is:

I used to do this back then [as a teenager], too. It wasn't called that at the time. So far as I know, it wasn't called anything besides "way f---ing bizarre." I picked the habit up from a guy, which is odd, because it seems to be mostly a girl thing.

I disagree with most of the theories about why kids do it, but it would be getting into a long story to explain why that is--and guaranteed, someone who's never done it, never known anyone who did it, and has no idea what he or she is talking about, will argue with me. I stuck to the arms, and I don't have any really serious scars or anything, so most of the time anymore I've forgotten I ever did it.

(Oh man, did I really just blockquote myself? I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to forgive me the pomposity. I understand if you can't, either.)

I mention it because I think Michele's strongest point is that this isn't, in any way, a subject that should be dealt with using gross generalizations, i.e.:

Llamabutchers raises my hackles by suggesting that divorce/broken homes (how I hate that phrase) is a root cause of this self destructive behavior. Secure Liberty also blames it (a specific case that all three blogs write about) on the kid being upset about her parent's divorce.

Do you know anything about the statistics of cutters that you can just whip that little nugget of information out?

If you listen to some people, you'd think that every single child of divorce is doomed for a life of crime, drugs and despair.

Maybe they're not all broken homes. Maybe some of them are fixed homes, you know?

As I mentioned in Michele's comments, my parents were not divorced. My family attended church regularly. My parents believed in, and taught, traditional values. These attributes, so highly regarded in socially conservative circles, not that there's anything wrong with that, are no insurance at all against self-destructive teenagers. Hate to break it to you, "fixed" families, but as a matter of fact yes, it could happen to you. You could wind up having a kid who does this. It's not a disorder exclusive to Democrats, fans of emo music, or marathon swimmers in the low-culture sewer.

As for what it really is, well, I leave that to the experts, to the mental health professionals. I can say I've talked to other former cutters, and the best I can come up with is that motives vary.

The passage of 20-odd years since I last did it also dulls my memory regarding why I did it. From what I can recall of how I felt back then, I'd say it was a sort of twisted self-defense thing, a way to show that sworn enemy of teenagers, "the world," that it could quit trying to hurt me any time now because, see?--I already hurt myself. I can hurt myself just fine, world. I'm tough, and I can take it, so you knock it off. That sort of goofy reasoning, if you can even call it that; the sort of thinking that makes sense to you at the time but just seems, uh, dumb once you get a little older and get a little perspective. "The world," obviously, was not out to get me. A merry band of bitches at high school was, perhaps, but high school, thank heavens, is not "the world."

And that last is more or less what I'd say, what I have in fact said, to a teenager I knew was cutting: This passes. All the aggro and the bullshit, well, guess what?--You grow up and get to trade it all for new aggro and new bullshit. But it's still better, and you may not know it now, but you do want to get there, and you want to get there with as few scars as possible. If you need help to do that, get help to do that--but don't hurt yourself like this.

You know what I wouldn't say? I wouldn't say "quit listening to that depressing music." I wouldn't say "such a shame; I'll bet if your parents had stayed together, this would never have happened." I wouldn't say anything trite or trivializing or dismissive or simplistic about a serious subject.

And frankly?

Malkin's old enough to know better than to do that either.

(NOTE: No comments. As always, you're welcome to email me, but we will not be having any circle jerks on this subject, for what I hope are obvious reasons. Thank you for understanding.)

Posted by Ilyka at February 24, 2005 03:34 PM in estrogen week