Cutting again after a friend’s silent treatment

Originally Published: November 2, 2012
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Dear Alice,

My best friend and I got into a fight. It's been a month and he won't speak to me. He says that he needs time, but that's the one thing I can't give him. I feel so hopeless and I've gone back to cutting after being clean for 11 months. I'm just so sad all the time and it just hurts — so much more than I know how to describe. And I know I shouldn't allow my happiness to be dependent on another person, but it is because he was the only one that actually cared. And I just don't know what to do. I can't bring myself to go to see psychological services (I'm a student at CU) and I tried calling hotlines, but I just can't go through with it. I'm trying to move on, but I just want the pain to stop. I miss him so much. And I apologized profusely, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care and I can't handle it. I'm just so upset and I just need help. I don't know what to do.

Dear Reader,

The ending of a friendship can be very difficult, and the silent treatment can feel worse than any unkind words. Finding closure and moving on is hard when someone gives you the cold shoulder. However, just because he isn’t speaking to you, doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. People respond very differently when they are angry or upset. While you’re friend might need time, you deserve to feel better without hurting yourself now. Don’t emotionally exhaust yourself by continually reaching out. It sounds like you’ve done your part apologizing and attempting to communicate, but without his cooperation, the friendship may have run its course.

Seeking out advice or support during this hard time may help you clear your mind. Talking with a counselor may be difficult at first, but expressing your emotions and talking about how to deal with your emotions in a more positive way may help you avoid cutting again in the future. If you aren’t up for speaking with a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or Mental Health Services (CUMC), which offers short-term counseling services to all Columbia students, you could also speak with a trusted friend, teacher, family member, or clergy member. You don’t necessarily have to choose someone you are close to. You mention you’ve tried calling hotlines. Does this include Nightline, the Columbia student resource where you can speak anonymously with a peer counselor? Call 212-854-7777 between 10pm and 3am nightly. There’s also 1-800-DONT-CUT (3668-288) and the website for S.A.F.E. Alternatives.

Coping with emotional pain by cutting can release tension and help you feel in control, distract from your situation, relieve guilt and inflict punishment, or even simply allow you to feel something other than numb. When you need help expressing feelings you can’t put into words, hurting yourself can make you feel better temporarily. But relief is short-lived, and cutting can keep you from learning other effective strategies for feeling better. Instead, it can become compulsive and lead to guilt and more damages than the situation that triggered it. It’s important to understand why you are cutting again – what feeling is making you want to cut? Is it sadness, anger, shame, loneliness, guilt, emptiness? By recognizing what triggers your need to cut, you can start developing new coping techniques.

Try picking a different activity when you feel like cutting. If you cut…

  • To express pain and intense emotions, you might try expressing your feelings in a journal, writing down negative feelings on a piece of paper and ripping it up, listening to music that expresses what you’re feeling, painting or drawing, or composing a poem.

  • To calm and soothe yourself, you could try taking a bath or hot shower, petting a dog or cat, or getting a massage.

  • When you’re feeling disconnected and numb, you could take a cold shower, briefly hold an ice cube in the nook of your arm, chew something with a strong taste, or call a friend or chat online (and you don’t have to talk about cutting).

  • To release tension or vent anger, exercising vigorously, punching a cushion, squeezing a stress ball, ripping something up, or making lots of noise (playing an instrument, screaming into a pillow) could help.

Some people try other choices to mimic the cutting sensation by putting rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs and snapping them instead of cutting or hitting, but this is still a form of self-injury. It may be better to deal with emotional issues, and trying to delay self-injuring behaviors until the feeling passes, rather than finding less injurious methods. Avoiding things that promote self-injury will also help support you in stopping again, which might mean avoiding Internet sites or even friends that glorify intentionally injuring yourself.

It was brave of you to reach out, and you have many options to create coping skills to deal with your pain. You’ve stopped cutting before – and you can stop again.

Alice