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I'm A Cutter And Can't Remember Anything


I’m a cutter and can’t remember anything. My family thinks it’s out of laziness or lack of trying hard enough, but it’s not. I have flashbacks all the time (mostly of bad memories) but forget them almost instantaneously. I juggle 25-30 hours of work, high school, house expenses, and college applications every day. Nothing satisfies my family and memories of my abused past float in and out of my head. Sometimes I’ll be crying or angry and not know why. I cut up my arms to help ease the pain inside. It feels like all the bad stuff inside of me leaves through the vents that I cut. I know it’s wrong, but it always brings me back to reality. I’m not suicidal, I just need release. I can’t seem to let go of the past, though. The things my grandfather put my siblings and me though–amongst other things–haunt me constantly. He’s been dead for years. Even though I’m scared of remembering it all, I feel that I must in order to move on. How can I force out my repressed memories, maintain someting similar to sanity, and make my failing memory stronger?

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You don’t go into details, but it is clear enough from your statements that you and your siblings have been abuse victims. When abuse is perpetrated forcefully and/or chronically enough, it leaves a lasting impact on people, in some cases traumatizing them. A trauma is an event that was too horrible to process and which remains “undigested” in your mind for years. Post traumatic stress disorder, which can be debilitating, is one possible negative outcome of trauma exposure. A possible negative outcome of trauma-inducing abuse exposure is borderline personality disorder; the disorder most frequently associated with people who cut themselves. I provide this information as context, so you can see your situation in perspective; you may have really been harmed by your abuse exposure, only the harm appears to be “invisible” because it has impacted your brain and your develoment process, rather than leaving a visible scar.

While people cope with abuse trauma in a variety of creative ways, some hit upon a strategy that psychologists call dissociation. Dissociation is nothing more or less than a person’s ability to not pay attention to things. Everyone dissociates to one extent or another, but some people become very skillful dissociators, and manage to hide large parts of their experience from themselves. Very severe dissociation that occurs at a young age can result in what used to be called multiple personality disorder (today: dissociative identity disorder). More commonly, abused people are able to form a “whole” personality, but somehow repress their abuse memories so as to not deal with them. Of course, repression doesn’t work perfectly, and emotional pain is experienced when memories do resurface (e.g. become attended to).

Cutting is another coping mechanism that a fair number of abused people hit upon to help them manage their emotions and memories. Different people report different benefits from cutting, but the common ones are that it brings them back to a feeling of reality (when they are emotionally dissociated), that it allows them to punish themselves when they are feeling that they are at fault, that it distracts them from the pain they feel.

These things are normal, even creative responses to abnormal situations; they are attempts at coping with the abuse experience. While they serve a protective function while abuse is ongoing, they come with a price in that they make relationships and normal emotional regulation difficult. Ultimately, for most people, the abuse stops but the coping mechanisms have become so second nature that they can’t be easily stopped; they continue to create problems for people long after their immediate usefullness has ended.

In general, the way out of this mess is to learn how to “digest” it better – to learn how to accept it rather than hide from it, and to put it into the past where it belongs so that it does not mess up your present. This is trickly business becuase the memories can be overwhelming. It can be very helpful to work with a trusted professional therapist on matters like this, because such therapists can (if you trust them) help push you forward towards talking about what happened, while also providing ample opportunities for safety. A good way to get professional help for this sort of thing at a relatively inexpensive price is to look for a group therapy situation. The best type of therapy for cutting-related issues is going to be Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Amoung other useful things you’ll learn in a DBT group are multiple ways to “self-sooth” which can be substuted for cutting when you are upset.

Good luck in solving this abuse stuff, and learning how to grow past it. You’re obviously a motivated and fairly bright person. With persistance and the right help, you will be able to significantly lessen the impact of the difficult abuse events on your future.

More "Ask Dr. Dombeck" View Columnists

  • Tessa

    Anyone who wants to learn more about cutting/cutters or for those who do cut, the book A Bright Red Scream is a must read. I'm almost sixteen, and have been cutting for three years now. I read this book every night before I go to bed and everything makes sense. I also learn things that I didn't know before and can relate with what it says. So if you know someone who cuts, you cut yourself, or you're just interested in the subject, you should deffinitally check it out. It's old, and out of print but you can order it almost anywhere. Tessa

  • shelby

    i know whats you feel like. i dont like cutting at all, but its the only thing that can help me. i want to remeber my memories but i just cant. i need the pain to go away, and cutting is the only way i can control it.

  • The mom

    You said the book helps you, but your still cutting after theree years? I found out my 13 year old is cutting not sure what to do.

  • Anonymous-1

    Yeh i know i understand your problem. i'm 15, and have been cutting for 2 years. i just cant live life without it, i hate it but its all i can do to survive. i hate my life, its so difficult...


    I am 24 years old. I have been cutting since I was 8. Sue to past prblems. Nobody ever notices,, and really dont care. It seems to help releive the emotional pain. i feel that if I hurt physically, then the emotional things dont matter as much. and i feel that i deserve the pain.. I don't kno why , but I can not stop. andd I have no one, to talk to about it. I do feel not so crazy knowing that there are others out there like me. but I also know that nobody can ever totally understand what we have been and are still going through.

  • Forever

    I have been a victim of sexual abuse on and off since I was three. i used to cut inmy teenage years not knowing why, just knowing the pain needed to go somehere. I am now 38 yrs old with 2 children and an abusive husband. During our 10 yr marriage I was sexually assulted over and over again by a close family friend. My husband blamed me for it, and has been even more abusive the last year. I cant remember to flush a toilet let alone call a lawyer for a divorce. i know how you feel. Cutting gets u through the pain at the moment. The only irony is that it really doesnt do anything but leave scars. I hope u get to the bottom of your problems. I go to rape crisis therapy once a week as i cannot handle it more than that. Maybe you can try a therapy place like that. Good luck

  • Stacieey

    I am 14 years old... I started cutting at about 12. My parents didn't know until right before my 14th birthday. They screamed and punished me for it. It just made me more upset. I completly changed in my taste in clothing, music, makeup, hairstyles and everything else. My parents hate the way I am just because they want me to be something I'm not. Cutting is the only thing I have found that makes me feel calm like everything is going to get better. And sometimes it's a reminder to me of how many times someone has hurt me. I hate the way my parents yell at me for trying to "escape" the pain they put me through. I hate my step-dad with such a passion. Most of the 200 cuts on my wrists are from him and his pain that he causes me. He hits, yells, and punishes me in way I don't like. I hate life and the only thing keeping me living is my boyfriend but pretty soon I'm not too sure that thats going to keep me going for much longer. My cutting is so bad... I have about 200 on my wrists. About 250 on my legs. And about 50 on my stomach. I don't know how else to make my life feel better for about 20 minutes. It takes some of the pain away. But then life just causes even more to me. I want to stop. But whenever I try to something happens that I can't deal with. I just... Cant stop... My parents don't want me to go to a therapist, or put me on meds. They think I can get out of my depression myself. I don't think I can. What can I do?

  • Amy

    I began cutting when I was about 17. I am 34 now. I cut because I was in an abusive relationship w/ a boyfriend. Yes, teeanagers can also be victims of abuse in a relationship even at such a young age. I cut for two reasons- relieve the pain and guilt that he inflicted upon me and to punish myself for the horible things he said that I did. I cut for about 5 more years after that. Eventually I got out of the relationship by moving 2000 miles away and then the cutting stoppped. Recently, my daughter was in a tragic boating accident. There were also some domestic issues going on as well. I snapped. I "lost" about the first 5 days after the accident. Within a few weeks I was back to cutting. Here I am - a grown woman w/ a carreer, family and a serioulsy injured child- CUTTING. It was the only way I knew to bring myself back to reality and to relieve pain, so I went for it. After about 3 months I was very suicidal. My family was very supportive and pushed me to get treatment. Guess what -IT WORKED!!! I haven't cut in 6 months. I have seen my therapist Randy now for 10 months. I see him weekly. He has helped me to understand why I did this, how to manage it and realize it was going to be okay. I do take medication daily but I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have my therpaist to see each week. It has helped so much. If your cutting know that your not alone and therapy does help- it will get better and things will be okay. Please seek treatment - you deserve a life that is pain free and it is possible.

  • Lone wolf

    i need to cut it feels like a release please help

  • Square

    Cutting is not the answer. The depression is creating the pain, it's your own sad feelings that cause cutting to occur, the sad feelings won't just go away from cutting. There are happier thoughts to think than to feel sorry for yourself. There's easier ways of dealing with depression, if one way dosn't work you should try something else.

  • Anonymous-2

    I understand your situation all too well. i am 18 and i have cut for 3 and a half years now. i've been in therapy for two of those years. i have had three therapists, the first two told me that i was a helpless case. i'm on my third and he is beginning to give up on me too. My parents are big christians and i started cutting when i was 12 becasue i was told i was going to hell and i didn't think that jesus bled enough for me. yes, that sounds a bit absurd, but it worked. then it turned into a relief, getting away from the screaming for just a minuite. my girlfriend is helping me stop, and yes i am a girl. still getting use to it... good luck with everything, all of you. if you ever need someone to talk to, i'm always open. even if you just need someone to listen and understand.


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