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on December 28, 2003
Now in my mid-30's, I bought this book after seeing the movie Secretary and recognizing myself as a teen in the main character of the movie. Although, in my case, I overcame my urges to self-injure (in ways other than cutting, which this book addresses) on my own and through the process of maturation and some very focused self-examination in my 20's, I still found myself fascinated as to why I, or any person, would resort to self-mutilation as a way to feel relief and a temporary sense of peace since the act and the resulting feelings seem so incredibly incongruent. This book took me back and allowed me to see and understand myself in ways I never expected and far beyond what I had already ascertained self-mutilation was about based on my own self-understanding. It also allowed me to see where I still lean toward the behavior in subtle, almost undetectable ways even though I have been under the impression for over 15 years that I no longer "act out" or would be considered a self-mutilator.
The book is extremely well written and researched and the case studies sited enable the reader to identify - whether you are or were a self-injurer yourself or know someone who is. The author suggests many reasons why self-mutilators do what they do, why and how this gamut of behaviors addresses crucial needs they have and why it isn't as easy to refrain from when a loved one who doesn't really understand says, "Stop that!" Strong explains the behavior from psychological, emotional, spiritual, physical, chemical, environmental and medical perspectives so that one can gain a full and well rounded picture of self-mutilation, it's causes and it's effects - both overt and obvious as well as subtle and nearly imperceptible.
The most startling revelation I experienced while reading this book - which is a page turner in and of itself - is that I had the impression that I was somehow unique and special in the fact that I was a self-mutilator (because it is such a personal method of self-expression often shrouded in cultivated secrecy and privacy on the part of the self-mutilator) and that I managed to overcome my urges by finally learning how to feel my feelings and address my issues in healthier ways as "normal" people do. This book, however, made me realize that it was almost formula pre-destiny based on the circumstances of my upbringing that would serve as the basis and foundation for the ways I acted out down the road in my teenage years. I was left with the sense that, given all the criteria of what makes a injurer an injurer, I almost had no choice but to do what I did in order to survive and cope - and the act IS a form of survival and coping when you are given the message while growing up that control and perfection is crucial and any overt, yet healthy and normal, form of emotional expression is not okay for whatever reason. This realization made me a bit angry for a time and left me feeling that the path I'd taken in life that I thought was of my own free will was actually one that was chosen for me, in a sense, by those who had a hand in my upbringing; that what I had spent years attempting to address and overcome was actually something I may not have had to address at all had my formative years and childhood been different because, quite simply, self-mutilation is an effect of a cause. I was left wondering what else I may have done with my time and energy had I not had to grapple with this because, for many years, it was a behavior that consumed me - both in the doing of it and then, later, the overcoming of it.
Self-mutilation isn't something people just choose to do without reason or without a deep-seated basis of history that, in a strange way, actually supports the behavior. This book sheds illuminating light on how and why self-mutilators develop into who they are and why they do what they do and it also makes a strong case as to why this is not an act that suggest suicidal tendencies as many suspect, but rather an extreme way of trying to stay alive and save ones own life by expressing emotions, as all humans need to do, in a secretive way that prevents backlash from those around the person who have made it clear that the normal path of expression is not acceptable.
For anyone who self-mutilates and wishes to understand themselves on some very deep levels in order to gain insight - which in and of itself may generate the path toward overcoming the behavior, although some suggestions for treatment and help are given in the book - or those who know and love a person who self-mutilates but doesn't quite understand why they do what they do, thus far I have read no other book that addresses the issue better than this one does and cannot recommend it enough.
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on July 4, 2005
Reading this book really gets people in the headspace that those who self injure and suffer from depression, low self esteem and eating disorders live in. It chronicles very honestly all the points behind cutting, from the euphoria and sheer joy that comes from slicing the flesh to the desire (for some) to overcome it. Highly recommended for those who do self injure or for families trying to understand why.
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A reference to this book in a novel I recently read led me to seek out this book for myself.

Many of us will know someone who has self-mutilated. Some of us will have direct experience. Each of us will wonder 'Why?' This book sets out, in a clear easy to read way the views of some professionals. It also sets out, in a clear and non-judgemental fashion, the experiences of some self-mutilators. In seeking to explain, it neither condones nor condemns.

In my view, the book has two primary audiences:those who seek to understand and those who seek to explain such behaviours.

If understanding is the first step towards healing for some, then this book may well provide a welcome step.

Highly recommended to those who seek to understand what is generally seen as either inexplicable or attention-seeking behaviour. In my experience, it is generally neither.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on August 20, 2003
This book is really a tough one. After the forward and the preface is a short poem by some one that does cut... I'm not going to re-write it here for obvious copyright reasons. The theme of the poem is matching the feelings on the inside to what is on the outside. And for alot of people I think that that sums up the whole cutting issue.
Its a very hard book to read for anyone who is close to this topic. It will trigger you, I have no doubt, if abuse issues are close to the surface for you. It triggered me. I had to start and stop this book multiple times before getting to the end. Truthfully, I'm not really sure I have gotten through the whole book, I only know I reached the end of it.
It has an interesting mix of professional detachment and painful personal accounts. Sometimes it is almost difficult to reconcile that they are in the same books. At times the *painful* just is around the next page and you aren't quite expecting it. I would say that a great deal of stability would need to already have been achieved PRIOR to reading this book. And if you had a personal history of cutting... the longer ago it was...probably the better. This would be a very hard book to recommend to someone who is actively doing it. I could see how reading it would give them insight but I don't think that they could acheive the amount of detachment from the book they would need to absorb it without being triggered.
This book, no doubt, is important. It invokes a feeling of community and of not being alone in behavours that tend to be very solitary. And also of hope and profound healing for me. All that said, you have to be ready to read this book. Be very gentle with your self always.
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on August 10, 2003
a warning: this book CAN be a trigger. for you self-injurers, i'd like to reiterate another reviewer's warning that you should be careful in reading it.
this book makes me feel understood. it includes my age group and actually made me feel BETTER about myself when/after reading it. most self-injurers, the book says, are intelligent women. how better to start the book off than with a compliment? it resonated well.
the book uses anectodal text as well as very thorough information from therapists, doctors and other "degrees". it helped me to understand why i do this (though i really already knew), that i am not really bizarre or alone and that SOMEONE can understand me. that was a relief. i know many people who have self-injured, but very few, if any, who have done it continuously over a number of years.
perhaps it is the difference in gender that separates this book from levenkron's "cutting", but i feel better understood as well as validated. i am someone. i am not my disease.
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on March 24, 2002
An insightful book -- on many levels. Originally, I picked the book up to learn about the psychology behind cutting specifically, but I found this work to be illuminating in a much broader way.
The author presents an empathetic, mostly nonclinical study of self-mutilation through profiles of cutters (mostly women), with insights into the ways that survivors of childhood abuse process and cope with the physical suffering that they have undergone. Interestingly, the light that is shed here is applicable to most of us who have any sort of trauma -- whether we are cutters or not, and whether that trauma has its origins in parental abuse or not.
One of the strengths of the book is the polished way that the author manages to infuse factual information (such as scientific explanations of brain functioning, medications, etc.) into the generous number of deeply personal profiles. Perhaps more of a balance could have been achieved there -- the large number of profiles may tend to "water down" the impact of each after the first ten or so -- though it is clear that the author was attempting to show the diversity of the cutting population. In that, she is certainly a success.
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on July 1, 2000
It was quite by accident that I found this book. I am still healing from the last time I cut myself in an effort to get the pain out. I believed I was suicidal (maybe I still am) but now I know that there are others who feel the same.
Ms Strong's book explained to the smallest detail all the things happening to me, and helped me feel less of a freak. Not only does this book help people who mutilate themselves to understand why they do it, but she gives great advise on steps to take to move toward ending the nightmare.
This book does not condemn cutters or label them as crazy or disgusting. It doesn't even say that we must stop the slashing that sometimes saves our lives. It is written to inform that there are many, many people hurting so badly on the inside that they must see their pain in the form of blood being discharged from their own bodies, and by offering concrete ways of stopping the pain.
I found "A Bright Red Scream" difficult to put down because it was as though I saw myself actually being seen as me for the first time. I became upset in parts of the book where I learned that we don't always want to give up our ways of dealing because we don't want to do the work, or that we have become attached to what we know works for us. If I am going to be honest with myself, I know these are true statements, at least in my case. I am grateful for this insight.
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on April 8, 1999
I have the utmost regard for this book, and not just because I run the webpage/email list Ms. Strong drew many of her subjects from. I have to admit that I was leery of her project at first; self-injury has become the quick-n-easy story of the 90s, if nothing else, and too often reporters/authors use it as a way of proving whatever their pet point of the moment happens to be. It's too simple to overgeneralize about people who self-injure, and strong doesn't fall into that trap.
When I got an advance copy last fall and skimmed it, my first thought was "My people are being heard!" What Marilee does is make those who harm themselves into real people. You come to know them, to gain a sort of understanding of how they got into the place they've reached, to see why they feel that injuring their bodies is the only way to keep their souls intact. You may not agree with them, but you'll finish this book understanding a lot more about where the compulsion comes from.
Much of this is accomplished by the trick of illustrating the copious technical information about self-injury with quotes from people who self-injure. The people never get lost in the exposition, and Strong isn't afraid to leave some questions unanswered.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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on November 20, 1998
Thankfully there's now a book on self harm that moves away from the sensationalism of Stephen Levenkrom's "Cutting", and is more accessible than the clinical focus of Favazza's work.
"A Bright Red Scream" features plenty of quotes from people who self injure, and aims to dispell a lot of the myths around self harm - which it does most efficaciously.
People who do self injure should be warned that this book might be "triggery", and might well spark off a "wanting to cut" episode. There aren't really any practical tips in this book to overcome that, so you might want to get as safe as you can first, and read it in small chunks.
Two personal gripes with this book - one is Ms Strong's frequent use of the word "cutters" to refer to people who self harm .. I really dislike this as a label.. I feel it reduces me to nothing but my behaviour. Whilst it is certainly shorter than other terms, and some people do use it, I have found that as I heal, and work to overcome my self injury, I see my self more and more as "Kirsti", and less as "a cutter".

The second is that although she mentions the internet resources, no actual webpages or URLs are given..while I can't correct that here, as it would violate's guidelines, I think that it could have easily been included as an appendix.

Overall, Ms Strong has written an excellent book, which I wouldn't hesitate to give to anyone who wants to know more about what really underlies self injury.
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on November 10, 1998
Having been in family therapy practice for almost ten years, I have dealt with about half a dozen people--mainly young women--who were/are cutters.I met my first "cutter" back in grad school, and I soon heard about it in the literature. But this is the best explanation of the whole issue I've read. Strong's book is extremely useful for my understanding both as a therapist and as a concerned person. This is something that is very important for people to understand. The connection she makes to childhood abuse and abandonment problems is critically important at a time when so many shoddy and irresponsible books are casting doubt on almost all of the facts about the extent of child abuse in America. Most of us who see abuse victims on a daily basis know that this kind of thing is an epidemic, which is why we get people who self-injure, eating disorders, and a host of other problems. Ms. Strong should be congratulated for spending the time in researching the issues and the people to produce a most valuable work, and for pointing out the connection with child abuse which, sadly, is not a popular cause these days.
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