What is cutting?
Cutting is when a person makes cuts on his or her body on purpose. The cuts might be small or large, shallow or deep. They may cause a little bleeding or a lot. The person cuts to try to feel better. Cutting isn’t a suicide attempt. Some people who cut hurt themselves in other ways too. They may burn, scratch or hit themselves.
Who does it?
Both males and females may cut. But more girls and women do it. People may cut themselves at any age. Most people start as teens or young adults. Cutting might go on for a few months, a few years, or even longer. It doesn’t matter what their income or background is. You can’t tell if someone cuts by looking.
People who cut themselves have usually been hurt in some way:
- They might have been abused physically or sexually.
- They might have problems with family, friends, school or work.
- They might feel bad about their bodies, or have low self-esteem or an eating disorder.
- They might have depression or other mental health problems.
Why do people cut?
Cutting is a response to deep, painful feelings. People do it for different reasons:
- Some feel numb. The pain of cutting makes them feel more emotionally or physically alive.
- Some feel guilty or ashamed about something. Cutting is a way to punish themselves for mistakes, or for not being a better person.
- Some want to be distracted. Cutting is a way to avoid feelings, memories, or problems.
- Some believe it’s a way to take control. Choosing when and where to feel physical pain helps them feel more in control of their emotional pain.
- Some want to communicate. Cutting is a way to express pain the person can’t say in words.
The Risks of Cutting
- Unintended life-threatening injuries
- Losing (or not learning) other ways to cope
- Feeling guilty, ashamed or angry about the cutting
- Having painful feelings continue and get worse
- Isolation from friends and family
- Avoiding usual activities as the cutting becomes more addictive
Cutting doesn’t make problems better.
Like drinking or using drugs to cope, cutting can become an addiction.
People may find that cutting stops their pain for a short period of time. But the pain comes back. Then the person often feels a need to cut again.
For some people, cutting starts to take more and more of their time and attention. They may find it hard to study, do their work, or relate to family and friends.
People can stop cutting.
Here are some suggestions from people who have stopped:
Be honest. Admit how serious the behavior is.
Know what you can do. You have the power, and the right, to seek help and support. You can take action to make things better.
Notice triggers. These are the events, people, situations and memories that can lead to an urge to cut. Make the choice to avoid these triggers whenever you can.
Build a support system. Find people who can help as you learn to make healthier choices.
Try therapy. If you’ve been cutting for some time, therapy may be the best way to get support to change.
Learn new ways to cope.
A person who is cutting may think things can’t change. Someone with a friend who cuts may worry that this person is always going to be in danger.
Cutting is serious. But people can and do change. People can learn healthier ways to deal with pain, loss, anger and other strong feelings. With the right support, people who are cutting can find other ways to cope.
Know Why You Cut
Each person’s triggers are different. To understand more about triggers, ask:
- Where were you when the urge came up?
- Who was with you?
- What were you doing?
- What happened?
Then think about ways to avoid that trigger. You might:
- Avoid people, places, and activities that cause triggers.
- Work with a therapist to learn new ways to respond to strong feelings.
- Spend more time with people who cope in healthy ways.
Ask for support.
Support from family, friends or a therapist can help people who cut change their situation and learn new ways to cope. The best support comes from people who:
- Feel and share real concern.
- Can ask questions and listen without blame or judgment.
- Are willing to learn more about cutting.
- Support the person in making healthier choices.
Therapy can help.
People can learn to:
- Plan for and understand strong feelings to make them less overwhelming.
- Stay present in the “here and now.”
- Handle stress, anger and other strong feelings better.
- Address past abuse or other painful events.
- Succeed in friendships and family relationships.
Medicine can sometimes help people manage the urge to cut while they learn new ways to cope.
If a friend is cutting…
Your support will be important.
- Ask your friend about it. Listen if he or she wants to talk.
- Avoid judging. Don’t dismiss the cutting as a way to get attention.
- Let your friend know you care. Understand that he or she is feeling pain.
- Help your friend find resources that can help.
- In an emergency, get help. Call 911 if you need to.
At Elsie Allen Health Center, we have 2 mental health providers who can help you stop cutting, and offer therapy sessions. For more information, check out EAHC’s About Us. Or give us a call at 707-528-5770 to schedule an appointment.
Other Resources available for you:
Teen Line: Teens helping teens
More on Self-Injury