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Cutting and Self-Harm: Why Do People Cut Themselves and What to Do

Cutting and Self-Harm

Can you identify with this story of cutting and self-harm?

Nancy likes the feeling she gets from taking a razor blade to her skin. The ruby blood that oozes from the narrow crevasse of the fresh cut isn’t terrifying. Instead, she is comforted because the pain she feels deep inside her is released.

It’s as though by cutting her flesh Nancy is exorcising her fears, guilt, self-loathing, and other pain too complex to understand. For a brief time, Nancy feels totally in control that is until the next cutting session.

Do you know someone like Nancy? Millions of people like Nancy choose to cut or injure themselves not from the need for attention, but as a way of coping with emotional hurt, anger, sadness, and guilt.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is any behavior that someone engages in to intentionally hurt themselves. This can include cutting, burning, scratching, hitting, or other forms of physical injury. Self-harm can also include non-physical behaviors, such as binge eating, purging, or substance abuse.

Cutting is one of the most common forms of self-harm. It involves using a sharp object to intentionally cut the skin. People who cut themselves often do so on their arms, legs, or stomach. They may cut themselves deeply or superficially.

Why Do People Cut or Injure Themselves?

Why do people cut themselves? People who cut or injure themselves don’t want to die. They’re looking for a way to release internal pain. Through these actions, the person feels a sense of comfort and control over their life. At least for a short while.

Self-harm or self-injury is believed to be linked to various psychological, social, and environmental factors, including:
  • Past traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or bullying
  • Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, etc.
  • Low self-esteem or poor body image
  • Difficulty expressing emotions or managing stress
  • Lack of coping skills or social support
  • Impulsive or risk-taking behavior
People who self-harm aren’t mentally unstable. Many, not all, suffer from depression and anxiety and choose to use cutting and/or other actives as a way of neutralizing negative emotions. Self-harm may serve as a way to express emotions that are difficult to put into words, or to release built-up tension and stress.

In other cases, self-harm may be used to punish oneself or distract from other problems.

Self-injury isn’t done for attention. Instead, these activities are done in secret out of shame and for fear of not being judged and not being understood by friends and family.

Common Ways People Choose to Self-Injure

  • Burning or scalding
  • Severely scratching the skin or cutting the skin with a sharp object like a razor blade
  • Hitting oneself
  • Punching hard surfaces like a wall, door, tree trunk
  • Purposely preventing wounds from healing (i.e. by reopening them or removing scabs)
  • Swallowing harmful substances
  • Having unprotected sex
  • Binge drinking
  • Reckless driving

Suspect a friend or loved one is hurting themselves?

Here are some signs to look for...
  • Unexplained scars on the wrists, chest, arms and thighs
  • Sharp objects like razor blades, bottle caps, knives, and needles are in the person’s possession
  • Wearing clothes that cover up the arms and legs even during the summer months
  • Blood stains on clothes, towels, and sheets
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as becoming more withdrawn or angry
If you are concerned that someone you know is self-harming, the most important thing you can do is to talk to them about it. Let them know that you are there for them and that you care about them. You can also offer to help them find professional help.

Long-term Consequences of Cutting and Self-Harm

There are very dangerous long-term risks for the self-injurer if he/she doesn’t seek help.

Not all people who self-injure suffer from depression or anxiety disorder. However, not seeking help for the emotional hurt that contributes to cutting can lead to worse problems like major depressionsubstance abuse, and the individual is more likely to commit suicide.

Cutting and self-harm can become addictive leading to compulsive behavior that can be extremely difficult to overcome. Depth of cuts can be misjudged leading to serious injury such as cutting a vein.

Finding Help for Cutting and Self-Harm

Cutting and other self-injury activities can be very hard to stop because of the deep feeling of relief and control. The first step toward healing from this compulsion is to want to seek help.

It’s also important to find someone to confide in.
The fear and shame make it an isolating condition.

If there isn't anyone you feel you can trust to open up to don't let this deter you from getting help.

Some Resources That Can Help:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • The Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  • The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
  • The Jed Foundation:
  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

Cutting and Self-Harm Help Techniques

It’s a good idea to identify your triggers. The feelings and thoughts that lead you to want to self-harm.

Do you cut or self-injure because of feelings of numbness, sadness, anger, or out of guilt? Identifying triggers can help you use alternative activities to stimulate the release and comfort achieved by cutting.

It’s crucial to find alternative ways of dealing with internal pain. These suggestions help release inner feelings just as cutting and other self-harm activities but in a healthy way.

If you’re feeling numb:
  • Take a cold shower. Stand under a cold stream of water, as cold as you can stand.
  • Chew chili peppers (no ghost pepper or habanero, after all, you don’t want to burn your mouth off)
If you’re feeling anger or rage:
  • write down your feelings on a piece of paper then rip up the paper and throw it away, burn it, or flush it down the toilet
  • listen to music that expresses how you’re feeling inside
  • Take out your aggression on a punching bag (protect your hands)
  • Take up kickboxing or self-defense
  • draw or paint what you’re feeling inside using red paint or ink
  • carry around a stress ball and squeeze it whenever those feelings of anger or rage pop up

Self-Help Techniques For Cutters

If you still want to cut, do so by using your imagination.

Use a red marker and make lines on your skin where you would cut. The red color of the Sharpe simulates blood.

Place a rubber band around your wrists. Snap the rubber band whenever you get the urge to cut.


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