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What Is Cutting?

A doctor talking to a woman with depression, which is often associated with cutting.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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Cutting is a serious form of self-injury that involves cutting oneself to the point of bleeding. This form of self-abuse tends to be more common among women, with about 1% of the US population practicing it. There are numerous explanations for why people hurt themselves, and people often believe that this behavior is suicidal. In fact, cutting is frequently not suicidal, but can be accidentally so. As well, underlying conditions that lead to it may predispose people toward suicidal tendencies in addition to cutting.

People who cut often suffer from either significant emotional trauma, as from past or present child abuse, or from psychiatric illnesses like bipolar disorder, major depression, or major anxiety disorder. Some people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) also practice ritualized cutting. People with schizophrenia may cut out of a sense of altered reality or through delusions of grandeur that make them feel they are impervious to harm. Those with eating disorders may also practice this behavior if they suffer from body dysmorphic disorder.

Not everyone who suffers from the above disorders cuts, but these risk factors are more likely to cause a person to do it. There are numerous explanations for why people cut, which may or may not apply to each individual. One explanation is that some people who are anxious, angry or depressed may actually get a misdirected serotonin boost from this behavior. Just like the anorexic who exerts control over her/his environment by controlling food intake, cutting gives the illusion of control over pain.

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Others use it as a means to express inward feelings of pain that they cannot or fear to voice. Seeing blood flow tends to be satisfying momentarily, since it is a physical expression of emotional pain. Some individuals cut because if they are drifting into states where they feel disassociated, physical pain snaps them back into the “real world.”

Those who use cutting are often consumed by guilt over their behavior, often minutes after they cut. Still, something about the this behavior proves emotionally satisfying and temporarily relieves emotional pain. Cutting becomes an addictive behavior in this fashion. Even though it is dangerous, potentially life threatening, and a risk to health, it is still practiced because a person derives momentary relief from the behavior.

Cutting in a person may indicate psychiatric illness or severe emotional turmoil that needs treatment. Normally a person who practices this behavior regularly cannot stop without help from trained professionals. Depending upon their underlying condition, people may require medication to treat overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental conditions. Alternately, they may require therapy to address severe trauma in the past. Most people are able to stop through a combination of therapy and medication.

Children can start cutting, in some cases, as early as their pre-teen years. It is important to take this behavior extremely seriously, yet also vital not to blame the child for a compulsion. Placing blame on the child, initially, could increase the behavior.

The first step is to intervene and get therapeutic help for the child. Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and licensed clinical social workers that have experience in the area of self-injury are the best places to start. You can also speak to a child’s pediatrician or doctor for recommendations on mental health professionals with experience in this matter.

Depending upon the extent to which the individual cuts, some benefit from hospitalization where behavior can be controlled. Ultimately, though, the individual must be helped in ways that convince them they no longer need to use cutting to control or express strong emotions. As with all forms of self-injury, something positive must replace the behavior in order for it to be eliminated. This can take time and work, but many who undergo treatment are able to stop, learn to express their emotions in more meaningful and less destructive ways, and are freed from the guilt that continued cutting engenders.

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Discuss this Article

anon325045
Post 12

I am 19, I have cut, and attempted suicide multiple times in the last few years. I have been hospitalized four times, and right now, I am three months clean. But I still get insane cravings. I don't think they are ever going to go away.

anon231218
Post 11

I feel these people who do this to themselves should be admitted to a hospital and should never be trusted or left alone in there house. Seriously people, get help before it is too late. They are not just hurting themselves. They are hurting their family, let alone scaring them.

anon231141
Post 10

I first started cutting when I was 13. At that time I had just been diagnosed with depression. I used to cut frequently, whenever someone ticked me off, or if I had a bad day. I can't even count how many times I did cut. My mother found out and tried to get me help.

I am now 25 years old, and up until about a year ago I had not cut since I was 13. Lately, a lot of things have been going on and I have wanted to cut, but it is truly no joke; it's like an addiction. I need my fix, and it's not easy trying to control it.

Sometimes, just holding a sharp object in my hand helps, but it's still hard.

lildaswegan
Post 8

I am 13 and i am a cutter. i have had many things in my life that led me to cutting. I have been abused by a parent and a boyfriend. one of my parents left me when i was seven. my mom never spends time with me, I have bad depression and I am Bipolar.

I am trying to quit now and it is way hard and i am trying to quit a lot of other things, like drinking and drugs so it is making it harder and i still drink and take drugs sometimes but i am rarely cutting anymore. I don't have a lot of support but i have passed the first step and that is admitting i have a problem so all of you who are reading this and want to quit cutting, i just want you to know that it is hard and you will want to give up but don't. It will get a little easier as you go and remember that someone out there really cares about you and doesn't want you to hurt yourself anymore.

anon139644
Post 7

I started to cut during the summer. The first time i did it, I laughed and I felt like all my depression was gone. Then i started to do it more and more. I have 12 scars on my shoulders and I find cutting is the only thing that helps me. Without it, i might have killed myself.

Sometimes I see the knife in my kitchen and i just want to cut my throat or my arm, but I've never done it, but if my life keeps getting out of control, then i might have to do it.

anon131707
Post 6

My 14 year old daughter cuts and has for about three years I can't stress how important it is to not overreact. Parents, don't freak out. It will make it much harder to fix the problem in the long run. Take it serious, get it treated, apply no guilt and keep a cool head.

anon79050
Post 5

To comment #3: Don't make light of others' pain just because you don't understand it.

It's just another, more destructive way of finding relief. Just like drugs, and alcohol, it becomes an addiction that some people honestly cannot help.

I pray for anyone who struggles with SI. i know how hard it is to quit.

Rescue is possible. Freedom is possible.

God is still in the business of redemption.

anon68220
Post 4

I'm anorexic, have multiple personality disorder, and I used to cut. For a while, my depression alter seemingly went away, and I didn't have to, but now he's back, and I need the pain. I've cut sixteen times in the day he's been back. Any ways to help me stop would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

anon54303
Post 3

This is going on at my son's very small Christian school. I am shocked and horrified.

Evidently it is also "contagious". This is the craziest thing I ever heard of. It is attention seeking and self-serving.

Get your heads out of your butts and put the focus on others and fill their needs rather than your own and you'll get better.

anon54268
Post 2

I cut but i haven't cut for almost two months. it's really hard not to cut.

anon5113
Post 1

I know how its like to go through the cutting stage. its hard to get over but this also can come from a eating disorder called anorexia.

I know what it's like.

AND ITS HARD TO GET OVER

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