There is so much confusion around the horrific addiction of cutting. It’s hard for some people to understand why you, or someone you know, would repeatedly harm them self on purpose. With this blog series, I want to break through the confusion and help those who practice cutting as a way of life. I’ve heard a lot of people say, Why would anyone do such a thing as purposely cause pain to their bodies? So let’s begin to uncover the reasons why so many people cut themselves.
Why Do People Cut Themselves?
It can be hard to understand why people cut themselves on purpose. Cutting is a way some people try to cope with the pain of strong emotions, intense pressure, or upsetting relationship problems. They may be dealing with feelings that seem too difficult to bear or bad situations they think can’t change.
Some people cut because they feel desperate for relief from bad feelings. People who cut may not know better ways to get relief from emotional pain or pressure. Some people cut to express strong feelings of rage, sorrow, rejection, desperation, longing, or emptiness.
There are other ways to cope with difficulties, even big problems and terrible emotional pain. The help of a mental health professional might be needed for major life troubles or overwhelming emotions. For other tough situations or strong emotions, it can help put things in perspective to talk problems over with parents, other adults, or friends. Getting plenty of exercise also can help put problems in perspective and help balance emotions.
But people who cut may not have developed ways to cope. Or their coping skills may be overpowered by emotions that are too intense. When emotions don’t get expressed in a healthy way, tension can build up — sometimes to a point where it seems almost unbearable. Cutting may be an attempt to relieve that extreme tension. For some, it seems like a way of feeling in control.
The urge to cut might be triggered by strong feelings the person can’t express — such as anger, hurt, shame, frustration, or alienation. People who cut sometimes say they feel they don’t fit in or that no one understands them. A person might cut because of losing someone close or to escape a sense of emptiness. Cutting might seem like the only way to find relief or express personal pain over relationships or rejection.
People who cut or self-injure sometimes have other mental health problems that contribute to their emotional tension. Cutting is sometimes (but not always) associated with depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive thinking, or compulsive behaviors. It can also be a sign of mental health problems that cause people to have trouble controlling their impulses or to take unnecessary risks. Some people who cut themselves have problems with drug or alcohol abuse.
Some people who cut have had a traumatic experience, such as living through abuse, violence, or a disaster. Self-injury may feel like a way of “waking up” from a sense of numbness after a traumatic experience. Or it may be a way of reliving the pain they went through, expressing anger over it, or trying to get control of it.
Treatments for cutting
A journal article in Child Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health reports that, on average, a person engages in NSSI for a period of 2 to 4 years before stopping. This is where therapy can be beneficial and help people working through personal issues to determine what cutting means to them.
Dr. Sinh often employs two different types of therapy, depending on the person:
– Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may give someone the tools to cope with and work through distress.
– Psychodynamic therapy helps someone look at any past experiences that might have an effect on their behavior and identify issues of low self-esteem, perfectionism, or anger management
Cutting can be habit forming. It can become a compulsive behavior — meaning that the more a person does it, the more he or she feels the need to do it. The brain starts to connect the false sense of relief from bad feelings to the act of cutting, and it craves this relief the next time tension builds. When cutting becomes a compulsive behavior, it can seem impossible to stop. So cutting can seem almost like an addiction, where the urge to cut can seem too hard to resist. A behavior that starts as an attempt to feel more in control can end up controlling you.