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Cutting and Self-Injury

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

This entry may be triggering or difficult to read for some people.

Self-injury behavior is something that is more common than many people realize. (In one study by researchers at Brown University of high school students, 46 percent had injured themselves in the past year on …

42 Comments to
Cutting and Self-Injury

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  1. Great post and article. It seems as society becomes less connected on a personal face-to-face basis and with the breakdown of family that one of the consequences is lack of modeling of how to deal with our emotions.

    I started self-injury when I was about 5 or 6. The urges continue to this day. I know that it is an indicator of intense emotions usually anger and just wanting to numb the pain. The other reason is self-hatred and that becomes scary because it is when I really, really want to injury myself like break a bone or something. I don’t hear much about the last reason. For me, they are very distinct states.

  2. To me, cutting is just 2000s version of poping the bottle or doing drugs. Another way to cope with emotional pain…

    Speaking from experience. :(

    Physical Pain

  3. Thanks for that…

    Im 13 and I self harm I have been for nearly 2years, I stoped for about 2monthes and just started again last week!
    I feel ashamed but I don’t know what else I can do! And also im a dancer so wearing a leotard sometimes people notice cuts on my legs… you get stares from people who don’t know you! I stopped because 2009 im going to a full time dance school but I just couldn’t keep myself from doing it!!

  4. I have been diagnosed with depression and have probably had it most of my life. A number of times I have been suicidal. It was usually as I was heading toward one of those episodes that I would beat myself – usually on my thighs or scalp where no one would notice the bruises. A couple of times my self-hatred was so intense that I gave myself black eyes and/or fat lips. The physical pain became an outlet for the emotional pain that I just couldn’t deal with. I feel very fortunate that I have found (finally) wonderful mental health care professionals that are helping me but I still have so much shame around the self-abuse.

  5. “In the case of self-injury, that something else is physical pain. It focuses your attention and takes your mind off of your emotional pain, if only for a little while. ”

    Not always about physical pain, Dr. Grohol. The Newsweek article points that out.

  6. “In the case of self-injury, that something else is physical pain. It focuses your attention and takes your mind off of your emotional pain, if only for a little while. ”

    Not always about physical pain, Dr. Grohol. The Newsweek article points that out.

  7. Wow. Dear Rachel, ….and everyone else….

    I’m 14 years old. I dance at school, and I started cutting last month…before that I had slapped myself every so often when i had a bad thought or something. Part of me wants to stop, and part of me doesn’t…its weird isn’t it?

  8. Please be wary of generalizing about self-injury. I am a research who focus on self-injury and, while there is definite evidence to support the use of cutting as a distraction or substitution for emotional pain, there may be many other reasons as well. Studies have found a plethora of reasons, from stopping pain, to communicating, to avoiding actually attempting suicide, to release of tension and on and on. I think that people do it for different reasons and we shouldn’t assume everyone who engages in this behaviour is the same.

    For the teenagers who have posted here about self-injuring: Please tell someone! It is surprisingly common, you’re not alone but you will me much happier if you can find a more positive way to deal with the many difficulties of life.

  9. Through my eyes.

    A poetry book based on self harm and the hidden depths of a teenage mind.

    This book was written to show self harmers and people with mental health conditions that they are not alone there is someone out there who understands.
    Also for people helping others deal with self harm, helping them understand what they are going through.
    Written by a young author who suffered from self harm and depression throughout many stages of her life.
    She wrote poetry throughout her teen years to help her to stop self harming and gain control over her life again.

    For more information Visit: myeyez.co.uk

  10. I’m a teenager, and I cut myself. I don’t know why it doesn’t seem like a serious problem to me, but I know I’m sort of in denial about it. I see a counselor, and now she and my parents want me to see a psychiatrist as well. The problem is, I don’t feel depressed. I laugh and smile just like everyone else. I wish I could find out if something really is going on.

  11. I didn’t read the ‘NewWeek article’, and as usual, I come across this writing when it’s already outdated. i have also noticed that the author, at least from what I have read by him this past week, does not respond top comments. I do not like that part,but don’t feel like putting too much effort into explaining.

    Two quick thoughts.

    Yes, self cutting is very ‘addicting’, and I am only mentioning this because I am surprised nobody has used the word ‘addiction’ here.

    There are many common reasons, or shared reasons why people do it, but there are also private reasons. (Again, just want to bring this up as ‘food for thought’.)

    Further, I don’t think that ‘pain’ is such a great way for communicating purpose either. I mean, often it doesn’t really hurt at all, and this has much to do with the cutter’s state of mind at the time.

    If I were to take a knife right now and stab myself with it, yes, I am sure that would hurt. But I think one reason people do it, and when they do it, is not only when, or because they are in emotional pain but because something even worse is going on, and that is that they are feeling totally numb, and/or feeling ‘nothing’.

    The cutting, or whatever, helps to bring feelings back to the person, and usually in this case the ones that come back are feelings of well-being and/or euphoria.

    So much for my contribution of wisdom today. kat

    • I agree with Katrin at the tail end. It is because one feels nothing. But I also think people cut for different reasons. Sometimes it is to feel a different pain as oppose to the pain one felt when infatuation plagued them.etc. The sight of blood is also quite addicting. The more blood from a cut makes some happy or excited. The deeper the cut too.

  12. PS: by feeling numb, or nothing, this can be a generalized feeling, or it can also become, or feel, more specific. (i.e. one’s arm may feel completely detached from one’s body and like a ‘tree trunk’, or foreign object that is not even connected to the body. When that happens, the cutting is surely not painful in the least.

    • Look up Anhedonia. I have been studying this for a while and it may explain quite a bit of the ‘nothing’ feeling. Anhedonia is something that so many people suffer from and don’t even know it. Most of America suffers from some degree of Anhedonia at some point in their lives simply because of the lifestyle that America has taken to.

  13. Years ago I started biting my hands and arm as a form of self injury.

    As a grown adult, my counselor informed me that if this had happened in this day and age, my parents would be investigated for child abuse and I would be pulled from the home.

    The abuse that I endured, even to this day, is a parental relationship where I feel discredited as a valid family member.

    My parents are not only emotionally abusive they encouraged my older siblings to bully and be abusive to me as well.

    Both my parents have their favorite children while I was considered the dumb invalid who was treated and considered worthless.

    Anything I wanted and most things I achieved were and still are, dis-credited by family members.

    I ended up biting myself out of anguish and pure frustration because I am treated as a person with little value or worth.

    Biting yourself does not make one a sick person. It is a red flag that sends the alarm that a child is being dis-credited as a valuable family member, and abused

    For me biting myself is a coping mechanism when trying to deal with very sick people who get their jollies out of devaluing their daughter and telling her how wrong and stupid she is!

  14. I’m a High School student and I’m actually is a cutter and this is so true but I’m addict to cuting and I’m trying to stop but i can’t i have no one to talk to and I’m afaird of telling my parent I cut so someone please help me or someone that can at least talk to me and u can reach me at egyptnile94@yahoo.co.uk

  15. I have Deprssion and I have been cutting for 4 years and people don’t get that its hard to stop cutting.Its like addiction. adn my mother wont ever get it . myya_collins@yaqhoo.com and only 16

  16. Im thirteen i just started cutting…..the first time i did it it gave me a buzz..you know…a high…no one knows but me..sometimes i make up excuses and show someone one of my cuts just to see if they care..they usually dont which i guess just makes me cut more..i asked for a pocket knife for my birthday to i could use tht and not a razor..when i got it it felt good to know what i wanted from it. I think that cutting is the one thing that i can really control in my life..everything else people just expect alot from me..i have to be the best..to everyone else im”the perfect kid” i smile laugh have freinds..bu to me i guess im just a falure.i cant stop

    • Sweety, why? is the question?
      there has to be a reason why you do that some kind of doubt, lonlieness something holding back in life to thrive for. a love purhaps?

  17. I’m 15, and I bite my arms and hands all the time. Normally to wake myself up, because I have insomnia and I’m really sleepy most of the time. But I kind of enjoy the feeling. I’m not depressed, I’m not suffering, I don’t feel empty.
    Why am I enjoying it?
    Am I just masochistic?

  18. im a 34 year old woman.i started cutting and burning at 13.i was marked borderline and bipolar.i cut as a release,i dont want to die if i did id press down,but on that note i dont want to be here.my whole right side is decorated by my pain.im not proud but im not embarassed.were not crazy were real and we feel.i love you guys were not alone.

    • Hi I am 37 and have started cutting. I have a bipolar husband that makes my life horrible and I have crohns disease and cant afford to live without him so Im stuck with feeling unloved and hurt emotionally to the point that i cant breath and even cant cry. When I cut I feel such a felief and it allows me to have that release I need and Im able to cry and it feels wonderful! I dont want to stop. I know its wrong and if my teen daughters were doing it I would just die! Can it be okay that i do it, Im so embarassed. Im not really hurting anyone.

  19. I was cutting 6 years. It felt like a drug to me i lost my friends i lost my self. I didnt realize the effects and change happening to me. I could take the pain in the worl so i try and hide it. I over came cutting it was hard and i still think about doing it when i get upset of angry. If i can do it you can do it and i want to ecourage people to talk to someone it really helps.

  20. ive been cutting since i was 13 im 18 now… ive tried to kill mysel more times then i can count.. i cut so i dnt have to feel i shove my emotions deep inside myself and cut.. i like the pain..ive tried to quit so many times aft. i saw how many times it had hurt my best friend.. but i cnt do it.. its too hard i love my best friend justis but i love the high cuttinggives me.. i like not having to feel.. but he told me tht i i killed myself he would slit his own throat.. the thought of him doing tht hurts.. i know thts how i make him feel.. bu i cnt stop.. i need help.. the other night i wanted t jump off the bridge near my house… i gave my best friend my bag of razors and lied when he asked me if tht was all of them….i need someone to tlk to… Em0BaBygiRRl@yahoo.com

  21. i’ve been cutting for about a year now and im a gymnast so wearing a tiny leotard has become an issue for me. i dont enjoy gymnastics anymore because its become a battle of who will notice my cuts….i want to stop, i feel ashamed and embaresed, but i dont know how! my parents send me to shrinks but i hate talking to them. this is a never ending battle and i think im loosing! can anyone give me some suggestions?

  22. Im a active cutter, but no one knows and I want to tell someone. But I dont know how.. any ideas? :/

    • Dear, Breanne
      I’ve been a self-harmer for about 3 or 4 years now….I don’t know how long you have or how bad it is for you. I promise it gets harder though you might think you will grow out of it, but in my opinion there’s no growing out of an addiction which is exactly what it turns into. You think about it everyday until you fall asleep and then when you wake up you think about it again until you fall asleep. I use to hope to fall asleep and never wake up so I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain. My parents saw some of my cuts once but chose to ignore them….I got involved in church and a youth group there. My current youth pastor listened to me as I slowly opened up to him and even about the cutting. He told me he would give me several months before he met with my parents. I’m sorry to tell you there is no other way to do it but to just do it because other wise you cant get the help you so desperately need. The longer you wait the stronger your urges will become so please don’t wait like I did…..please nip this in the bud. I don’t know you at all but my heart reaches out to you and I hope you find the strength to get help before its too late.

    • I just one day showed my husband. Just out of the blue. I dont know what made me do it. I know I felt better but so embarassed! I still cut and he thinks he can stop me which is a problem now. I think once you tell you feel a little free and its at least a start. I wish I told someone else that would care for me more, I wish i didnt tell him. Tell someone that is able to be sensitive to it and doesnt try to control you. I guess Im not one to give advice to anyone! :(

    • Breanne,
      Just come out and tell someone. I used to cut and then I managed to force myself to stop and started cutting again when my boyfriend started treating me like I was worthle and I put up with it becuase I didn’t want to be alone. I ended up with multiple cuts on my legs that I had to hide and I’ve finally managed to stop. My best advice to you is to learn from it and get help becuase sometimes the best help is to talk to someone about it.

  23. Im a 43yr old recovering self harmer which is not isolated to one area of my life ie, physical cutting and burning. With hindsight, the subtle Patterns of self harm gradually gained momentum throughout my life via chronic paranoid thoughts and anxiety through primary school following parental divorce and abandonement by my father. At the onset of sexual abuse by my stepfather aged 8, I learned how to isolate myself from people even when I wasn’t alone. This was by dissociation(as I later learned), to protect myself from the emotional trauma of sexual abuse. Secondly, I hid my real self from everyone including me, because I saw what had happened to the pretty girl aged 10 who had a boyfriend and a love bite on her neck. Parents forbid thier children to play with her. As a child I hid myself, and to date I’m generally a loner. I never opened to anyone because I didn’t realize I was closed, although I was clearly paranoid about anyone possibly seeing the ‘real me’ because the outcome would of been rejection. To my mind I believed myself to be a bad person. This set the stage for self hatred to take grip of a personality that had not even had a chance to develop itself. The outcome of the mental conflift chanting sub-consciously through my life plays over and over much like this ‘I am bad, I hate myself,I am not worthy, I’m a failure. These negative affimations have steered my life to date and have given rise to self harm, eating disorders, sexually/physically abusive relationships and drug and alcohol abuse. Having traced the symptoms back to the cause, It seems It is possible to reprogram our sense of self if we gain insight by listening carefully to what is not being said outloud. My life experiences paved the way towards a dual diagnosis of borderline personnality disorder and bi polar disorder. SELF HARM IS ONE OF THE DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA FOR BORDERLINE PERSONNALITY DISORDER.

  24. I’m 15 years old and I have been cutting myself since I was 13. I am not proud of my scars but I definitely do not see them as something to be greatly frowned upon. Cutting has prevented me from suicide multiple times. Self injury does have its downsides, I was admitted to a mental facility this year, I do not see this as a terrible sickness, I see this as a way of survival.

  25. I started cutting at 13, stopped from 19 to 30, restarted then stopped until now..it’s been a struggle not doing it all those years but I was able to somehow. Now though I’m relapsing. I know my triggers, I know why…but nothing else helps. Why do ppl think we are so odd? It’s so much more common…but the stigma is worse than hoe people treat you when they find out you have a mental illness. It’s ridiculous, are we too muc of perfectionists? We are too proud to ask help except for here? Too muc pressure? I’m a health care professional who is 38 and I am tired of seeing broken glas, knives and other sharp objects that would make me feel better. Ugh.

  26. I know it’s hard. I broke hearts when I told some of my really good friends. but it still feels like they could care more. I play high school soccer, I don’t feel like I fit in. I sit with large groups at lunch and they don’t hear anything I say. my best friend (the reason I didn’t kill myself last year, literally) has moved on. I fell so alone all the time. it just hangs over my head. you wouldn’t think I would have problems. I’m a straight A student. I do key club. I go to church. I’ve got 3 big meal a day if I want them, but why is it so hard for people to just be nice? why cant I just find a way to live?

  27. How would any of you “like” for other people to respond? Some people may think you’re weird, mostly it’s hard for us to continue to care for someone who continues to hurt herself, on purpose.
    Because it “sounds” as if you’re asking the rest of us to say, “Yeh, cutting yourself, yeh, that’s cool. How do you do it? With a knife, a razor, a sharp stick? Can I watch while you do it?” And that makes US feel sick. And we can’t identify with that.
    So I’m just asking, you ask “Why can’t people just be nice?” But what is it REALLY that you want from us?

    • Quite honestly, Angela, I think that what they want is exactly what they asked for….”Just be nice”.

      Unfortunately this would mean stepping away from yourself for a moment and trying to wrap your head around what’s going on in theirs. I know it’s almost an impossible request to ask someone who has never experienced the shame or the fight or the struggle to please, please understand….but you could try.

      Try to understand the shame comments like yours cause.
      Try to understand the guilt that comes from knowing it hurts our friends and family to know you self harm.
      Try to understand the stress of fighting, all day and all night to NOT hurt yourself, because for whatever reason, your biological imperative is reversed.
      Try to understand the difficulty of fighting down all those urges every time you see a knife, or a pin, or a chipped glass, or a fresh razor blade as you try to convince yourself that this is a bad idea.

      Everything about it is wrong, and in fact I’m sure all of us would stop if it was just a matter of choice…but it’s not. This is a matter of compulsion. We are COMPELLED to self injure. Yes it is a choice…but it’s also a choice for a starving man to give in and eat that warm meal you just put in front of him.

      So, no. We don’t want to hear, “yeah, cutting is cool.” Most of these young people just want to be accepted for who they are, and unfortunately for many, self injury comes right along with it, so really, if you CAN’T say anything nice, if you are COMPELLED to hurt someone with your words that is not yourself…then please, just be quiet.

  28. I’m 13 years old. I don’t know why I’m admitting this as much as my exact reason for why I started cutting myself, but I guess it’s because people are braver on the Internet.

    A few days ago I found this small, white, sharp stick. At first I didn’t care about it because I was fairly alright that day, but a few days later, I came home thoroughly upset. People in my class hate me and treat me badly for no apparent reason, and that day they were at their worst. Then, my dad yelled at me after school for not calling him just as soon as I got out of class. He doesn’t yell at me often, so when he does I feel terrible. I was so upset I just tore my skin open with the stick. I barely felt any pain, but there was this warmth that rushed up to that spot that almost felt like salvation. That warm, tingly sting made me feel saved for some reason. So I did a similar cut below it. The next day, I was just as upset so I did it again.

    For me, I think it’s like a replacement for death, sort of. I’ve attempted suicide four-five times. All unsuccessful(obviously). I’ve become addicted to cutting myself. Everytime I’m upset, especially in front of other people, I itch to do it. But I’m afraid of what they might think of me, especially my parents. My best friends that I’ve told tell me to stop, but I can’t. In my world of chaos, it’s the only thing I can hold onto.

    Besides, I don’t think self-mutilation is all bad points. For me, it has it’s pros. I’ve never felt so artistically inspired before. I used to be so frustrated when I had a blank sheet of paper and the itch to draw, but I had no inspiration. Now I do. And it helps me keep track of my temper, the pain. Before cutting, I used to always snap back a reply to those that upset me, even my parents. But now, I’ve been more on guard.

  29. I’m currently 28 and I’ve been self harming most of my life. As a child of self absorbed parents, as a child who often looked like an angel (I’m getting over some bitterness still) I was expected to behave more than feel or be honest. Cutting hurts YOU and anyone who truly loves you, there are alternatives though I will pretend they aren’t difficult to embrace for the sake of argument; is this what we want? I just cut now, three little ones strategically placed and instantly covered with a band-aid because I needed to feel something I could understand. Pain, because the skin is sliced; blood, because we all bleed when cut. There is more to life than pain, so we need to understand how to feel the love instead. I recently joined this website, where we have fellows who write and create groups. Support for each other is support for ourselves, live with love and feel the absurdity of life.

  30. i have been cutting on and off for the past few months . im 16 years old. one day my mom saw my cuts i promised her i would stop but i cant, no one suspects me of cutting if they knew i cant help but wonder what they would think of me if they knew. it feels as though i have no where to go. i imagine it would do more harm than good if people knew what i did.i guess the reason behind that is the beilief im ……. fat… i dont know if you would call 158-162 lbs fat but thats what it sure feels like to me and i cant whine about it as much as i want to mom and stuff, the pain of being like this is alot worse than the cuts i sure dont see myself as pretty either i would like to believe people when they im pretty but its impossible. so the only reminder of reality is my razor to the most hated object on me,, my stomach. i wish some one would listen to what i have to say but i guess thats what i would like to believe

  31. To all of you beautiful men and women, please seek some help whether it is from a friend, family member, or a therapist. I am a marriage and family therapist and i have seen many teens and adults who cut. It is important to learn the triggers to your cutting and develop healthier ways of expressing/coping with your feelings. People are out there to listen and to help you Even though cutting may feel good, expressing your feelings in a healthier way can feel a whole lot better. Please visit my website if you ever need more information.

  32. i have been cutting for 2 years and i still am cutting it is very hard and addictive.

  33. For me this article is rubbish. The point of self harm for me at the point of impact is for the blade to cut through atleast some fat so when you cut you can just see white and no blood and then it bleeds. I’m not meaning to sound brutal i’m just saying for some self harmers it is necessary to cause perminant damage. I regret it in the end but only months later when i cant go swimming due to being ashamed, i only do it on the inside of my legs it is quite severe due to me never having stitches and fixing the problem at home

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