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A Thousand Cuts

We go through our everyday lives with the pain of a thousand cuts.

They started when we were as young as 2, being told “No” when we asked our mom for more candy. Cut one. Then again when we wanted to play in the dirt. Cut two. Then when we got mad for not getting our way when we were 5. Cut three. Our first argument with our best friend. Our first breakup. Our first academic disappointment. Our first screw-up in sports. Our first horrible performance on an exam. In gym. For an oral presentation. Our first job interview.

We don’t always feel them deeply when they first occur. Sometimes a little cut is barely felt, but then it grows deeper and deeper with time. Some people never get over some of their cuts. Many take their own lives, because the cut, instead of healing, grew into such a large wound that it consumed their entire lives.

The cuts add up. Before you know it, you’re in your twenties and the cuts start to drag you down a little. Some of us have something called “resilience,” which means we rebound much quicker from the cuts and they don’t hurt as much. Others don’t have as much of this, or had it at one time and slowly lost it over time. Resilience isn’t well understood by psychologists yet, but having more of it makes life easier.

Cuts take their toll on our lives. We reel from the disappointment, the loss, the feelings of not being as good as we thought we were (or were told by our parents, or others). We feel the acute pain of the cut and it feels very much like we will never feel “normal” or happy again. Sometimes, a cut can make us hopeless, without a future.

I think some cuts run deeper than others, for instance, our first serious relationship that ends, or the loss of a parent, best friend or beloved family member. It can be hard (and maybe, in some cases, even impossible) to recover from such cuts. They never heal, we just learn to live with them.

All of these cuts try their hardest to teach us things. A cut about not getting what we want reminds us that life is full of disappointments and we should learn instead to better appreciate what we already have. A cut about a relationship breakup reminds us about the fleeting nature of human love and desire, and that if a relationship isn’t nurtured on a daily basis, like any flower in our garden, it can wither and die. A cut about losing a job or doing poorly in an interview can show us that the career or position we thought we needed was perhaps not as clear-cut as we imagined, suggesting a re-evaluation of our skills and goals. A cut from a close person’s death is a simple reminder of the shortness of our life here.

We can choose to learn from these thousand cuts, or we can choose to ignore them and simply bear the pain. Some choose the latter path, and go through life with the burden of a thousand unhealed cuts weighing them down. How can they live in such pain? Few can, so many choose an end to their own pain, or turn to other answers (such as religion). But still, it’s hard living with so many cuts.

Others choose to learn from the cuts, and let them heal. Learning from such pain isn’t always easy, nor quick. Sometimes it can take time — weeks, months, even years. But learning teaches us the value of life, and lessons about life that the sooner we learn, the more enjoyable (and livable) life becomes. Pain is transformed into knowledge, and more often than not, self-knowledge. And self-knowledge is empowering.

We go through our everyday lives with the pain of a thousand cuts. But once we learn those cuts are trying to teach us something, the pain lessens. The cut heals. And our lives become whole again.

A Thousand Cuts


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). A Thousand Cuts. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/a-thousand-cuts/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 6 Nov 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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