What is Cutting, and Why do People Cut?

The concept of cutting is often a difficult one to understand. Most people cannot understand how someone could willingly wish to inflict pain on themselves. It goes against most models of human behavior. So then, why do people cut? This is a difficult question to answer, let alone understand. This short post will give you some ideas into the mindset of cutting so that it can be better understood.

Cutting is not Crazy

Many people automatically assume someone who cuts is crazy. In a way, it sounds crazy. We learn from an early age that pain = bad. Children learn not to touch hot surfaces because the brain tells them that extreme hot is dangerous. Pain is a warning system and is a very effective one. If we did not have pain, we would not live long, as we would not know what is wrong with us, and what could hurt us.

Someone who cuts understands that pain is not a good thing. They understand this is not normal behavior. They are not crazy and do know right from wrong. They know someone is wrong with them, but the logical side of themselves is overwhelmed by the emotional side. Cutters have reasons to cut, and at times, these reasons can make sense.

Physical Pain is Preferred to Emotional Pain

Many who cut are in severe emotional pain. This pain can be from many sources. It could be from an event like abuse, or from crippling low self-esteem. Most cutters have poor self-esteem and do not feel they are worth much. Often the emotional pain a cutter is in is crippling and unbearable. Many times they do not even know the source of this pain. All they know is they have severe pain that nothing conventional helps. Cutters are often creative people and will find a way to deal with this pain. Cutting often comes from an accident, or from word of mouth. Often it is tried, and it becomes a distraction from this emotional pain. By focusing on the physical pain, the emotional pain is placed in the background. Therefore, it becomes easier to live and deal with physical pain over the emotional pain. Over time this becomes normal, and a coping skill.

Cutting is a Coping Skill

Coping skills very from person to person. Some are positive, like taking out your problems, exercise, and listening to music when stressed. Others are negative, like drugs, alcohol, and cutting. Cutting is a negative coping skill because it damages the person cutting, often for life. Scars are extremely likely, and even life threatening situations can arise. The act of cutting can be soothing, and in turn, can become addictive.

Cutting Can Become Addictive

The act of cutting can become as addictive as a drug. It was one described to me this way. First, the idea becomes unyielding and can be anticipated. Often care is taken into choosing the instrument, which is often a razor blade but can be anything sharp, like a bottle. Once the cut is made, a rush follows. The brain releases endorphin’s to help deal with pain, and this can feel like a natural high. For hours later, while the pain is felt, a feeling of calmness and euphoria can be present. The act of cutting may be over, but the effects are not. It was described to me as “giving birth,” especially to something they can control. Once the wound is present, it is cared for very carefully. This can take time, and be a soothing experience. How the wound is wrapped, how it is hidden from the world, how it is taken care of, can be a powerful distraction. Over time, they get to see it heal, and this can also be a soothing experience that can last weeks. Once the wound is gone, the urge to create another can begin. Cutting is a form of control, control over the body, and in a way, of the mind.

Cutters are Not Suicidal

A common fear of cutting is the person is suicidal. A cutter never cuts to commit suicide. Parents often jump to this conclusion, which is understandable. A cutter wishes to live but does not know how to regulate the emotional pain they feel. A Cutter can become suicidal, but the act of cutting alone is not a suicide attempt.

I Know Someone Who Cuts, What Do I Do?

First, do not panic, especially around them. They know it is not normal, and do not need you spelling this out. First, talk with the calmly, and ask the benefits they gain by cutting. Do not yell, scream, insult, or insist they need help. They want understanding and want to be listened to. Pushing them away can be devastating, and could increasing the behavior. Ask them why they feel they need to cut, and how it helps. Tell them how you are scared for them, but that you care, and want to work with them to understand. A Cutter needs help and needs someone to talk to. Encourage them to tell you when they cut, and to show it. Do not become upset or freaked out when you see it.

Also, never shame them. Never tell this to others unless they wish. This is embarrassing to them and could crush them if everyone knew. Never speak about it in a public place others can hear. This is a private conversation. A cutter knows it is wrong and knows it is not right, but does not need you to shame and embarrass them. You can tell them you are concerned, even scared, but shaming will make it worse.

Involve a Professional

Once the cutter is willing to talk about it, have them talk to someone who has knowledge of cutting. Certain therapists and counselors will have experience. Look them up and have them see someone. The act of talking about it without judgments will go a long way to ending the behavior. Remember, cutting is often an addiction, and will take time to heal. It can take months or years, so patience is needed. I have experience in treating cutting, and many therapists are becoming more knowledgeable. Cutting is frightening but can be overcome with patience and understanding.


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Nathan Driskell

Hello, my name is Nathan Driskell and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the Houston / Cypress area specializing in the treatment of Internet Addiction & Asperger’s / Autism. I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples & families.

You can reach me at my website or call me directly at 832-559-3520 if you have any questions. Thank You!
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