EQI.org Home | Cutting Main Page | Emotional Abuse

Cutting, page 2


Writing by Joey Kellog

Letter about "attention seeking" from Mary, who used to cut

A teen explaining why she cuts




EQI.org Home Page

Other EQI.org Topics:

Emotional Intelligence | Empathy
Emotional Abuse | Understanding
Emotional Literacy | Feeling Words
Respect | Parenting | Caring
Listening | Invalidation | Hugs
Depression |Education
Personal Growth

Search EQI.org | Support EQI.org

Reasons and Non Reasons for Cutting

So just how can someone be brought to the point of cutting? Well first, let's compare self-injury to suicide, keeping in mind that they are two VERY separate issues. Suicide is a last resort, as many call it. It is the only way that someone sees they can escape pain. From experience, I can tell you that suicide is never the answer. However, I am a cutter and for some reason, I have yet to move on from this terribly addictive behavior. Self-injury differs from suicide in that it is seen as a last resort that involves staying alive. The cutter, which will be the name I use to refer to all self-injurers, may feel trapped or lost in their emotions. But not everyone inflicts pain upon themselves to feel better. There is something confusing about all of this.

The problem for many psychologists is that they associate drug use, suicidal behavior, depression, etc., with the past of a particular person's life and cutting is sometimes left out. Now this, of course, is a commonly practiced technique. When someone is doing something, it would make sense to look at that person's past lifestyle and try to find connections. Someone that is an alcoholic, for example, may have started drinking a year or so ago because they felt alone or had an emptiness they wanted to fill. From there, you can trace the path of their addiction to alcohol. However, self-mutilation is commonly put into the present, and discovering the reasons for the action is left hidden. Therein lies one of the big keys; it cannot be finding the "what will stop it?" but rather the "why is he/she doing it?" What factors are involved? Here they are...

Factors in Self-Mutilation Cases
Infancy (birth to 3 years) Childhood (3 years to 12 years) Adolescence (12 years to 21 years)
rough handling
violent home
constantly changing homes
death in the family
any self-degrading thinking
violent home
any self-degrading thinking

We see a closer resemblance of self-mutilation to drug-use, sex, alcohol, etc. as all being "gap fillers," which means they are used to fill an emptiness with something comforting or soothing. There is yet another thing that these behaviors share. Most people who cope by means of such actions blame their outside problems. This does hold some truth-the person is responsible for his actions, but not his feelings. The person is emotionally immature and doesn't know appropriate coping tools. Hypothetically speaking, consider a cutter as being a kindergartener and normal healthy teenagers as being a senior college class-the kindergartener will not know what to do and they will use whatever tools they know, regardless of the consequences. Also, some individuals may have viewed drugs, abuse, alcohol or other negative things in their home and "learned" these as acceptable behaviors to handle problems. Why are some teenagers attacked by psychologists when they are found to be turning out just like their abusive and drug-addicted parents? It's a known fact that about 90% of teenagers grow up to be almost identical to their parents. Suddenly these teenagers become the exception and are isolated from the rest, though they are just the same way.

Abuse is one of the most prevelant factors in self-mutilation. When someone finds himself or herself self-injurying, they must look deep back into their past and think-were they ever abused? But first, let's get our definitions of abuse on the same track. There is physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse, some of which go hand-in-hand. Physical abuse is beating, hitting, slapping, being hit by objects, etc., or by lack of contact, like neglect. Mental abuse can be neglect, being put down by family and friends, or any number of misinterpreted comments that lead to feeling insufficient. Emotional abuse can be from neglect, being put down, not reaching expectations, etc. And sexual abuse is the forced intrusion upon one's sexual parts by someone else, whether it be rape or molestation. Something I find interesting, is about how important it is for an infant to feel contact when maturing into a child. Notice the two extremes you see with neglect and with abuse: under-stimulation and over-stimulation. It is my belief that this leads to a psychological sense of betrayal by the body. While in the womb, the skin and the brain actually develop from the same tissue-the ectoderm. There is a very close link between the skin and the mind. It is no surprise that mental pain has developed into physical pain by this point. The person has been betrayed by their surroundings and now by their own bodies. This betrayal opens to many reasons for cutting.


Self-punishment This is a common reason and suggests severe abuse as a child. Whether it was from family, friends, or people at school, the cutter has acquired a self-hating mind-set and they see themselves as worthless, fat, ugly, stupid, unloveable, and anything else they can conjure up. 99.99% of the time, these are all untrue assumptions.

Inablity to express emotions: "Expressing" pain or some other emotions by deliberately injuring one's self; these emotions are described as being too painful or too confusing to put into words.

Inablity to cope: This usually results from a traumatic childhood, involving some sort of abuse, neglect, or major trauma, such as a death in the family.

Regaining self-control: This is another common reason people cut. Again, the sense of betrayal comes back into play. The cutter feels lost and abandoned. Many cutters describe feeling like they are in a big black hole, or lost in a maze of emotions. They may feel everyone is out to hurt them. Cutting becomes a way of saying "Look. I am in control now." They are, in short, turning mental and emotional pain into physical and tangible pain. It is true to say that it is much easier to care for a physical wound, than an emotional one.

Revenge: This is the reason that is often confused as being attention-seeking and/or manipulation. By revenge, I simply mean using one's own flesh as a way of showing anger or resentment towards someone. The cutter doesn't wish to confront the person and so they use their own bodies. This is another reason suggested by cutters who were abused as children. Because the parent(s) is often out of the picture at that point, the cutter's body becomes their only way of "comunicating" with them. It is almost like a secret language that only the cutter and the abuser(s) understands.

To show mortality or regain a sense of living: As discussed earlier, a cutter often describes feeling numb or "not alive." Not unrealistically, the pain from the self-injury or the sight of blood, serves as visible evidence to the cutter that they are, in fact, alive.

Relief of tension or to release anger: This reason is very substantial when cutting is compared to another physical coping mechanism-crying. Both commonly result from negative feelings of hurt or anger; both involve the shedding of bodily fluid; both are often described as uncontrollable; and both leave the person feeling tired, relieved, and calm afterwards. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Symbolism: Some persons may carve symbols, words, or messages into their flesh. The scars serve as a way of remembering something that the cutter may feel they cannot remember in their mind or something they want to always retain. Tattoos have been known to show a reminder of some important event, such as a relationship, a death, or something else.


Suicide Attempt/Wanting to Die: It must be made aware to everyone that Self-Mutilation is NOT suicidal behavior. Suicidal people want to die to end the pain; cutters want to live but they feel the only way to remain in control, sane, intact, etc., is to self-injure.

Attention-Seeking: Self-Mutilation is rarely used as an attention-seeking device as there are many, MANY, other alternatives one could take to seek attention. Breaking one's own bones, slicing one's own skin or burning one's own flesh just could not be as simple as "wanting to get attention."

Manipulation: The same as attention-seeking, there are many other ways that one could manipulate others as opposed to self-injury.

Masochism (Sexual Pleasure from abuse and/or physical pain): Self-Mutilation serves other purposes, as discussed above, and the types of self-inflicted injury discussed on this site are not about a person getting sexual pleasure from being abused-masochism and self-mutilation are two different psychological issues. These are all simple excuses to blame the cutter for being weak and pathetic and to avoid solving the real problem.

Hopefully now we can better understand the emotions and reasons a person may have to cut.

Email about attention seeking from Mary who used to cut

Here is an email from Mary, who I started talking to when she was 17. She is now 20. She read something I wrote on my site about cutting and wrote me.

Steve, you wrote:

"A lot of people say teens are just looking for attention when they cut and attempt suicide. I have been meaning to start asking people like this what they think someone should do if they meet a teen who is "seeking attention" as they put it. Should they give them attention or ignore them? And if they do give them attention, what kind of attention? Lecturing or listening, for example?"

Well, when I was cutting, I hated it when I got lecturing kind of attention. It was scary. I mean, down right scary. The first time anyone ever spoke to me about it is so clear in my mind. And it happened when I was in sixth grade, over seven years ago. They called me down to the guidance office and they asked me about the marks on my arms, then they just started lecturing me. Almost yelling at me about it. And the first thing I did after they let me go back to class was go to the bathroom, pull my razors out of my pocket and cut myself four or five times. They put me in such hostile situations, where I was being accused of something and it was like I was on trial. And I remember them asking me where the marks on my arms came from, and almost crying I said: "My brother has a....cat". I remember that pause. I kept thinking, damnit, I just screwed everything up. I kept asking myself...why the hell did I pause like that? I still don't know. I'm still mad at myself for pausing like that.

But when someone listened to me, I could talk forever. Sometimes I just talked to myself. I used to write like, ten page emails to you because I knew that you would listen. And it wasn't even that I wanted to talk about cutting. I didn't, most of the time.

My suicide attempts. Well, I guess that was attention too. I never thought of it that way though. I did it to perfection so I wouldn't die. First time I took the maximum amount of sleeping pills you could take without dying, but I hated the charcoal and stomach pumping. Then I slit my wrists, really carefully though. I did it because I wanted people to worry about me. I wanted them to think I was going to die. I really really wanted people to think I was going to die, that way they'd care. So I guess that counts as seeking attention. But no. No one cared. My mother would scream at me until they kicked her out. Then they'd have therapists analyzing every word that came out of my mouth. Then when I refused to speak they analyzed my silence. I asked them not to leave me alone with my father, they never listened. That's attention, alright, but not the kind that anyone in their right mind would want.


Then I wrote back to Mary and asked her this:

Do you think that I helped you with things I said, or was it helpful just that I cared and always took you seriously or just what?

She replied...

Both. You said a lot of things that helped combined with the fact that you cared and took me seriously.

A teen explaining why she cuts

This is from a convo a while back, but I never got around to posting it....

ok sarah ur the expert here, what do u suggest for helping younger pple who are cutting? my suggestion is to leave their country, but that doesnt work in practice so well

sarah says:

sarah says:
find an outlet... even if u do end up cutting, still do something else right after to get ur mind off of it. i like to listen to music or write poetry or paint my nails or pierce something... whatever you like to do that's something that can keep u busy is usually good to do.

sarah says:
it used to help for me to take a shower. i used to tell myself i wouldn't cut until i took a shower first and then by the time i was out of the shower i was fine and didn't really feel like hurting myself.

steve says:
how much do u think u understand why u cut sarah

sarah says:
9. i've gotten it down to a science... i only do it when i'm feeling a few emotions... if i'm really really numb and need to feel, if i'm really anxious like kind of angry and need to get it out, or if i am extremely fed up and just want to die... after i cut i usually either feel relieved till the guilt sets in or i just feel guilty right away. and i know the things that make me want to cut...like, the things that cause the emotions that make me want to... like fights with my dad, when my boyfriend does something to hurt me, or if i'm really worried that someone at school is gonna be mean to me or something

sarah says:
it's easier to figure out how to stop the pain and the cutting once you know what causes it too