Imagine this: A young lady is sitting alone in her room with the lights off and the shades drawn. She’s crying uncontrollably and nothing she can do will make herself feel better. Her boyfriend just broke up with her, her friends are talking about her behind her back, her siblings are pests, and her parents are on her case to do better in school. She’s completely alone and feels that she has no one she can turn to. In an attempt to ease her pain and suffering, she picks up a razor blade, presses it to her wrist, and drags it along her skin, leaving behind a slice that lets blood flow from her body. As she watches the blood seep from the cut, the stress and tension that she’s been carrying just seem to melt off her body. She feels relieved and doesn’t want that feeling to stop, so she continues the same act over and over until all the tears stop flowing and the pain in her heart subsides. She is a cutter and now a participant in self-injury.
Now answer this question: How do you feel about this girl cutting herself to relieve stress and pain? Do you think poorly of her or look down on her for doing so? Most people look at a cutter and immediately assume the worst. They think there must be something wrong with this person and that they must be a bad influence for anyone to be around. I know this from personal experience. However, that’s not the case at all, and people should not judge someone on what they do without knowing or understanding their reasons for doing it. Granted, if you were to look up “cutting – self injury” you’re more than likely going to come up with a lot of results that only express the negative side of self injury. What most people are ignorant of is the fact that there are pros to self injury. I personally believe that some forms of self injury, cutting specifically, are an effective way of relieving stress and pain and can be a good thing at times. Self injury shouldn’t be judged as much as it is, and more people should take the time to educate themselves on the subject.
So what exactly is cutting? Purposely cutting oneself to the point of breaking skin and causing it to bleed is considered self injury. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, self injury is defined as an act of deliberately destroying body tissue to change a way of feeling emotions. Cutting isn’t the only form of self injury. Other forms include: carving, scratching, burning, biting, picking and/or pulling at hair and skin. According to the AACAP, excessive tattooing and body piercing are also two more forms that most people don’t recognize as self-injury, but instead consider to be forms of art or self-expression. Self injury can vary from little cuts to very gruesome, almost slaughter-like gashes. More often than not the more common self injuries are cutting, burning, and carving. Why do people do these things? What could possibly cause a person to intentionally inflict harm on themselves?
“The behavior is a cry for help rather than a bid for attention. Some adolescents may self-mutilate to take risks, rebel, reject their parents’ values, state their individuality or merely be accepted. Others, however, may injure themselves out of desperation or anger to seek attention, to show their hopelessness and worthlessness, or because they have suicidal thoughts,” says Theresa Churchill of the AACAP. Many different people and different organizations will argue different reasons as to why someone would harm themselves on purpose, but the truth is there isn’t a single reason as to why people do these things. For every person who participates in self injury there is a reason; that’s an infinite number of reasons if you look at it that way. The biggest and most likely reason of every single person who inflicts self-injury is stress and/or depression. These are the common underlying causes that lead to self injuries. “I watched my uncle do it several times and I really needed a release from my home life; I had a horrible childhood and a neglectful family, that’s why I started doing it,” admits Denny Blanchard. Everyone has problems, but not everyone feels the need to pick up a sharp object and intentionally harm themselves. The difference between people who participate in self injury and people who don’t is the ability to communicate. Dr. Tracy Knight, from the Psychology Department at W.I.U., believes that people act out in these ways because they have not learned how to deal with the pains of life and begin to feel so overwhelmed that they literally feel numb, and they harm themselves to be able to feel again.
I know that was partly true in my own case. When I first began to cut I was eleven years old and had already been through hell and back in my life, but had to remain the strong one so my family wouldn’t fall apart. I had no one to help me and no one I could talk about my problems. That’s why I started. Does that make me a bad person? Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?
One thing that all people agree on is that self-jury is not a mental illness. Most people who cut are looked at as potentially suicidal when, in fact, most of these people are cutting to prevent committing suicide. These people are not crazy or insane; according to Dr. Melanie Hetzel-Riggin they are just struggling to control their communication skills about their struggles. However, that wasn’t always the case. Dr. Hetzel-Riggin points out that when these acts first starting occurring, people had very little knowledge about what was going on. These people were hospitalized and put on suicide watch. What more people need to realize is that people who cut are not trying nor wanting to kill themselves. Cutting simply releases endorphins and makes them feel better; or, rather, just makes them hurt less. So cutting does not make me a bad person and according to professionals, it does not mean that there is anything mentally wrong with me or anyone else who self injures either.
It used to be that the majority of people that cut were teenage girls that did so because they had relationship problems. That’s not true anymore. There are more and more males and adults starting to participate in cutting. Some argue that it can be addictive, while others argue against that. Addiction to cutting varies in different people. However, like mentioned before, cutting and other self injuries are not isolated incidents among teenage females. It’s now even finding its way into the work force as a career option. The Chicago Suspenders pierce hooks through their skin for the entertainment of others and claim that it releases a feeling of euphoria. “You get so high, and you feel so accomplished,” said Tsokatos, 26, of Lincoln Park. “It’s truly a journey.” Piercing your body repeatedly with hooks is a form of self injury. If self injury is so bad, why is it legal to turn it into a career?
The most recent form of self injury is reported to be “self-embedding,” as reported by ABC News. Some doctors are alarmed by what they see as a growing trend by adolescents to mutilate their bodies through “self-embedding” — inserting shards of wood, glass, or paper clips under their skin. Much like other forms of self injury, self-embedding took time to reach the news and the attention of the public. This happens because people don’t take it seriously enough to recognize it as a form of self injury. However, there is a way to tell whether it is or not; all you need to do is look for signs of any other forms of self injury. This doesn’t mean every self injurer does more than one form, but more than likely most will. I did several different forms myself. Sometimes, you need more and more to help, which could lead to more problems.
Most self injurers can control themselves and only do as much as they need. Others only get more problems from self injury and feel they have to do it more or find something stronger to get the same effect. I can personally relate to Denny Blanchard, who states that he had the reverse effect in which drugs led him to self injury; “I think drug use played a role in my self injury because the drugs kept me in a wrong state of mind.” Brittany Vigil thinks differently, though. She began her acts of self injury after experiencing relationship problems and family problems. After her family found out about what she was doing, they strongly expressed that they hated what she was doing. She says they made her feel worse than she already was feeling and it eventually resulted in a drinking problem she developed. In order to prevent a self injurer from getting worse, there are things you can do, like something as simple as taking the time to talk to them and ask them to express their feelings, rather than keeping them bottled up and furthering the intentional harm on themselves. It’s a simple and effective solution, but if it’s beyond that point, there are further steps you can take.
Now there is a place where people can get treatment for their self injury problems. S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES is a nationally recognized treatment approach, professional network, and educational resource base, which is committed to helping you and others achieve an end to self-injurious behavior. Some people do take self injury to an extreme point and find themselves unable to stop. Sometimes it can even get to the point where someone accidentally commits suicide. People who cut do not intend to kill themselves, but the pain they feel at times can be overwhelming and without thinking about what they are doing, they cut too deep and bleed out. It’s also been known that some people use dirty tools while cutting. If you fail to disinfect your tool of choice, you can end up with a serious infection or sometimes even gangrene. Cutting isn’t something to do just for the fun of it; if that is your way of relieving stress, you need to be smart about it. I am in no way encouraging cutting; I’m simply pointing out valuable facts that could save a cutter from serious injuries and problems.
Something else people should know is that depression and stress aren’t reasons enough to pinpoint why people harm themselves. For some there are much deeper reasons. Sometimes, these reasons are more preventative or bigger problems and issues that could emerge if cutting wasn’t done. For me personally, it saved me from trying harder and more addictive drugs than what I was already experimenting with. It more than likely saved me from causing a lot of physical harm to my younger sister as well. Denny Blanchard believes that if it had not been for cutting, he would have literally killed some people. Brittany Vigil knows for a fact that if she had not cut herself, she would have killed herself. While most people will continue to look at cutting as a bad thing, I urge them to remember that the absence of cutting could have led certain individuals, myself included, to doing much more harmful things to themselves or others. I am aware that there are other ways to relieve stress and that cutting, or any self injury for that matter, are not among the healthiest ways to do so. But it is an effective way, nonetheless. It can save lives, literally. I don’t think that self injury is the best form of relief from mental stress and depression. I do not encourage anyone who feels depressed to cause themselves harm. I just want more people to be informed and not always look at self injury as a bad thing. Cutting can be an effective way to relieve stress and can prevent bad things from happening; self injury is equivalent to letting out a long sigh of relief.