From time to time I work with someone who, at some point, introduces into our conversation a concern for the fact that they harbour a secret urge to cut.  This is a habit that is very poorly understood by the general public.  In my experience, it is mostly not a “death-wish” as some might interpret.  It is also underestimated just how “therapeutic” these thin cut-lines can be for the person at the time.  The lure of cutting seems to lie in its ability to bring inner turmoil to a momentary end.  I am very interested in getting people out there, who have had personal experience with resisting this lure, to help us gain a better understanding of it.  For example, a young client shared this beautiful piece of writing with me:

The self-inflicted cut was like a gateway; letting the pain in my heart pulse through my vains and pour out with the blood, freeing me of my binding pain for a couple of hours.

Pain has a catch release effect: it doesn’t let you go until you give it more.

Published by Jason Ross

Jason Ross is a Counselling Psychologist with a fervent interest in the use of LANGUAGE and TEXT. His areas of practice include: injury and illness psychology, sexual health, relationships and addiction.

6 Replies on “Cutting

  1. I started cutting occasionally when I was about 12. I’m now 35 and have been quite good for about six months now (only one slip up).
    Cutting for me is an expression of any strong ‘negative’ feelings – anger, fear, sadness, which I don’t know how to express any other way. I feel almost lethargic afterwards. I sleep well, it stops the panic and returns me to the numbness that has become my ‘safe space’ emotionally. It is very definitely the opposite of feeling suicidal, it’s an attempt to live. I came across an awesome book that helped me understand the need to cut, as I thought for many years I was just crazy, it’s called ‘A Bright Red Scream’ – very very highly recommended read for any of your clients or colleagues who deal with self-injurers.
    Good luck

  2. Dear Janine,

    Thank you for your openness regarding this topic. I do feel that the more openly we can discuss these things, the better we can understand it. I have a fetish for buying books. So much so, that I could never get around to reading them all. It just makes me feel more intelligent to own them. “Bright red scream” is one of the books on my bookshelf that I still need to et around to reading.

    A client was recently told by the psychiatrist, on admission to hospital, that “cutting behaviour was completely unacceptable”. This statement left my client feeling very vulnerable and chastised. There is no doubt that cutting should be avoided and that you are better off not cutting. It is also a mistake to assume that people “enjoy” cutting. Most people I speak to would prefer to stop. But, when things are at their toughest, that is not so easy…

  3. Hi Jason

    It’s a pleasure. I do feel as though I’m on the road to overcoming the need to cut and if anything I have to say can help shed light on it or help someone else in their healing, I’d be more than happy to do so.

    And I can relate to the book thing… it’s my only indulgence every month and I’m running out of shelf space!

    It is very sad to hear that even today some of the professionals seem not to understand the compulsion to cut. In my opinion it can be quite dangerous to prohibit a serious cutter from his or her only method of release at the time. It definitely isn’t the ideal, but if you take away someone’s ‘lifeline’, it could potentially result in more damaging expressions of their pain. This is speaking purely from my own perspective however!

    I certainly don’t enjoy cutting. After the initial ‘benefits’ wear off, I feel stupid, weak, crazy. It becomes an addiction after all and just like an alcoholic or drug addict, it comes with it’s own shame and eventually becomes part of your lifestyle.

    A few months ago I had a small tattoo done on my wrist to remind me why I want to stop cutting (and to cover up a few of the scars). It’s Japanese lettering and it basically reads “Breathe, in the silence lie the answers…” and so far it’s working!

    Best regards

  4. Cutting – There are few things that freak people out more than the admission of inflicting pain and blood on yourself. And the looks of horror are generally reason enough to try your best to give up the habit. But what about when times get rough and there doesn’t seem any other option to find respite? What then? How come is cutting considered so wrong, when running outside for a smoke to calm nerves is considered normal? Who made that decision? How much more damage does it do than the scars left by a blade?

    At times it is really hard when you view yourself in many aspect normal and know that others who are aware of your habit of cutting view you as a freak. I’m not sure it’s something that anyone will ever understand, the cutter or those on the outside?


  5. The 13th of April became the day I knew what it felt to loose who I am. It became the day I felt any tiny piece of worth I may have had as a person be replaced by a much bigger and seemingly more important entity – my problem. In a flash the fact that I have a few cuts negated the fact that I have a mind that functions and a heart that feels. In a few moments my problem became my defining factor. In that moment I was told that “cutting is unacceptable behavior and must stop”. And in that moment the cuts gained more importance than the person I am. ….. They chose to define me by the one ‘unhealthy’ release my body has and strip me completely of the person I’ve tried to cultivate. Nobody bothered to ask anything about this person or even find out if she existed.

    I found the above comments in my diary this morning. I believe they were the feelings attached to the story Jason mentions above….

  6. I have been a cutter since 2002. The
    need to cut has grown less as I have healed through therapy and constant, bankrupting meds. I also started smoking, not because it was more socially acceptable than my scars, but I knew I needed 2 find an out to the torment of cutting. Yes, the ritual was soothing and comforting, but I was losing track of who I’d told what story to. The students I teach were seeing some and I was threatened countless times with losing my job. Eventually I ran out of places to cut. Smoking isn’t any better an alternativen its just as destructive and when those nights turn too long and dark those glowing ashes are all too inviting now. Burning is now my new, but seldom spoken languages. I was introduced to cutting by the teacher who sexually molested me. It is my mission now 2 watch my pupils 4 signs of self abuse and sexual molestation to correct the wrongs of the past.