Understanding Self-Harm from a Cutter’s Point of View
Trigger Warning: This post contains details on self-harm that may be disturbing to some readers.
Now what you came here to read! A while ago, I was asked about self-harm specifically cutting. I actually have friends who use to and some sadly still do self-harm. So I talked to a few of them and one gave me her journal, the italic words are from the journal.
We walked in silence for a while. I was looking at the sunset and how beautiful it was. It’s so peaceful, the red color in the sky, like my blood, I thought.
“I guess I’m not the only thing that can bleed,” I whispered, so low I didn’t think Alfredo heard me.
“Does your mom know? Does Mrs. Martin? Does Brittany? I know Shane does,” he said, proving my theory wrong.
“Mom, yes. Brittany, yes. Mrs. Martin, maybe. I haven’t told her, and please don’t tell her either.”
“I won’t, really, I just want you to be safe.”
Again we didn’t talk for about ten minutes, as we walked and observed our fellow campers playing soccer, football, and basketball. Some were just sitting on the grass taking in the sunset as well.
“Why do you do it? Hurt yourself, I mean?” Alfredo finally asked.
“I don’t really know why,” I answered, shying away and wishing I hadn’t agreed to talk with him.
“Hey, look at me, and come closer. I don’t want to talk too loud about this, and I know you don’t want me to either.” I moved closer to him.
“Well, there are only four possible reasons. One, you do it to reduce negative emotions; two, to feel “something” besides numbness or emptiness; three, to avoid certain social situations; or four, to receive social support. Since you hide your scars, and only a few people know about it, I would say four is out. Since you don’t avoid anything and don’t seem withdrawn, I would rule three out. Which leaves one or two.”
This is a story that one of my friends told me. (I got her permission to share it, and the names have been changed to protect the identity of the people and herself). I know already said this, but here it is again just because!!!
Self-harm is one of the hardest things to deal with; the person does not feel comfortable in his or her skin. There is something seriously wrong when we intentionally hurt ourselves. One in 12 young people engage in self-harming such as cutting, burning or taking life-threatening risks, and around 10 percent of these continue to deliberately harm themselves into young adulthood.
It does not stop when one enters college. Sometimes the battle within self keeps going. A study done found that 17 percent of college students, 20 percent of women and 14 percent of men report that they have cut, burned, carved or harmed themselves in other ways.
I look at them every day. And the battle starts. I want to cut them out, to rip them out of my skin, but I know that if I do, I lose. But, I want to do anything to simply forget. The sad thing is, I remember doing every one of them. I remember how I felt as I placed the small metal razor blade against my skin.
Non-suicidal self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt, however, it can lead to suicide. Rather, this type of self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration.
I do it to stop feeling so bad. Mainly, I do it to relieve feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and isolation. I also sometimes hurt myself to distract myself and my mind from other problems, at school, and at home, and even here. It’s my coping skill to decrease feelings of rage, to release tension, and to control my ever- racing thoughts,” I told him, and he just stopped walking and simply looked at me. I had tears in my eyes, but I was not about to cry.
Detecting self-injurious behavior can be difficult. Self-harmers usually do it secretively, and will hurt themselves in places that are easy to hide with clothing. Or they may give excuses for their injuries, such as “the cat scratched me.” Here are some warning signs of cutting:
- Unexplained burns, cuts, bruising, scars, healing or healed wounds, or similar markings on the skin—small, linear cuts are especially common
- Implausible stories that may explain one, but not all, physical injuries
- Consistently wearing long sleeves or pants, even when it’s hot outside
- Constantly wearing wristbands, large watchbands, or large bracelets
- Frequent bandages or other methods of covering wounds
- Unwillingness to participate in activities that expose the body, such as swimming
A part of me, the logical part, knows that I should not harm. Another part, the one that usually wins knows that it is the only way to feel even a little better. I am in a constant war. It is me, myself, and I and I am losing.
Self-harm is not a mental illness, but a behavior that indicates a lack of coping skills. Several illnesses are associated with it, including borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety or post-traumatic distress disorder.
The bathroom, with ten stalls and ten sinks, smelled like lavender and vanilla. The walls were colored white and purple. The first stall was white, the second purple, and the third white and so on and so forth. The floor’s small tiles also were white and purple. It was nice and quiet in the restroom. No one was in there but me.
I went into the big stall at the far end of the restroom and curled into myself.
“Everything is going to be okay,” I heard Mrs. Martin’s voice telling me as I slipped into the dark.
“No, it’s not going to be okay,” I said out loud.
I wish I had brought my blade. It would have calmed me down, I thought to myself.
Self-harm is often seen as a cry for help, a ploy to gain attention or as manipulation. However more often than not self-harm is a very private and hidden behavior that does not involve anyone else.
I didn’t know why I was answering him (Alfredo). All I knew was that I wanted him to somehow save me. I didn’t know, as I looked up to the sky that only one person could save me and that person was me. No, I wanted Alfredo to be my shore as I swam in an ocean of my own blood. I know now how unfair I was being, but at the moment all I wanted was to be rescued; to be kept from drowning.
It is important to realize that cutting is rooted in emotional distress; it’s a way for some people to cope with their emotions or outside stress. Because cutting tends to become a compulsive behavior, it’s difficult for some people to stop even when they want to. As with other compulsions, professional help is often needed to stop the behavior. Treatment focuses on making people aware of the stress that trigger cutting and on helping them learn better means of coping. Treatment can also get to the bottom of the problems that are really bothering the person, and help him or her express their feelings in a more positive way.
This a conversation with another friend of mine who constantly is relapsing and self-harming.
“Is the human project doing well?”
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“I don’t feel human sometimes, so I need to know how it’s like.”
“What do you feel then?”
“I feel…I feel dead. Like a zombie. I am so numb, so empty I have forgotten what it feels like to be human. Lesley, how is the human project?” he asked as he pulled the sleeves of his shirt down so I didn’t see the cuts that were only a few hours old.
It took me a while to answer. He is 22, and he feels so inhuman because of his depression and his past traumatic event that he has disconnected with emotions.
“Sometimes I just need to see my blood to remember that I am alive.”
“You are alive. You are loved. And guess what?”
“You are human, fool! A beautiful human, someone who will improve this human project that was started so many centuries ago,” I said with a smile.
He laughed. “I hate myself so much. You know you hate yourself when you fight yourself every night. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Most days I wonder if I am just a lost cause; if I should just give up all hope.”
Dear friend and readers,
When you feel like your heart has stopped beating, when you feel like you have lost your humanity, tell your heart to beat again. Don’t give up; you have come so far in life. There is hope. I know that the sting of the blade is no match for the pain of the loneliness, but believe me, when I say that scars do not define who you are. They are battle wounds of fights that you have won. Keep winning.