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Self-Injury Cutting: Cutting Yourself to Relieve Emotional Pain

Cutting self is common among self-harmers. Self-injury cutting, may be seen as a way of relieving emotional pain. Learn more about cutting and self-mutilation.

Cutting yourself is something many people would never think of doing, and yet for others, self-injury in the form of cutting may be something they do on a regular basis. Cutting is also known as one type of self-harm, self-injury or self-mutilation. People may cut themselves to use the physical pain to relieve emotional pain they are feeling but can't handle.

One study found that of college students who self-injure, over 33% self-harmed by cutting.1 It is more common for females to cut themselves than for males.

What is Cutting?

The self-injury cutting is done any time you purposefully break the skin and make it bleed. Cutting might be done with a knife, razor blade or broken glass. The cuts do not have to be deep to be considered self-mutilation. Cutting is often done on the hands, wrists, arms, thighs and stomach.

People will typically lie about the signs of cutting or cover them up. For example, a person might blame scratches or cuts on a cat. Self-harm cuts are also often hidden by clothing. This can be seen when someone insists on wearing long-sleeves or pants even in very hot weather. (If you're cutting yourself, find out how to explain self-harm scars to others.)

Cutting Yourself. Why?

The reasons people self-mutilate by cutting vary, but it is often to relieve emotional pain and, paradoxically, numbness. (More on why people self-injure.)

When a person is overwhelmed with a painful emotion, sometimes they don't know how to handle it; this is when a person may self-injure, cut. These strong emotions may be linked to intense pressure, school or relationship problems, anxiety or situations the person feels they can't change. The physical pain of self-mutilating, cutting, is like a release valve to relieve the emotional pain. Someone may see the releasing of blood similar to releasing the strong feelings they have inside.

Others self-harm by cutting because they feel numb and the pain of self-harm allows them to feel something. Some even report that cutting provides an energy rush, although this is uncommon.

Cutting also allows a person to express pain when they don't know any other way to express it. The visible self-mutilation from the cutting becomes a sign of the pain and a form of communication.

People may also self-injure by cutting because:2

  • They wish to control their body and mind
  • They wish to distract themselves from other problems
  • They wish to purify themselves
  • They feel the need to reenact a trauma in an attempt to resolve it
  • They wish to protect others from emotional pain

Information on how to stop cutting yourself is here.

Self-Harm By Cutting as a Sign of Psychiatric Disorder

Cutting may also be a sign of an underlying psychiatric disorder. While many people engage in self-injury cutting due to life-stressors, others do it because they have an undiagnosed mental health disorder. A person who self-harms by cutting may have:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • A psychotic disorder
  • A substance use disorder

No matter the reasons behind cutting yourself, effective cutting help and treatment for cutting is available. While self-injury self-help methods can be used, self-injury cutters should seek professional help in tackling this problem. 

article references


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next: I Cut Myself: The Shame and Secrecy of Self-Harm
~ all articles on self-injury
~ all articles on abuse

Last Updated: 27 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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