Cutting- What is it & Why do people do it?

**Disclaimer: this topic is meant to educate and promote wellness and in no way promotes or encourages self-harm behaviour. This post does NOT contain any images of self-harm.

I know some of you may be thinking, ‘why would someone do this to themselves?’. Others may be thinking ‘my best-friend does that?’ Cutting and self-harm is a complicated topic and finding accurate information can be challenging (don't consult Dr. Google on this one). Regardless of all of the research and clinical experience that informs my writing on this topic, it is difficult to fully capture everyone’s unique experience of self-harm/cutting. 


Cutting is when a person intentionally inflicts tissue damage on themselves without the intention to die. Self-harm is different from suicidal behaviours or attempts. 

The main distinction is that when people cut themselves, they’re usually trying to cope with their lives, not end them.

Cutting is not a diagnosis in the DSM-V although it can be a subset to other diagnoses such as Borderline Personality Disorder and Eating Disorders.


Childhood experiences such as sexual or physical abuse, emotional or physical neglect, poor bonding or inability to form a secure attachment with caregivers, or severe punishment can increase the risk for self-harm.


This is the short answer to a big question: People use cutting as an outlet for unwanted emotions. It is often described as a comfort or a release. 

Self-harm is an ineffective coping strategy as it only momentarily provides a release for the pain being felt in that moment and often leads to further emotional pain like guilt and shame. It is viewed as a shameful act similarly to the behaviours that occur in an eating disorder.

It is not an attention seeking behaviour. Many people who cut will cut in areas that they can cover up with clothing. 

People may also cut because of media exposure (social contagion) and curiosity. Some people cut because it gives them a (false) sense of control. 

Aside from the obvious physical injury, another problem with cutting is that it is highly addictive.

1.    Distract yourself (eg. call a friend, journal, leave the house etc…)
2.    Avoid objects that you can self-harm with.
3.    Ask yourself: "Is there another way I can express this emotion?"
                         "Is this something that I really want to do?"
4.    Anytime you have the urge to cut, use a marker to draw on your skin instead.
5.    Think about the long-term consequences of self-harm scars
                           (eg. “How will I explain this to my children one day?”
                           “I don’t want my family to be disappointed in me”)
6.    Find a therapist who is experienced in DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy)
7.    Practice Mindfulness 

Author: Amanda Riley, M.A., Registered Psychotherapist & Certified Life Coach


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