Why Teenagers Cut Themselves: Is Self-Harming Addictive?
What Is Cutting?
If you are reading this article, are most likely interested in finding out about cutting, and more importantly, why teens cut themselves. Cutting is a destructive habit that involves self-injury and self-harm. Those who cut often use sharp objects such as needles, knives, or razor blades to cut or scratch their skin to the point of bleeding.
Teens most commonly cut in body parts that can easily be hidden, such as the inner wrist and thigh, but the inner palm, stomach, and legs are also common areas. Those who cut are most likely to be seen in long-sleeved shirts or tops and full-length pants, even though the weather may be hot. They do this to hide their wounds, or scars that are formed when their wounds heal. You will find that teenage cutting is quite common in today's world.
You might be wondering why people would want to cut themselves. Cutting is a serious mental disorder and is often done impulsively without forethought. After cutting, teenagers often feel ashamed and wish they had not done it in the first place. However, as an addiction, people find themselves going back to cutting. This is especially true for teenage cutting.
Why Is Cutting Addictive?
Once teens start cutting, they often find that they cannot stop. They may tell themselves that it's the last time and they won't cut again or convince themselves that they can stop whenever they want to. This is how teenage cutting becomes addictive. The individual believes they are in control and can stop when they want to, but this is seldom the case.
Starting to cut and feeling a strong urge to do it over and over again is a compulsive behavior. It is habit forming and can be fatal. Just like any other addiction, people who cut start associating the act of cutting with the temporary relief that they get.
To make it clearer, think of people who are binge eaters. They know that compulsive overeating is bad for them but over time, their minds begin to associate binge eating with the relief it provides them as a way to escape intense emotions or disturbing memories.
Similarly, the minds of those who cut start making a connection between cutting and the temporary relief that cutting brings as a means of escape from their memories of childhood abuse. This is one of the explanations for why teens might cut themselves.
But cutting only provides temporary relief—once that numbness from cutting elapses, you immediately look down and see what you have done, only to find yourself in disgust, disappointed, ashamed, and in even more pain.
Who Is More Likely to Cut?
Many people who cut themselves are in their preteen to teen stages, but many carry this habit to adulthood as well. It has also been found that girls are more likely than boys to cut themselves. Teenage cutting is a growing problem in society today thanks to increasing dysfunctional families, the increasing divorce rate, and the negative messages bombarded at teenagers through media.
Self Harm: The Sad Facts
Why Do People Cut Themselves?
Now you may be wondering why anyone would ever want to injure or cause pain to themselves. Indeed, it may seem unfathomable that anyone would deliberately pick up a sharp object to cause harm to themselves. Many teens who cut themselves do this as a way of coping with situations in their life that they think are too stressful or painful to bear. Of course, cutting is not the best way to cope with life's troubles at all. Cutting does not help solve the problem at hand—if anything, cutting only adds on to the problems one already has.
When I was in high school, I had a friend who used to cut himself. He would use needles and sometimes fountain pens to sharply indent his skin, forming deep cuts that left behind pink scars. On the outside, he seemed like a very social, happy, and outgoing person but when he went back home, he would occasionally cut himself. It was his way of coping with all the pressure that was on him from his family, who expected him to get straight A's and his friends, who expected him to constantly be 'cool' and 'in with the gang'. Obviously, cutting himself was not the right thing to do, but as a young teen, that was something he did that made him feel better and relieved stress—but only temporarily.
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The Reasons Why Teenagers May Cut
So, why do teens cut themselves? There are various reasons why people cut themselves. Below are some of the reasons:
Some teenagers cut to get 'relief' from pent-up feelings. Cutting gives them a false sense of respite from their mental stress or emotional problems.
Cutting may give teens a platform to express intense feelings such as depression, rejection, anger, betrayal, or confusion.
There are some who try cutting out of curiosity. Ever heard the saying "curiosity killed the cat"? Well, as much as curiosity can be a good thing, in this case, it does not lead to any benefit at all. At first, they may try out cutting as a harmless innocent behavior, but this is addictive and compulsion to cut may cause life-threatening situations. As teens are in a stage of exploring and are more curious in that stage of life, they are more likely to indulge in dangerous habits such as smoking, drinking, and self-injury through cutting.
Emotional or physical abuse may cause some people to close off the outside world and become reclusive. In this state, they may resort to cutting.
Adding on to the above, many victims of emotional and physical abuse often feel 'unclean' and 'disgusted' with themselves that they cut themselves as a way of punishing themselves. Most such victims feel that it was their fault that someone physically or mentally abused them and so they punish themselves for their 'crime' by cutting or self-injuring themselves.
5. Self-Hatred or Low Self-Esteem
Many people who cut themselves do not love and appreciate themselves or their bodies. They find themselves to be 'ugly' or 'fat', and in a desperate situation, they harm themselves by cutting, to get a quick fix for their problem. If they learned to love themselves, they wouldn't dream of deliberately harming themselves.
Too much pressure or stress can cause teenagers to resort to cutting. You would be surprised to know that many teens who cut themselves are actually honor-roll students.
How Can You Help Someone Who Cuts Themselves?
Stopping the habit is not an easy thing for someone who has already begun cutting. Here are some ways you can try to help someone who cuts themselves:
1. Encourage them to indulge in a productive and healthy hobby.
Explain that there are other ways to get rid of emotional burdens and societal pressures. Dealing with emotional pain and stress can be daunting but cutting is not the solution. Help them find healthier ways of occupying themselves such as photography or scrapbooking, which are not only fun but is also a great way to express oneself.
2. Tell them you care.
Show them that there are people who care for them. If one of your friends is cutting, show them how much you care for them and how much you wouldn't want to lose them or see them get hurt. They may realize that there are so many people who care for them after all, and out of compassion for all those who love them, they may decide to stop cutting.
3. Get them to exercise.
Exercise helps strengthen the immune system and boosts good hormones in the body such as serotonin, which helps you feel content and relaxed. Exercise is not only a way to keep busy and occupy yourself but is also a great way to tone up, get fit, and improve general well-being. Especially for teenagers, exercise does not have to mean hitting the gym and walking on the treadmill for an hour—you can make 'exercise' fun by engaging in any sports activity such as swimming, tennis, volleyball, or soccer.
4. Persuade them to join a club.
Find out what they like. For example, are they interested in drawing? If they are, they can join an art club. Do they like reading? Get them to join a book club. Joining a club enables them to be surrounded by like-minded people, making them feel comforted and secure. Many teens who feel awkward or like the odd one out in high school can find solace in the like-minded people they meet in these clubs.
5. Invite them to contribute to the community.
Serving the community and taking the time to help out needy people—by helping them build houses, for example—can do wonders for anyone. When I was in high school, we had a week of community service where we joined a local charity organization to help a poor community build permanent dwellings. Just helping to lay a few bricks and interacting with the people was a life-changing experience. It helps you to see that there are people out there who are less fortunate than you, making you more appreciative of your own life.
6. Establish an open dialogue.
Many teens cut in secret and may be afraid to tell an adult about their cutting. Improving your relationship with your child can help them be more relaxed and friendly with you such that they can feel free to share with you. Talking about problems is a good starting step to get your child/friend to stop cutting. "A problem shared is a problem solved." However, please ensure that you don't come across as too domineering or pushy, otherwise, you'll make the person confiding in you become even more reclusive and uncooperative.
7. Suggest professional treatment.
Many teens are cutting because of deeper and more complex issues such as childhood abuse or physical torment. Getting them to see a professional therapist to receive qualified treatment can help facilitate healing to solve the root cause, such that they can stop cutting.
8. Advocate writing as a creative outlet.
Writing is a great therapeutic tool that can help relieve tension and pain. Encourage your child/friend who is cutting to keep a diary to record their observations and thoughts during the day. Poetry is also a great means of expressing one's creativity or bottled up emotions, and watching your poem take shape is a rewarding and fulfilling experience, rather than cutting and harming yourself.
9. Suggest joining a support group.
Joining a support group can help a cutter feel that they are not alone. In a support group, they can share their personal stories and get to hear the stories of others with similar experiences. This can help them gain the strength and confidence to stop cutting. Online support groups are very convenient and also provide privacy.
10. Help them learn to love themselves.
If you want to help your friend or child who is cutting, one important thing to do is to get them to love themselves unconditionally. Loving oneself means that you would not hurt yourself in any way or deliberately cause yourself any pain. Many people who cut themselves are sensitive, compassionate souls who would never hurt another human being. Get them to see themselves and their own bodies as their 'friends'. Ask them, would they hurt a friend? The answer would most definitely be 'no'. If they treat themselves like friends, they would find it easier to not cut.
Advice to Self-Harmers
Has This Information Been Helpful to You?
I hope this article has helped you find the answers to the question, "Why do people cut themselves?" Perhaps with the pointers in this article, you can help yourself, or anyone else to overcome the habit of cutting. If you have any stories about teenage cutting or any other info to add to this article, please share in the comments section.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.