Dr. Rachel: What Cutting Is and Why People Do It

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Injuring yourself on purpose by making scratches or cuts on your body with a sharp object is called cutting. Cutting is a form of self-harm. It is not a suicide attempt. Some people self-harm by burning their skin with the end of a cigarette or a lit match.
Self-harm typically starts at about age 14 and continues into adulthood. Cutting has long existed in secrecy. But in recent years, movies and TV shows have drawn attention to it so a greater number of our kids, as young as 11, are trying it.
People may cut themselves on their wrists, arms, inner thigh, or bellies. Cuts can easily be hidden under clothing and sometimes no one else knows.
The mix of emotions that triggers cutting is complex.
Cutting is a way some people try to cope with the pain of strong emotions, intense pressure, or relationship problems. Cutting provides a distraction from painful emotions such as rage, sorrow, rejection, desperation or emptiness through physical pain. Some people cut to feel a sense of control over their body through physical pain. Some cut to feel something, even if it is physical pain when they are feeling emotionally empty.
Some people who cut have had a traumatic experience, such as living with abuse, violence, or a disaster.
Cutting is usually a person’s attempt at feeling better but it doesn’t really do that.
You may be surprised if you ask your child if they know anyone who cuts. It is not uncommon and there is help for those who do.