Why Do People Cut Themselves?

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Cutting is one form of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) — also known as self-injurious behavior or non-suicidal self-directed violence — which is the deliberate, self-inflicted destruction of body tissue without suicidal intent.

While some people who engage in self-injury cut themselves, others may deliberately burn, scratch or bruise their skin or break their own bones.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately one in every 100 Americans engages in non-suicidal self-injury, with the behavior being higher among women than men. NSSI most commonly affects teenagers and young adults.

While there is no known cause of this behavior, mental health experts have found links between NSSI and certain mental health conditions, such as depression, psychosis, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Many people who cut or otherwise injure themselves report that they do so because it provides a sense of relief. Others say they use cutting or other forms of self-injury as a coping mechanism when dealing with a problem or stressful situation. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, people who have a difficult time expressing their feelings may demonstrate their emotional tension, psychical discomfort, pain or low-esteem by engaging in self-injurious behaviors. 

While people who engage in NSSI often report feeling a sense of relief upon injuring themselves, many also report that these feelings are quickly replaced by shame or guilt once the relief passes. It is not uncommon for those who engage in self-injurious behaviors to hide their behavior from their peers, parents or teachers or to feel embarrassed or ashamed of the injuries they have inflicted upon themselves.

Mental health experts recommend that those who engage in self-injurious behaviors seek professional help to identify and treat the underlying causes of this behavior.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.