A cutting disorder is one in a complex group of behaviors known as self-harm that involves a deliberate decision to mutilate or hurt oneself. Cutting entails making small cuts on body parts such as the wrists, arms, legs, stomach, and chest. People who cut themselves usually try to conceal their wounds, thereby cutting in places easily covered by clothing. Affecting young people aged 12-24 years old, cutting is the most common of all self-harm methods.
Some additional ways of self-harm include:
- Interfering with wound healing
- Banging or hitting body parts against hard objects like walls or floors
- Swallowing or ingesting poisonous or inedible items
Cutting falls under the category of self-harm in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and is classified as a symptom of borderline personality disorder. Those who cut themselves do so in an attempt to express, temporarily relieve, and cope with deep emotional pain. Several disorders have been associated with cutting, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.
Like addictions of all kinds, cutting is an escape and coping mechanism for internal pain and disturbing thoughts and memories. Not to be confused with suicide attempts, cutting is done as an act of self-preservation, to deal with life, and survive it.
Why One Resorts to Cutting
Cutting is a symptom of underlying issues that can range from self-loathing to severe mental health problems, and for those who cut themselves, it is a temporary outlet for their internal pain. So, why would one resort to cutting over drugs, alcohol, gambling, sexual activity, or eating, to ease inner turmoil?
Regardless of the method, any destructive behavior that is in response to underlying personal issues, such as cutting oneself is a result of an inability to express and healthily process these issues. Why one person may resort to cutting while another may resort to sexual acts, gambling, or gaming is a combination of personality traits, environment, and experience.
Cutting is an individual action, and most of those who cut themselves do so in absolute secrecy. Although it is a cry for help, cutters do not usually show any indication of their habit. In fact, many young people who cut themselves are among the honor students and most popular kids in their classes.
There are several other ways in which the behavior of cutting is not as evident as other addictions:
- There is no noticeable “high” associated with cutting. While those who cut themselves will experience a reprieve from their internal suffering, there is no nodding off, or “speedy” behavior associated with the effects of cutting oneself. Contrary to the effects of all drugs of addiction, cutting does not produce any bizarre behavior, other than the need to continue cutting.
- The costs associated with cutting are minimal if any at all. For those who cut themselves, straight-edged razors, pens, bottle caps, kitchen knives, scissors, shards of glass, needles, or pins are all-sufficient, and most are everyday household items and easily accessible. If no cutting instrument is readily available, the cost of purchasing one is extraordinarily minimal. Since there is no substantial cost associated with cutting, there is no financial hardship resulting from the behavior, which is usually a reliable indicator of other addiction problems.
- Legal risks are inherent to most other substance and behavioral addictions, but for someone who is cutting him or herself, there are no legal repercussions for the behavior. It is not illegal for someone, even a minor to possess a pair of scissors, a pen, even a razor blade inside his or her home. While discouraged and frowned upon by most, the act of cutting oneself is also not illegal. As another reliable sign of a problem with most other addictions, legal troubles and risky behavior involving illicit activities are not present as a result of cutting oneself.
Even though it may be harder to spot a cutter than a drug addict, it is not impossible to do when considering the most affected demographic, and having an understanding of why those who cut themselves do it. Self-cutting, like any other self-destructive behavior, is an attempt to deal with emotional pain and inner turmoil. How a person may engage in destructive actions to numb or distract oneself from issues, are vast. They can be anything from working too many hours, drug and alcohol abuse, and self-injury methods like cutting. So who is at risk for cutting disorder?
Young People and Cutting Disorder
Cutting is most common among young people, mostly because of their immaturity and inability to deal with painful and traumatic experiences in their lives. Studies have shown that among this group, girls are more likely to cut themselves than boys. Whether known to connected adults or not, young people deal with a tremendous amount of stress and pressure that may lead to cutting disorder. Some adults may think that young people don’t know what pressure is, without the responsibilities of paying bills, supporting a family, maintaining a career, etc. The truth is that expectations in school, family life, and relationships with peers can create traumatic events that can lead to a young person cutting him or herself.
An increasingly common source of pain that can likely result in cutting is bullying. As a growing concern, harassment in school over a myriad of issues is traumatizing and devastating for young people. Bullying is one of the most disturbing ways to demoralize another human being, especially those as sensitive as young people. When a student is bullied in school, the likelihood is that he or she will not have a solid group of friends with whom there can be an outlet for the pain inflicted. Many kids are embarrassed by being victims of bullying, and will not report it to a school administrator or their parents for fear of retaliation or the appearance of weakness. Without any other positive source for expressing or coping with their trauma, many victims of bullying turn into self-hurting methods, cutting is the most common.
- Expectations in school can lead to cutting disorder: When parents send their children to school, there is an expectation that a child will perform to his or her highest ability. Some parents put much more pressure on young people than others, but the general hope is that school-aged children will bring home good grades, maintain a healthy social life with friends, and be able to regulate the delicate balance between those two aspects. However, preteens and teenagers don’t have the same communication and coping skills as most adults, as a result of inexperience and immaturity, neither of which is the fault of young people.
These things come with age, time, and experience. School classes get harder while relationships with peers become more complicated. Any number of things may happen to a perfectly well-balanced young person to throw the balance between school work and peer relationships out of sync. Whatever the case may be, when school performance suffers, tension at home will likely occur, and feelings of inadequacy or shame may develop as a result.
If the tension at home is a result of another problem that a young person has not expressed, he or she will be dealing with mounting pressure, anxiety, and depression, thereby opening the door for behaviors like cutting. The more a young person feels the pressure that he or she cannot express or process, the more likely it is for cutting to become the outlet for that pressure.
- Family life can lead to cutting: Contrary to students who have suffered from trauma or pain within their school environment, many have experienced extreme difficulty in their personal lives that result in low self-esteem, anger, anxiety, depression, and even self-loathing. Unfortunately, a family can be the most damaging part of a young person’s life.
Whether it is sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, grief over the loss of a loved one, or dangerous environments riddled with addiction and dysfunction, young people tend to have a hard time processing and coping with sadness and pain. When a young person experiences trauma in his or her life, and can find no other way out, or to express the internal pain, cutting often becomes a way to deal with life.
Young people may feel angry because their parents never gave them the attention they needed, or they may struggle with constant pain from abuse within the family.
When overwhelming feelings of sadness, pain, grief, and anger are present in young people, one of two things usually happen:
- Some young people retreat within themselves. As a result, they confide in fewer friends, socialize with fewer people, and do not actively seek the help they need to express their feelings. Without any way to communicate their issues, cope with their lives, their isolation becomes more profound, making them increasingly dependent on cutting to relieve their pain.
- Other young people, specifically those who are extroverted and naturally charismatic, will elevate their charisma and charm, and throw themselves into their persona at school. These students are often class officers, honor students, class clowns, top athletes in varsity sports, and involved with popular school clubs and groups. While they appear to their classmates, teachers, and administrators to be jovial and without problems, they return to the solitude of their bedroom and cut themselves to release the pressure of maintaining the facade despite the deep emotional pain.
Contrary to some beliefs, a cutting disorder is not a suicide attempt, but rather a survival tactic, to release the pain and cope with life. Unfortunately, cutting not only creates tissue damage to the skin, but it does not make the pain go away. A cutting disorder is just a temporary escape, much like that of drugs, alcohol, and subjects of behavioral addictions.
- Relationships with peers in school can lead to cutting disorder: Dating in school is among the most tumultuous things young people do in their early lives. Like a roller coaster, the dating relationships for young people are riddled with complications from other friends, parents, and the balance between this and scholastic performance. In addition to abusive relationships, which do rarely occur with young people, break-ups can be especially traumatic.
Many adults can recall through personal experience or a friend, dating in school. A problematic break-up felt like the end of the world and was often accompanied by weeks of crying, anger, and sadness. Nothing about the devastation of some aspects of teenage dating has changed, and for some, this can genuinely have severe consequences, destroying self-esteem or launching a young person into intense anger. For young people going through puberty, and without the experience and maturity to process their feelings, cutting is an escape from their emotional issues relating to, and resulting from dating that has been traumatic.
Women and Cutting Disorder
Women tend to be caring, motherly, and can often find themselves in a position of managing to the needs of others rather than themselves. There is a very delicate balance between caring for loved ones and caring for oneself. While it is essential to care for others, when the needs of a woman come last, and she is in a position where she is subject to abuse, degradation, and extreme stress, the fallout can be massive. This may be the result of past events like abuse or neglect as a child, but when women do not feel their sense of self-worth, they are most likely to remain silent about any abuses or injustices they endure in adulthood.
Like with young people who experience these traumas, women who become increasingly isolated may begin to cut themselves to cope with the deep emotional pain (often rooted in their childhood). It is unlikely for grown women to start cutting themselves in adulthood. Instead, the more likely circumstance is that a woman who cuts herself did so as a girl, stopped for a period, and was triggered to resume the behavior.
Such triggers can be anything from abuse as an adult, to a vivid memory of a particularly traumatic event in her past. When a woman in a relationship is in a fragile state of mind, especially about her self-worth, her survival mechanism may be to cut herself off from her own needs and delve deeper into the life and needs of her significant other. Without confronting the source of her pain, while taking on mounting pressure from centering her life around that of another person, the likelihood for a woman to engage in self-harming behavior is significantly increased, and if she cut herself in the past, she will likely resort to cutting again.
Men and Cutting Disorder
Some men live by a stereotype of needing to be strong and stoic, showing no signs of pain and emotion. Although this stereotype is unrealistic and not what most people think a man should be, some still adhere to the rules governed by this ideal. Some men are at the other end of the spectrum, and very sensitive. The chances are that they would show their pain, anger, sorrow, and regret if they thought they would be accepted for it. So, what happens when men like these feel pain? Whether he believes that it’s not acceptable to show his emotions, or he thinks that he cannot have feelings at all, men need an outlet for pain just like everyone else.
In men, the cutting disorder is a way to make internal pain feel “real,” by inflicting physical pain on oneself. For one who is emotionally repressed for whatever reason, making pain tangible may seem like a logical thing to do. This report can be linked to other “masculine,” yet destructive behaviors like fighting and sexual assault. Like women, most adult men who cut themselves, engaged in cutting disorder or some other form of self-injury in their childhood. Adult cutting can be likened to relapse for drug and alcohol addicts. Triggers that may prompt a man to resume cutting may be a traumatic event that resembles one from his past or a recent event that with which he finds extraordinary difficulty coping.
Cutting Disorder Can Be Helped
Regardless of a person’s age, gender, or circumstance, there is always inner pain and turmoil in one who resorts to cutting him or herself. The tremendous pressures of having deep internal pain, and attempting carrying on with normal life can be overwhelming for most anyone. The one common factor between all who suffer from cutting disorder is that they have deep and painful unresolved turmoil in their lives.
Without getting to the cause of their pain, and processing it for reconciliation, cutting will always be an impending problem. Although the cutting disorder is not a suicide attempt, many who never receive help may eventually commit suicide when cutting ceases to be an adequate escape. Furthermore, cutting oneself is a dangerous thing to do. Any number of circumstances can occur that could cause a deeper cut than intended, and lead to unintentional death. Those who cut themselves are in tremendous pain, and no matter what their circumstances may be, professional help is the only way out of this horrific life.
If you or a loved one are having difficulty in life and cutting disorder or engaging in any other form of self-injury, call experts now. We understand how hard life can be for everyone, and we know how unresolved personal traumas can destroy lives. Addiction centers offer multiple programs and tracks tailored to each person’s needs, preferences, and belief systems.