Why Do I Feel Relief When I Cut?

Published: March 31, 2014
Dear Why Do I Feel Relief When I Cut?,

Why is it that when I cut, I feel relief? I'm currently 18, but started cutting when I was younger. I know that there are things that have happened in my life, but I'm afraid that one day someone will see the scars. I haven't cut in 5 months, but I have a habit of itching until it hurts and bleeds a little. This usually only happens when I get too worked up and can't mentally or emotionally cope. When someone stops me from itching, I feel like something bad will happen. Who can I talk to about this? Thank you.

Dear Why Do I Feel Relief When I Cut?,

It can be difficult for some people to understand why people self-cut or self-harm. TeensHealth presents the following information on this which might be very helpful for you:

Why Do People Cut Themselves?

It can be hard to understand why people cut themselves on purpose. Cutting is a way some people try to cope with the pain of strong emotions, intense pressure, or upsetting relationship problems. They may be dealing with feelings that seem too difficult to bear or bad situations they think can't change.

Some people cut because they feel desperate for relief from bad feelings. People who cut may not know better ways to get relief from emotional pain or pressure. Some people cut to express strong feelings of rage, sorrow, rejection, desperation, longing, or emptiness.

There are other ways to cope with difficulties, even big problems and terrible emotional pain. The help of a mental health professional might be needed for major life troubles or overwhelming emotions. For other tough situations or strong emotions, it can help put things in perspective to talk problems over with parents, other adults, or friends. Getting plenty of exercise also can help put problems in perspective and help balance emotions.

But people who cut may not have developed ways to cope. Or their coping skills may be overpowered by emotions that are too intense. When emotions don't get expressed in a healthy way, tension can build up — sometimes to a point where it seems almost unbearable. Cutting may be an attempt to relieve that extreme tension. For some, it seems like a way of feeling in control.

The urge to cut might be triggered by strong feelings the person can't express — such as anger, hurt, shame, frustration, or alienation. People who cut sometimes say they feel they don't fit in or that no one understands them. A person might cut because of losing someone close or to escape a sense of emptiness. Cutting might seem like the only way to find relief or express personal pain over relationships or rejection.

People who cut or self-injure sometimes have other mental health problems that contribute to their emotional tension. Cutting is sometimes (but not always) associated with depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive thinking, or compulsive behaviors. It can also be a sign of mental health problems that cause people to have trouble controlling their impulses or to take unnecessary risks. Some people who cut themselves have problems with drug or alcohol abuse.

Some people who cut have had a traumatic experience, such as living through abuse, violence, or a disaster. Self-injury may feel like a way of "waking up" from a sense of numbness after a traumatic experience. Or it may be a way of reliving the pain they went through, expressing anger over it, or trying to get control of it.

TeenHealthFX thinks it would be helpful for you to schedule a consultation with a reputable mental health professional, such as a clinical social worker or clinical psychologist. A therapist can help you to work through any feelings, relationships issues or situations that have contributed to your urge to self-cut. A therapist can also help you develop healthier ways to cope with whatever difficult emotions and situations you have had to deal with. Your therapist might also recommend that you have a consultation with a psychiatrist to assess whether you would benefit from taking psychotropic medications. There is no medication to directly treat the self-cutting, however, there are medications that can help to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that are often associated with self-harming behaviors.

For more information, go the Mayo Clinic article on Self-injury/cutting and the HELPGUIDE.org article on Cutting & Self-Harm.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.