Ask the Self-Injurer

I have reservations about starting this because I consider myself a fairly private person, and this won’t be an easy subject to explain. But I’m curious to know what questions come up. I wonder if it will help me gain some understanding for myself, maybe allow me to see things in a different light.

Mainly, I cut. I haven’t done so in a while, but it’s like alcoholism - it never goes away. The capability, the option is always in the back of my mind.

So…the floor is open.

My sympathies. I have some experience of self harm.

If the question is not impertinent, I’d like to know what exactly goes through your mind just before you make a cut.

Why do you do it? What do you get out of it? I’ve never understood why anyone would find physical pain desirable.

I knew some people who cut, and they made the same comparison to alcoholism. How similar would you say the two are?

How old are you? Where did you cut? Do you have scars? What do you say when people ask about the scars?

Do you mind if I ask how old you are – not even your exact age, just a range … I’m asking because clinical reports of self-injury behaviors are on the rise, and it’s not clear if it’s simply that the reporting that has increased, or if actual incidents are increasing significantly.

The first time you self-cut – was this something you knew other people did?

Thanks for being willing to talk about this. It’s an issue that I hope to gain a greater understanding of.

Is this linked with Depression, or is it a stand-alone situation?

As a follow-up to what Chez Guevara asked, what goes through your mind after you’ve made a cut?

My wife was a self-injurer for a while. She would scrape or abraid the skin of the upper arm rather than cut so I don’t think it was a serious thing, but it was there. From what little I was able to learn from the research I did after I found out it seems SIs are trying mask emotional pain with physical in roughly a same-but-different sort of way a drinker drinks to feel numb. Piers Anthony also modeled his character Colleen in his Mode series of novels after a composite of a collection of self-injurers he had interviewed in researchnig the subject, and he wrote about the topic briefly in one of the books’ Authors Notes.

I was a self-injurer for a while. It’s almost impossible to explain why I did it, although I can say that it was in moments of extreme rage and despair. I did it the first time when I was 15, and several times over the years after that. I am 30 now and can say with confidence that I will never do i t again.

The biggest problem for me now is that I have several really obvious scars* on my forearm that can be very noticeable when I am not wearing long sleeves. Occasionaly someone will ask what happened. It’s extremely embarassing, because I am a professional woman, and want to have the appearance of “having my shit together.” I am always worried people will notice the scars, especially family, friends and colleagues.

This is my main advice against anyone doing this - you will have to deal with the scars forever and that is extremely embarassing, especially since it is so hard to explain, and so hard for people to understand.

*I’ve tried those scar treatments, and they don’t work.

Most times I am in such a state of panic and anxiety over what I consider to be irreversible problems in my life. I get worked up and there’s no cesssation, no relief. Right as I cut, everything goes away. I mean absolutely everything. I feel nothing except intense focus on what I’m doing.

I do it because it works. It relieves whatever is hurting me. The feelings that seem so oppressive and daunting are gone.
I look at it like the inner pain I’m feeling gets transferred to the outer, physical pain and when that wound heals, so will my inner wounds.

Whenever I’m depressed, it’s an ever-present ‘solution.’ It’s an easy way out, a simple way to deal with pain rather than facing it like I should. It never goes away, no matter how much time has passed. I can think I’m doing fine, think it will never happen again…that I’ll never be that weak again. But it comes back. It will always be something I have to monitor, to consciously stop myself from doing.
Alcoholism is the closest thing I can compare it to.

A few questions:

What made you do it the very first time? I would never even think of that as an option for any kind of relief. Did you know someone else who did this?

How serious is the actual injury that you inflict on yourself? Since you mentioned that you cut yourself, do you use a knife or razor blade or something else?

Are there any drugs or therapy that can help with this?

I just want to say that it takes a brave person to begin such a personal thread, so thank you for the information.

Thanks for opening the thread. I’ve had, and currently have, a few friends who are cutters (yes, I know not all self-injurers are cutters). Your comparison to alcoholism is very apt; the drive to do it just as a blind way out of unbearably stressful or painful situations sounds dead on.

I’d like to echo the poster who asked your age. The self-injurers I’ve known all started between ages 9 and 12 or so, and all the ones who are over 22 or so have stopped. My WAG is that that’s very reflective of the overall demographic, and I’d be interested in your input.

Also, do you ever talk to other self-injurers? It strikes me as something that even girls who were very close friends wouldn’t talk about, since it’s such an intensely private pursuit. And finally, have you even known a male S-I?

Would you call a boy or man who gets so angry or worked up that they punch walls or other inanimate objects a self-injurer? There generally isn’t the ritualistic element that I’ve sensed in the friends I’ve known who cut, but the principle seems the same. They focus their inward turmoil outward, and cause physical pain to themselves to relieve emotional or psychological pain.

Not exactly the same, but maybe that’s an equivalent. But I’m not even sure of that. I’m an occasional object kicker and head-beat-against-desk-er (clumsy compund word, I know), but I don’t think it comes from the same mental place as a female self-injurer. My insight is, of course, limited by the fact that I’m not female. :frowning:

I was a self-injurer off and on from junior high through my 20s. My last self-injuring event was last year, at 31 but since that was about 3 hours before I was committed, I’m not sure if I would count that, because I think it was more of a prelude to a suicide attempt. This frightened and disturbed my co-workers, as I was at work at the time.

As I tended to bite when I was younger, rather than cut, I don’t have very many visible scars. When I did cut, it would be dozens of very shallow cuts that healed without scarring. As soon as I started, the internal pain would go away, a physical sense of relief. Think about how good it feels when, say, the Tylenol kicks in and you don’t feel pain anymore. That’s what SI feels like. It was very much a trance-like state for me and my injuries rarely hurt until the next day. My diagnoses included depression, anxiety, BPD, and PTSD, FWIW.

I also have banged my head and fists into walls until they bled, and for me, that was a very different feeling. I felt an all-consuming rage, focused outwards. In that case, I could feel the pain, but was unable to stop, as the rage out-weighed the pain.

I’m much, much better now, graduated from therapy today, in fact. Thank Og for SNRIs.

I’d too would like to know how old you were when you started, and how old you are now.

Was your upbringing relatively normal? (you don’t have to give details if that makes you uncomfortable)

How did the thought of injuring yourself as a solution to problems occur to you, did you see a family member/friend do it?

And I know someone will probably call me an asshole for asking, but please realize I have more experience dealing with this than I ever asked for, so here goes: I realize that this may not be the main component of what you’re feeling when you do it (control probably is), but what percentage of the motivation to cut yourself is for attention/cry for help/rescue me?

I’m sorry if that last came out as crass or harsh, but in the pseudo-mothering experiences I have had supports it some. Most vehemently deny it, because they need to feel in control and its embarrassing for anybody, myself included, to say “I need” much less “I need attention”

I hope things get better for you. If you are on meds, take them on schedule, keep your appointments if you see a therapist. And most of all (I’ve seen) keep busy, because it prevents you from thinking so much about yourself that you fall into that hole you can’t see out of.

I am 25. I cut mainly on my feet, my ankles. It’s easy access and easy to hide. How often do you look at people’s feet? I’ve cut on my arms before, and I’ve bruised my legs and head and stomach on several occasions.
I have one very large scar on my ankle; that gets the most notice. The others are more hidden, but you can see them. They’re a grid; crisscrossed lines. I just keep going over the same spots. The ones on my arm are more random and can be explained off as random. Cat scratches or whatever.
Very few people have noticed the scars. The ones that I feel I can trust are told simply that I did it to myself. If they want to know more, I’ll tell them. The ones I don’t trust are told it was an accident, or I make up some wild story. The bigger scars I have set stories for, but I’ve never had to tell them more than once.

I can’t remember the first time I cut. I remember purposely banging my head against my headboard when I was 7 to bring my mother into the room when she heard me crying. At that time, I didn’t know it was wrong or unusual. I started cutting in my early teens, but there was no one catalyst that got me started. I do remember an article in a teen magazine about a woman who cut, and I was certainly intrigued. I’d already been cutting for a while, but I was amazed to find out how prevalent it was and how serious it was taken. I’d always thought my problem was not being strong enough to deal with ‘life’ and this was a silly way to cope. It seemed weak. Actually, it still does.
Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about it. It’s been a while.

I don’t consider myself depressed. I’m actually a pretty optimistic person. I’ve gone through periods of depression, when I was in situations that I couldn’t escape, but I’ve managed to overcome that. My cutting was not worse during these times, and there have been times when I’ve had a very small problem that I’ve cut over. It doesn’t make sense - you’d think I’d cut the most during the worse times, but it doesn’t always work that way.

After, I am damn near thrilled. I’m happy about the pressure being off, and what felt so overwhelming before seems manageable, even trivial. My mind knows it’s temporary, but my body feels elated. I occupy myself with cleaning up the blood, bandaging the wounds, hiding the evidence. I have all my supplies: tape, gauze, band-aids, neosporin, etc. I put all that away. It gives me something to do, something to focus on for the next few days. How will I keep it dry? How do I hide it? If someone asks, what do I tell them? When will it heal? Will I scar? How badly?
I think back on it…sometimes I’m unhappy with the amount of blood, or the lack of pain. Sometimes I think I did too much. But I never regret it. It may be weak of me, but it’s the only way I can cope at that time, so I can’t fault myself for that.

I’ve tried to cut and been unable to follow through, but it’s when my eating or desire to eat is out of control. I just can’t stand it and think that cutting would release it. It definitely was not something I had heard of before; it just seemed like it would be effective, like releasing a tightness and tension I was feeling. It wouldn’t be about the pain, it would be about physically releasing something and shifting the tension and obsession with eating to a different focus. Now that I have heard about it, it gives it a legitimacy like making myself throw up (haven’t been able to do that either).

Not an asshole at all, just unfamiliar with the situation.

Every self-injurer I’ve known has gone to significant lengths to hide it from others. It is, as I said above, an intensely personal release.

It’s a far cry from the stereotypical “girl who takes enough sleeping pills to merit a trip the hospital but probably not the morgue, and lies down somewhere where people are likely to find her.” That’s a whole separate behavior with different motivations.