Myths About Cutting and Self-Harm

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Cutting and other forms of self-harm are unhealthy coping strategies used to manage stress and overwhelming emotions. Cutting is one of the most common forms of self-harm and often begins as early as middle-school, with one study showing that anywhere between 12 and 23 percent of adolescents have self-injured at some point. Another study showed that 17 percent of college students self-injure in some way. Rates of self-harm have greatly increased over the past several decades but there is still a great deal of misinformation about why people cut or self-harm and what can be done about it. The following are some of the most common myths about cutting and self-harm:

Myth: People who self-harm are suicidal.

Most times, self harm is classified non-suicidal self injury (NSSI). When people cut or use other methods of self-injury, they are usually trying to cope with emotional stress or pain. The International Society for the Study of Self-Injury states it is self-harm “without suicidal intent.”

Myth: People use self-injury to get attention.

While self-injury can be a cry for help, it is not usually done to “get attention.” Most people who self-harm do so in private and try to hide all signs of the injuries by wearing long-sleeve shirts or other clothing that will hide the scars. Many feel shame and embarrassment about their behaviors and go to great lengths to make sure no one else finds out.

Myth: Cutting isn’t usually dangerous because the wounds are often superficial.

Self-harm isn’t usually suicidal but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. People who self-harm are at risk for developing infections, might have a higher risk of suicidal behaviors and can accidentally seriously harm themselves. In addition, self-harm indicates a lack of effective coping strategies for depression, anxiety and emotional turmoil, all of which can cause a great deal of pain and suffering.

Myth: People who cut or self-harm are crazy and dangerous.

Many people who self-harm do have anxiety or depression. Others have suffered past traumas, such as abuse. Mental distress does not always indicate a mental illness. Cutting and other forms of self-harm are their way of coping with overwhelming emotions or numbness from depression or trauma but that doesn’t mean they are dangerous to others and the label of crazy is never helpful.

Myth: Only females cut or self-injure.

The majority of people who cut or self-harm are female. Most estimates put this around 60 percent female; however, that leaves 40 percent who are male.

Myth: Only young people self-harm.

Self-injury behaviors often start in middle-school and as they grow, they sometimes learn coping strategies that replace self-harm behaviors. But sometimes they don’t. Some adults have been practicing self-injury behaviors since they were young and it is the only way they know how to cope with stressful situations. Others might stop, sometimes for years, and then start again when they are suffering with depression, anxiety or overwhelming stress.

Myth: People who self-harm like to feel pain.

It is true that when you feel physical pain, you are more likely to focus on that, at least temporarily, than on your emotional pain. This might be a small part of why people self-harm, however, it is usually described as a release of emotional pain or stress, not a focus on pain. In addition, when you are injured, your body creates endorphins to help you cope with the pain and make you feel better. It is more likely that this feeling is what makes self-harm a way to release pain.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.