Cutting is a common form of self-harm that we treat at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center. We find many family members and loved ones confused about why a young woman would do something so harmful to herself. There are numerous reasons why an individual uses self-harm but here are a few of the reasons we encounter with the young women we treat:

  1. Cope with emotional pain in a physical manner: it is often said that they would rather feel the physical pain than the emotional pain. Physical pain is easier sometimes and it distracts from emotional pain and discomfort. In these instances the individual is often, but not always, dealing with some sort of personal trauma.
  2. Dissociation: cutting and self-harm can create a dissociative state for the individual so they don’t have to deal with the pain they want to avoid.
  3. Addiction to the “rush” of cutting: after an individual starts cutting, for whatever reason, she may experience a “rush” as the act of cutting releases endorphins. This sense of a “rush” can be something that she turns to on a regular basis, very much like an addiction to a substance.
  4. Acceptance: many young women today are teaching each other to cut as a way to deal with emotional pain. We see young women beginning their cutting as a way to be accepted by others. After this occurs they may use cutting for one of the other reasons listed here.
  5. Cry for help: some individuals will cut as a way to express to others, often loved ones, that they need help. These individuals may not be very good at verbally expressing inner turmoil and suffering.
  6. Attention: while there are some individuals out there who cut for attention, we most often find that this is the exception rather than the norm. There is a danger inherent in believing that everyone who cuts does so for attention because the majority of the young women we treat need emotional help. But if you view their cutting as attention seeking the direction of response moves to ignoring it, which then denies them of the needed help.
  7. Punishment of self: many individuals who cut or self harm feel like they deserve bad in their lives and that they are somehow unworthy of good. Cutting can be a way for them to inflict their perceived need for punishment.
  8. Feel again: there are individuals who have found ways to make themselves numb from both emotional and physical pain. This allows them to avoid undesirable feelings, but eventually they want to feel again. Some of them will use cutting to bring them back to a state of feeling. This is interesting because some individuals will use cutting to go numb while others will use it to feel.
  9. Pre-suicidal behavior: some individuals will experiment with cutting as a form of suicidal ideation. They will ruminate about suicide while cutting or test themselves to see if they can go through with suicide in the form of cutting. It is important to note, however, that most cutting in the form of self-harm is not a suicidal gesture. Most often cutting in the form of self-harm is used to deal with some undesired emotional pain or one of the other reasons listed above. The danger in cutting as a form of self harm (with no suicidal intention), however, is that individuals can unknowingly or unintentionally cut in ways that become life threatening.

If you are currently cutting or know someone that does, it is highly recommended to get help from a qualified professional. It most often is a symptom of serious underlying issues that can be treated and resolved with the right professional help. There is hope. For more information, contact Sunrise at 866-754-4807 or visit
By: Dave Prior, LMFT and Executive Director at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center