Why Youths Cut Themselves
Selection from Sex in the USA part 1: Scar Lovers featured in SPIN magazine
"The practice is most prevalent among abuse survivors, in gangs or prisons, and among teenagers. Young cutters carve words, pictures, and punctures into their skin using Swiss Army knives, paper clips, scissors, tacks or fingernails. They cut to get attention, or to avoid suicide by substituting a physical pain for a nebulous inner pain they can't control, or to acquire a sense of focus."
- "They cut to get attention": These youths will make shallow cuts in obvious or semi-obvious areas, like the inner arm, usually with a razor blade. It will be in a place that can be hidden by clothing from parents or teachers. However, they will want friends or others to be observant enough to notice and care. This person is not actually suicidal. They want someone to notice even though they may hide their cuts and scars.
- "To avoid suicide by substituting a physical pain for a nebulous inner pain they can't control": These people are not necessarily suicidal, but definitely filled with an overwhelming emotional pain. Physical pain can be induced to distract the person from their inner pain and give it a tangible symbolic form. Since physical pain heals, the act of cutting is a symbolic action to release inner pain and allow it to heal. The cuts and scars are also symbols to remember past pain and the fact that they've survived it. People cut themselves in a symbolic attempt to release emotional pain, whether or not the thought of suicide actually entered their mind. Cutting yourself as a form of self-punishment also falls into this category.
- "To acquire a sense of focus": People who try to achieve focus despite pain are testing the limits of mind over matter and experimenting with their pain tolerance level, to see if they can take it. People who focus on the pain are trying to overwhelm any other trivialities which may be distracting them. They are trying to become more in touch with their body and its mortality.
- Another reason not mentioned in the article is experimentation/imitation. A person may grow curious about the sensation. They'll do it for purely experimental reasons -- to see what if feels like, what it looks like, how it scars. Imitation is also relevant here. Some youths get the idea for self-cutting by knowing others who have done it. Curiosity, or a desire to be like that person, will make them try it. Although in this case, it is to gain respect of those who also cut themselves.