Trigger warnings: self-injury
Rash decisions tend to happen when we’re not thinking things through. When we don’t allow ourselves the necessary seconds to ask ourselves if what we desire in the heat of the moment is the best thing for us. I have found that—especially when I was still living in an abusive environment—unless I plan ahead how I will react in bad situations my responses are very often resounding mistakes.
The night I cut was the night of a lecture from my mom.
“I don’t understand what you do with your guy friends. Talk about the weather? Talk about shoes? Every guy you talk to is just in love with you. Believe me, it doesn’t take much for guys to flip a switch and fall for you. You’re different from the others, Susan. You’re prettier and better and purer than other girls, and when some girls are only liked by a few guys, every guy you talk to is basically in love with you. You have to guard yourself, and guard them too. Remember that every time someone has romantic feelings for someone, they give a piece of their heart away.”
I paused, preparing to insist, “Mom, they don’t like me. They’re just my friends.”
“No, they’re not!”
“And how would you know? They’re my friends; they talk to me, not you.”
And then, as always, she replied dramatically, “I can tell.”
“From what? All of your deep conversations with them?”
She sighed, annoyed I wasn’t taking her at her word. “From how they look at you. And talk to you. And come on, what’s not to like?”
I hated how she flattered me to make a point. It made me hate that, apparently, I was pretty. But I just wanted friends. Goodness knows, girls didn’t understand me (mom being Exhibit A).
I shut down, rolling back into habit by giving mom the okay-I-get-it-thanks-for-the-lecture look, waiting for her to resume her complacent aura, and watching her leave my room, (but leaving behind her ever-passionate anthem, “SAVE YOUR HEART!”)
That’s when I’d searched my desk for an Answer. For someone or something to comfort me, to tell me it was going to be okay, to help me seize control of my miserable life full of things I cannot have.
The shine of my needle had caught my eye from the light of my desk lamp, and I remember rolling my sweatpants up nervously and raising my needle above the surface of my skin…
The amount of people who have an inaccurate picture of why people cut seems to outweigh the amount of people who simply have no idea. This bothers me, because those with an inaccurate picture tend to bear judgment on us, rather than sympathy and understanding. The irony behind this is extremely painful to me because people cut as a result of pain others cause them, and it’s a well-known fact that one of the easiest ways to cause someone else pain is to misunderstand and condemn them.
I know many people who have self-harmed, including—obviously—myself, and I do not encourage the practice. I cannot, however, condemn anyone for hurting themselves any more than I can condemn someone for believing the things that caused them to do it. This is because, while self-harm is a sin, since it is done to oneself and not another person, it is not a lawful crime. You can lie to yourself, or you can lie to your boyfriend. I believe the bigger crime is the one done against your boyfriend; after all, lying to yourself isn’t hurting anyone but you.
On the other hand, the people who condemn are ALSO sinning—by judging. And unlike the condemned, they’re hurting someone else. They’re hurting the people who are already hurting themselves, or—in the very least—they’re hurting them enough to do it. It’s a messed up world we live in.
I want to be here to help. To help those who are hurting by encouraging them, and by informing those who don’t understand, who may be unknowingly contributing to the problem.
So let me tell you why people cut themselves.
It is estimated that 2 million people in the U.S. self-harm regularly without suicidal intentions. Obviously, while they aren’t perhaps zealous for life, they self-harm for intentions other than to kill themselves. After doing some research, I found the eight main reasons why people self-harm, the first three of which I will expound upon in this article.
1) To Express or Document Emotion.
As I had listened to my mom lecture me, I did not struggle to contain my emotions. I’ve always been stoic around my mom just so that she can’t hold my feelings against me. This may have felt like a way to control my circumstances at the time, but in the long-haul, it has wound up doing a lot more harm than good. I became so closed off to emoting how I felt that for the first few months in my relationship with my boyfriend I didn’t know how to sincerely accept compliments or to facially express sadness, happiness, anger, dismay, or excitement. Convenient at times, but immobilizing and frustrating at others.
This was why I found it so relieving to physically express how I felt by cutting. There must be innumerable other reasons why people feel that self-harming helps them to express emotion, but this was mine.
My biggest means of communicating how I feel has always been through writing. But even at that moment when my mom left the room and I searched my desk for answers like people sometimes search the sky, I needed something bigger. I can’t explain exactly why I felt that writing was not enough; all I remember feeling was trapped, and that I must’ve been a horrible person if I wanted to steal other peoples’ hearts just so I could have friends. I felt like I needed to be fixed—a common idea I was fed all through my upbringing—but felt unfixable.
Therefore, by physically etching scars into my skin, I felt I was expressing the inward pain I could not remedy.
And, although I did not feel like I needed to document that feeling onto me like a tattoo, that’s what they became. Every time I saw them, I remembered. Every time I touched my leg, I felt the tender scars and the feelings that had caused me to make them.
Even today, when I brush my thigh with a hand or look at the place where I made those scars, I remember how it felt to put them there, and I remember their vivid, stark colors.
2) To Distract From Inner Pain
I totally understand why people would do this, but I cannot say this is why I myself cut. That is not to say that this is not, however, a common reason to self-harm. While self-mutilation for entertainment purposes does exist, every person I know who has purposefully, repeatedly hurt themselves has at least linked it to an emotional pain in their lives. And sometimes, that pain can be so great that the only way to make it go away is to create something bigger to distract themselves with. People say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” So if you can’t lessen the emotional pain, people reason to at least create a bigger one they can control.
3) To Control Pain in One’s Life.
I have a control complex. I am a very detailed, schedule-oriented person who likes to be on top of everything. I am like Little-Miss-Fix-It, which is particularly frustrating when I can’t fix me—at least not at the pace that other people pick me apart. This exasperates me to no end because I am continually aware that I cannot—for the love of God—control how other people treat me, even just to keep them out of my way. As a result, it’s been a repeated lesson that sometimes I just have to let people hurt me and then go on their merry way. I figure it’s easier to clean up the mess inside me when they’re not still screaming. And yet, I never seem to give up trying to control and conquer each situation.
Like me, people who are searching for control over the pain they’re experiencing sometimes attempt to gain it by causing themselves a pain that they can manage. Psychologically it makes them feel like they have everything together, because the immediate pain they’re feeling is something they can stop at any time. Furthermore, after the wounds have been made, the person may also feel like they have the ability to heal themselves by nurturing the wound as it restores itself.
When my mom came into my room and lectured me, I felt like my life was completely out of my control, so when I reached for the needle and dragged it across my skin, I was hurting myself in a way I was in charge of. In that moment, especially because the control and the pain were physically tangible, I felt far more powerful than I actually was.
To be continued.