• Susan Seligson

    Susan Seligson has written for many publications and websites, including the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Yankee, Outside, Redbook, the Times of London, Salon.com, Radar.com, and Nerve.com. Profile

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There are 46 comments on Cutting: The Self-Injury Puzzle

  1. Nice job Susan. This is a really important, albeit disturbing article. As a parent, it is crushing to see how these young people are hurting and their way of coping. I wish, as a society, we were better able to prepare young people for life’s challenges and sorrows so cutting and other harmful practices didn’t have to happen.

  2. This should be posted with a trigger warning. I know you meant no harm, but the images and words used in this article could upset or entice self-harmers.

    1. The article is entitled Cutting: The Self-Injury Puzzle. That should be enough of a warning. If someone’s going to be triggered by descriptions of self-injury, why would they read an article about it?

      1. As an active self injurer, I agree. But, even though I wasn’t bothered by the images myself, I think it might be a good idea to put up a warning about graphic images because they’re a bit unexpected and might bother people in general. If I knew nothing about self injury, I would be expecting images of sad teenage girls with black hair and eyeliner tears— not actual wounds.

        I totally prefer this with no warnings, but I don’t want people to avoid this article because of the imagery.

      2. That’s fair to say, but even the picture included in the BU Today email could be triggering. You don’t even have to click the article to see it.

    2. I agree. Yes, the title is pretty obvious in what the article is about, but it never hurts to have a short line at the top warning that the contents (including images) may be triggering or disturbing to some.

      I knew what the article was going to be about, and nothing caught me off guard, but I became nauseated as I read through the article and related the words and images to my own experiences. I never expected that reading it would affect me enough to make me physically unwell – and there’s no one to blame for my own reaction but myself. I just wanted to point out that even with a straightforward title, some may not realize how they’ll be affected. And it’s better have a warning label that isn’t needed than to not have a warning label that is needed.

    3. Society has enough regulations on publications. This is something people live through. Why should a warning be provided if you want to know what they live with?

      1. A trigger warning is primarily for people who HAVE lived through this. It’s to let them know that some content could appear that might trigger them emotionally. If someone is triggered it could potentially lead them to engage in coping mechanisms such as self-harm, so it’s basically an alert that alerts readers to prepare themselves emotionally if this is a sensitive topic for them.

        1. The word trigger might trigger those who have had traumatic experiences with abusers or firearms.

          The word warning might trigger those who have had bad experiences with police pulling them over and giving them warnings.

  3. I agree. Folks who SI are sometimes emotionally brittle. And the sight or graphic discussionof SI can tip them over the edge. Guilt over what they/we do is a burden that weighs down every moment of life.

    The trendy aspect of SI is really freightening. But fortunately, i think those are the folks whom we need be least concerned about. I’ve heard any number of folks say how much it hurt, and then stop. And thank goodness for that.

    The folks who need the help are often the ones never seen. Slipping through life under the radar. Even knowing that you’re not the only person struggling with SI does not relieve the isolation. By its nature SI isolates, and people who engage will go to extreme lengths to remain unknown. Which means that too many carry the burden into adulthood. Even if they have been safe for many years. The skin is a boarder. And once you have crossed it, you will always know you can return there.

    March 1st was National SI awareness day. The symbol was an orange ribbon. I wore mine, and was both cheered and saddened to see another.

  4. I’m very happy that this article was published, and even happier that it was made the headline on the email BU Today sent out. This article stayed objective and gave a bit of history, which was really, really nice. Having this addressed acknowledged is important.

    The only thing that bothers me about this article is that both people interviewed were at similar stages in terms of how they thought about their own self harm. It would have been nice to hear from somebody who is actively self harming. That’s a very minor thing though, and I imagine it’s difficult to find people to interview for this.

    Thank you for writing and publishing this article, seeing it made my day.

    1. Want to interview someone I’m willing to get an interview about it but only as Jane doe I do not want my face revealed or any of my identity used if you respond to my comment and agree then I’ll discuss how we can get in touch

  5. I am glad that this article was published, however I wish it had included details about other forms of self-injury. I am a sexual abuse survivor, and I sometimes self-injure by picking skin. I can say that part of it is to feel something other than numbness and sometimes leads to minimal bleeding. The abuse ended fifteen years ago however the effects of the abuse and subsequent depression never goes away. Not one day goes by without a trigger that forces me to revisit the abuse whether it be a body memory, flashback, or even something on t.v.. Picking for me is very rare, but on my worse days I notice that it almost becomes an unconscious thing that happens, often while sitting on the couch in front of the t.v.. I hope that more research will be done to contribute to this conversation about self-injury so that those who suffer from this issue in forms other than cutting can find help and the resources to move forward.

    1. If I remember my reading correctly, SI is strongly linked with sexual abuse and rape. I find it interesting that the connection to the pleasure/pain center in the brai n was given stronger mention that that of SA. In one study I ran across in a quick google search, it stated: “Perhaps more importantly, all three studies directly support the growing literature on the overrepresentation
      of sexual abuse among those involved in SMB.”1 SMB: Self Mutilation Behavior.


      John Briere Ph.D.1,2,*,
      Eliana Gil Ph.D.1,2

      Article first published online: 24 MAR 2010

      DOI: 10.1037/h0080369

  6. Something else that has always troubled me is the dramatic reception an SI-er receives at the hospital. In my expirience, healthcare workers are intolerant and often condescending and down right hostile toward those who engage in SI. So much so that personally, I have foregone treatment in order to avoid it. Even under other circumstances, sight of my scars has turned a normal visit into a cold and curt meeting.

  7. My step daughter ‘learned’ cutting in a clinical setting from other teens. As with many other cutters she was in the beginning stages of dealing/healing from sexual abuse (she is in a safe situation now.)

    She is getting what we believe to be excellent one-on-one treatment from both a counselor and a psychiatrist – but it was hard to get her into quality treatment.

    As well as the psychiatrist prescribed meds, unapproved use of marijuana (with the knowledge of her counselor and psychiatrist) seems to be helping her deal with the urge to cut.

    In general, I think young people would be healthier if adults backed off on the pressure and judgement, PROTECTED THEM FROM PREDATORY ADULTS, and helped them with coping skills.

    1. self-harm is created by a mental issues such as major depression; bipolar disorder, and anxiety. your daughter needs professional help. self-harm is NOT a game it is a serious philological addiction that may need rehabilitation.

      1. I agree with your last statement. However, you cannot say that self-harm is created by mental issues. Sometimes it is a precursor; sometimes it is an after effect (and symptom); and sometimes you have an individual who experiences one and not the other. We often link self-harm and mental illness together, but they are not one and the same or definitive causation demonstrating it. Rehab and professional help may be necessary in either case.

  8. So, this has been on my mind since yesterday. I’d like to preface my comment with the fact that I truely appriciate the issue of SI being raised. At the very least, discussing it may help some feel less alone. At the most, it might encourage some to seek help.

    That said, I question the pictures used in the article. I am being very careful in my word choice here because many SI-ers would associate those decriptions of the scars with themselves as people. Meaning to or not, such descriptives often increase the feelings of isolation.

    The images are graphic. It is a “graphic” topic. I understand this. On the one hand, I understand the desire to show those who have never been exposed to SI the affects and results of SI. An image is worth a thousand words.

    On the otherhand, showing these images knowingly to a population – granted not the entire readership – who may be prone to harming themselves as a result of seeing such images leads to two aweful conclusions. First, that the author, while deserving praise for raising the subject, does not truly understand the subject she wrote about. Or second, that she did understand the fragility of a portion of those reading her article and felt that overall the risks of some one having a “poor reaction’ to the images was worth the impact they would have on her larger readership.

    Let me say right here, I am not saying the author is responsible in any way for any of the reactions her readers. We are individuals and each of us is responsible for ourselves and our own actions – period.

    Perhaps there is another conclusion here too. I don’t know. At the least, the use of such graphic images in this article is insensitive.

  9. I would argue that in a scholarly article it is prudent to provide a trigger warning, but one is never obligated to. I have art in my comic that includes cutting (it’s autobiographical) and I haven’t included a trigger warning on the page. I went back and forth on it because I understand the need it fills, but at the same time, I’m telling a story and that’s the story it is, scary as that may be, uncomfortable as that may be, unpopular as that may be. I may add one. But as an artist, do I have to? If I don’t, does that make me the bad guy? I don’t know. I don’t want my whole story to be covered in them, but much of it would be. Trigger warnings sort of end up feeling like those warnings on cigarette packages or rides. the person who walked up to the ride had a pretty good idea what it was about. Seeing the warning doesn’t make them turn around and walk away. I wonder how many people have not read something because of a trigger warning…

    Yep. Quite the issue.

  10. I dont think anybody is really opening a discussion about cutting and the negative effects of it like that its addictive properties are consideres similar to heroin or cocaine we talk about seriouS drugs in schools but not the dangers of self injury and most cutters start in their early teens people need to open up about it if i knew that down the road id be plagued by this addiction i wouldve stopped myself but nobody told me it can be dangerous

  11. I used to self harm but i stopped because i realized i was only hurting myself i didn’t really leave any scars but there was some marks that were left afterwards but nothing major i never wanted anyone to find out but when i did use sharp objects i made sure that it was really deep because i didn’t want anyone to find out about my self harm. At that time i felt so alone &’ i didn’t really have anyone to talk to about this that i could trust so i thought maybe self harming would help but i soon found out that i was only hurting myself, i finally stopped when i found someone who i could open up to that knew what i was really going through &’ would actually listen &’ wouldn’t judge me for what i was doing, they didn’t like that i was doing that but they helped me to stop &’ realize that there is more important things in life than just cutting yourself or self harming. I’m so glad that i found that person that would help me through it &’ i hope for everyone that self harms that they find someone to help them through it or finds hope &’ the strength to get through it. STAY STRONG.!!!! <3

  12. you self-harm and mess up your own body not because you feel like doing it or because you want to, you do it because depression has blinded you and has taken the best out of you…..you get to the point where your scars are the only thing you like about yourself.

  13. I imagine that each person has their own reasons. The best explanation I ever heard was that si is taking an emotional feeling and turning it into a physical feeling in order to more easily deal with it. That is to say, emotions such as guilt, anger, shame and such are complex and hard to manage. Pain, on the other hand, is easy to manage. A person uses si to cope with feelings and emotions that they cannot cope with.

    Its an inadequate explanation, but it makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve heard.

  14. My question is how do you go about telling your parents you self harm. Mine already know because I’ve been hospitalized, but how do you tell them you started again? Especially after doing so good for such a long period of time…

  15. No fun. As awful as it will be to tell them you need to know that a parent would much rather find out by hearing the news from you than seeing the results on you. SI is especially confusing for a parent. (Most) Parents will inately want to protect their child from harm. But how can he or she protect their child from themselves? So that parent feels out of control. Impotent and useless.

    How do you tell them? Just tell them. Call ’em. I wouldn’t email or text. The more you display that you know its a problem and that you want to solve it, the better off you’ll be.

  16. I think a big problem with cutting is that there are a very limited number of incentives to quit, I count two.

    1. Danger.
    Cutting does pose a threat to our health, as it can be quite easy to cut too deep. However, this doesn’t do much as an incentive because most people think ‘oh, I can control myself. Who would be stupid enough to cut so deep they could bleed to death?’ (and not to be self defeating, but it is REALLY difficult to cut deep enough to bleed out)

    2. Scars
    Scars can be socially isolating, however, it isn’t actually that hard to minimize visibility of scars. As an ex-cutter I know how easy it can be to hide scars if you cut in the right places. Cuts on the wrists can be hidden by bracelets or armbands, cuts on the thighs can be hidden with capris, etc.

    Quite honestly I think we need more research on reasons to quit. Calling it ‘immoral’ or ‘outrageous’ is not enough.

    1. I honestly agree with you. The only other thing that I can add to this list is “Addiction.” Self-harm can be both physically and psychologically addicting. Since self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism, there lies the difficulty of when the relief received from self-harming is no longer sufficient…and so, the person cuts deeper. If this continues, the self-harm can become progressively worse, dangerous, and isolating. Addiction stops you from getting off the habit immediately (not unlike drugs and alcohol). The truly addictive behavior also gives a reason as to why quitting is best.

  17. NSSI is something I would have to disagree with. Yes, there are cases of SI not pertaining to suicide, however I believe that the majority of cutters are looking for someone to notice the pain they are in, and will go to any extent to receive that longing. I am a 2 time suicide attempt survivor, and still engage in cutting, but am not posing any reasons to end my life as of now. There is no reason for me to stop, yet I have learned that suicide is not a way out. So, rather, I think that NSSI patients become that way, rather than begin with that intent. Good article overall though. I would still address more pressing issues, however, but that’s just me.

  18. I found this article online while researching a topic paper on self harm. I understand both sides of the trigger warning debate. Some people can handle it and some people cannot, and yet others may be unsure of how it will effect them. When in doubt, put a trigger warning. I enjoyed this article because it did speak more about college students as opposed to simply adolescents. I’m twenty five years old and have been dealing with self harm for over ten years. It is isolating to be a cutter in general, but to also be out of your teenage and early twenties, makes it a little more difficult. In the area that I live, self harm is still considered a bit of a joke because so many teens do it for attention or just to fit in. More awareness needs to be brought out about this issue. Even today, it is still taboo to talk about, or people just think it’s some silly cry for attention. Many people do not know or understand the addictive properties that go into cutting. The brain releases a chemical that makes it feel good, which is very similar to drug addiction. It is important to find help that is of good quality, and a person should not be judged simply because they engage in this behavior. I myself have anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, an eating disorder, and am a survivor of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, with some of those problems, people are quick to judge. For example, I went to the emergency room and the nurse automatically assumed that I had been sexually abused, yes I was, but one cannot make that assumption about everyone. There are many different reasons and causes for self harm, but regardless one needs to get help. I went to a special self harm treatment center that was DBT based called Timberline Knolls and it helped me tremendously. If anyone here is struggling or wants to tell somebody, just remember, it may be the hardest step, but it is the best one.

  19. Hello, I have a friend that has a 26 year old daughter who is a cutter. It appears to be getting worse and the family is in need of finding help for her. Maybe a residential facility if necessary. Can someone please direct me on where to start looking or refer places. They live in NJ but will take her where ever they feel is the best place for her to get help..thank you

    1. Check out S.A.F.E. Alternatives, if they’re willing to go for treatment out of state. It’s probably one of the best and most knowledgable ( in addition to being compassionate) places for SI treatment.

  20. I started cutting when I was in 7th grade I was in foster care and I went in to foster care when I was 8 years old I’ve been through a lot then and even when I got out of foster care I managed to quit cutting at the age of 18 up in till know I’m 27 and have a lot on my plate and no one to turn to and I do it to cope and because I’m dealing with very deep hurt I don’t want to be put on anymore crazy meds I was forced to take those in foster care and haven’t taken them since I was 18 I was diagnosed bipolar and suicidal

  21. I loved this article. I do agree about the trigger warning though… as much as I knew what I was getting into when clicking onto the page. I’m relapsing (super embarrassing actually) Self harm i.e cutting. And I turned to the internet to help not feel as bad, so I can try to work out what’s happening in my brain and how its happening again (and yes i went to therapy for years.) I guess I turned to the internet to hopefully find something new about the subject or not feel as alone. I know it’s been said already, but as someone who’s been sober for 6 years from heroin, I have to say the sensation is similar, in how addictive and rewarding it is very fast. And I am super sorry, again, to anyone struggling and reading my comment. I just wish no one was ever put in this situation including myself. It’s hard because people like me, we cant do drugs forever and we know that, and it’s way easier because no one knows were doing it because most of the time there arent any Mark’s (with drugs I mean) you can be totally functional. Cu**ing is a harder addiction though, because it can happen any time of day, it doesnt necessarily impair working life, but it stays on your skin until years of healing, in which we are reminded constantly that we can do it again if we want, but the scars will never go away. And will new wounds ever go away? We need real and more serious help. And maybe more accessible ways of clearing skin with laser or something.Feel better everyone.

  22. I am a cutter and mind you, we don’t like seeing people talking about this openly like you do, its so hard to cope with some stuff that’s why we cut ourselves I think sometimes people are just wasting their time advising us because it is only a few that are going to listen.

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