4 Surprising Facts About Cutting and Self-Harm

Most people think cutting only affects angsty teenage girls with lots of eyeliner. But self-harm is a surprisingly widespread phenomenon that affects youth and adults, men and women. 

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #86

How Can Individuals Who Self-Harm Stop?

In a 2015 study, researchers asked former cutters why they stopped. There were many answers, but there were three big ones. First. almost 40% talked about self-awareness; those who came to realize they could handle feeling crappy for a while, or that they would probably feel better soon when negative emotion struck, stopped cutting. Nearly a quarter (24%) stopped because because they felt someone loved or cared for them—they may have entered a loving relationship or their friends made them feel worthy and cared for.  And 27% simply said they grew out of it.

But if those things don’t come into your life, what are some concrete methods to stop?  

First, it’s important to match the solution with the reason for cutting. If cutting is a way to feel deep dark emotions, experiment with ways to feel those emotions safely: listen to music that allows you to feel what you feel, have a good cry, or write out your thoughts in a journal, even if you just write page after page of profanity in big black letters. Or if cutting is a way to release tension, move your body—visit a boxing gym or go for a long, pounding run.

If channeling your pain into another activity doesn’t work, you can try to simulate cutting—it won’t be as satisfying, but it’s safer.  Squeeze ice until your hands hurt or draw on your skin with a red marker instead of cutting it.

Finally, you can try waiting it out. It will be excruciating, especially at first, but the urge will pass. Promise yourself (or someone who loves you) that you’ll wait 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or however long you agree on.

To wrap up, cutting can be a hard habit to break—that harsh inner critic is a voice not easily silenced.  It takes time and courage, but know that that inner critic can slowly be edged out by something you didn’t even know you had: inner strength.


Jacobson, C.M. & Gould, M.  (2007).  The epidemiology and phenomenology of non-suicidal self-injurious behavior among adolescents: a critical review of the literature.  Archives of Suicide Research, 11, 129-147.

Muehlenkamp, J.J., Claes, L., Havertape, L. & Piener, P.L. (2012).  International prevalence of adolescent non-suicidal self-injury and deliberate self-harm.  Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 6, 10.

St. Germain, S.A. & Hooley, J.M. (2012).  Direct and indirect forms of non-suicidal self-injury: Evidence for a distinction.  Psychiatry Research, 197, 78-84.

Taliaferro, L.A., Muehlenkamp, J.J., Borowsky, I.W., McMorris, B.J. & Kugler, K.C.  Risk factors, protective factors, and co-occurring health-risk behaviors distinguishing self-harm groups: A population-based sample of adolescents.  Academic Pediatrics, in press.

Victor, S.E. & Klonsky, E.D. (2014).  Daily emotion in non-suicidal self-injury.  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70, 364-375.  


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.