Misconceptions and assumptions are the bane of understanding. To understand something that is not understandable is unacceptable to most, so they must make some truth real. It's unfortunate that this error, this overactive need for answers must bring harm to the innocent. What exactly am I talking about? The answer will be made clear shortly...
What would be your gut response to finding out your best friend in the entire world cuts himself/herself? (for the sake of space, let's just say herself) She casually lifts up her arms and accidentally reveals scars, or healing lines on her before she can cover them up. Maybe you think, "she got hurt in an accident," or "someone is hurting her." But in the end you find out she's doing it with her own hand and an exacto knife. You're horrified; you wonder, why would she do that?
Guesses begin to flood your mind, "is she just trying to get attention?" That's a common mistake made by laymen's and 'experts' alike (I used the term expert loosely). It's easy to look at self injury (SI for short) as a cry for help, but the truth is slightly more obscure. First of all, there are more effective ways of getting attention: break things around the house, start skipping school, scream until your lungs burst, now those are effective and safe ways of getting attention. If a cutter were going for attention, why on Earth would they spend so much time and effort hiding it, and so much fear that it could be found? Cutters guard this secret closely, but find that the weight of the secret is sometimes too much to bear alone. So they entrust it to a friend, not for attention or a cry for help, but just to lighten the emotional load. They want a listener's ear, not a helping hand.
So attention is out of the question, maybe it's a botched suicide attempt. Now this is a somewhat credible claim. Some do try and fail by slitting their wrists, but like before, there are many more efficient ways of killing yourself: play in traffic, jump off a bridge, sit on the train tracks at night. Tried and true methods always work the best (not that I advocate any of these, but this isn't exactly new earth shattering information). But if not suicide or attention, then what?
The answer is ambiguous. The answer, is that there is no universal answer. Some do it to punish themselves, some just love the pain, it gives them a rush that acts like an addictive drug. Some like the sight of blood, it make them feel alive and real. Punishment is self explanatory. But the thought of addiction and love of pain might give some readers pause. Pain gives some cutters an endorphin rush, it relieves stress, takes the edge off things almost like a drug. And one can become addicted to that feeling of release. As far as addictions go, this is a fairly good one to have. Strange as it may sound, SI really doesn't hurt anyone. Cutters are dangerous to no one else, and rarely cause serious life threatening damage to themselves on purpose. On the other hand, smokers contaminate all those around them with second hand smoke and thousands die each year from lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases smoking causes. Alcoholics can drink themselves to death, or drive drunk and kill others. In fact thousands die each year from just that. All three, cutters, alcoholics and smokers have an addiction to something pleasurable, and cutting is the safest by far out of all of them.
Strangely, cutting is the most taboo of teenage problems. Smoking and drinking are promoted on television, and are socially accepted, even touted. But cutting is wrong, those that do it lay in hiding, fearing the embarrassment, and the psychiatric exams it might bring them should they speak out. Let's take a practical look at this; drinkers and smokers are killing themselves and others by the millions and society loves them. Cutters hurt relatively few, and are shunned. They keep their silence for fear of ridicule. They should not have to suffer in silence, nor should they be given mental hospitals and probing, gawking glances. Everyone has their moment's of weakness in life, we all fall prey to our problems at one time or another, so why compound the issue by refusing help to those going through that dark time? I am speaking up because I know the questioning glares I may receive for writing this weigh far below the magnitude of the issue I'm speaking for. Cutting is social taboo only because we make it that way, which is why the masses either don't even know what SI is, or are wrong in how they view it. Essays like the one you are reading are important in spreading awareness. Perhaps our thinking can be made more accepting, so those hiding in darkness can come out and see the light we have to offer.