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Teenage Cutting: Why We Cut

This post is intended not just for young people struggling with self-harm, but for their family members and friends who don’t understand why the person they love is cutting. Here it goes.

The question I get most often is the question I most hated being asked when I was cutting myself.


I would get defensive and build up a wall around me and have an “as if you don’t know” attitude. But really, nobody did know.

No one knew what went on in my head. From what they could tell everything was “normal” (most cutters are so masterful at this they even begin to deceive themselves, convincing themselves everything is okay, when clearly it’s not) but I felt like I was dying inside. I had something to share and something to say, but I didn’t.

I was afraid of what people would say. I was especially afraid of what my parents would say. I felt like I needed to be okay for things to be okay. Like the fate of the entire universe rested upon me being the perfect daughter. They had enough to deal with and I didn’t want to burden them with my problems. I didn’t want to cause another fight. I didn’t want to be in the middle. So I kept quiet.

They never intentionally made me feel this way, but when there isn’t any communication and everyone in the household is shut down, what do you do?

You rush to find a way to make the pain end. You try to distract yourself.

Or, you cut.

We all have ways we anesthetize ourselves. Whether it be with food, drugs, alcohol, sex, you name it.

No one wants to feel horrible, but truly the only way to release or change or shift a feeling, is it to actually feel it rather than try to numb the pain.

But you’re still wondering,

“Is is just for attention?”

Yes and no. For the teenagers who are cutting, they want you, someone, anyone to know how bad they are hurting, but are terrified of confrontation. Terrified they will be made wrong for feeling what they feel. Terrified they will be rejected.

It’s easier to just cut.

This isn’t to blame. It’s to bring light to the situation. There are barriers to break down. Things to be said. And forgiveness that needs to take place.

Whether you are the one cutting or the one watching this happen, you absolutely have to get help. Cutting in itself is very serious, but it is a symptom of lack of self-expression, self-love and the inability to process emotions. You must find someone who can serve as a bridge, who will listen to both sides and help your teen recognize the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that have led her (or him) to this behavior.

As I tell my clients, this won’t last forever and you don’t have to do this alone. There are people out there to support you and your kids, myself included. I know how disheartening it is to try seemingly everything and still be going through this.

But you are going to get through it.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to enter your name and email address in the box to the right (below if you’re on a tablet or other mobile device) of this post to receive the “5 Keys to Help Teens Break the Self-Harm Cycle.”

6 replies
  1. Dr. Par Donahue says:

    Thanks so much for this post and all of your others. I’m afraid I know very little about Cutting, but see too much of it! Your thoughts are so helpful!
    I have a friend who is worried about one of his daughters. I am forwarding this post to him. Thanks again, keep on doing what you do! Par

  2. Lori Henkel says:

    I’m a fb friend and fellow QSCA grad. My 16 yr old daughter has started cutting again and I look forward to the insights in your article. Thanks!

  3. paula salyer says:

    Carrie Thank you solo much for listening to me, Alisa is doing much better an NO CUTTING! so happy for that. Also I have some SHOCKING news, Alisa is pregnant , HER Mother ( Cristal ) my daughter thinks she knows everything!! But at 14 years old she has NOO idea. her mom has stepped up a little, well that say’s it all. THANK YOU PAULA S,

    • Carrie Leigh Sandoval says:

      Hi Paula, I am so happy to hear that Alisa has stopped cutting! It sounds like this little baby, though unplanned, is already bringing miracles and transformation to the family. Little ones can do that!


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