I watched a little bit of Dr. Phil today while waiting for something else to come on. It was about kids throwing tantrums — not really something I’m overly concerned about, you understand. One of the kids was filmed continually hitting himself in the face during his tantrum. Dr. Phil took a moment to point that, statistically, there were bound to be cutters in the audience and that cutting (like the hitting shown in the video) allows people to distract themselves from intense emotional/mental pain by inflicting a more easily handled physical pain.
I’m not a cutter but it wouldn’t have taken much to make me one. When I first moved here, I stood on one of the downtown bridges, waiting for a bus, trying not to burst into tears as waves of despair pulsed through me. I don’t remember what triggered that particular event — I was full into a new clinical depression relapse and it really didn’t take much to tip me over the edge — I just remember digging into the back of my hand with my keys, trying to cause a physical wound painful enough to take my mind off the pain in my soul. It eventually worked. I didn’t break the skin — I never do — but the welts were still visible by the time I got home and my roommate was horrified. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last, though it’s much more infrequent now than it used to be. You don’t always have the leisure to indulge your emotions — bursting into tears on the bus or in a meeting is generally a bad idea; if inflicting pain gets you through it long enough for you to get home, then that’s a Good Thing. But there’s a terrible stigma attached to the chronic use of physical pain to cope with your emotions.