How could hurting yourself actually make you feel good? For the people who do it on a regular basis, cutting does just that.
"It's only temporary, because then after it occurs, and you get that temporary release, then you start becoming overwhelmed with shame, and other uncomfortable feelings, and you start isolating," says Dr. Debra Burton of the Counseling Center of East Texas.
When a person cuts himself, their brain releases endorphins, the body's natural pain-killer, just like it would for any other injury. They also work like an anti-depressant, making the person feel better... temporarily.
That need to feel better is often the seed that cutting grows from. One 15-year-old East Texas girl, whom we will call Sarah, described to us the release that comes with the blood flow.
"I don't get along with my mom, and she just really makes me mad. I don't know. It feels like it relieves a lot of stress when you do it," says Sarah.
It's been more than a month since the last time Sarah put a razor to her wrist; however she still bears the scars of more than five years worth of self-injury. When first introduced to the idea of cutting, many people think that the person is just practicing for suicide. Sarah has attempted suicide once in her life, but not by cutting her wrists.
Sarah explains, "My mom wasn't there, and her boyfriend and I got in a really big fight, and I ran away. As soon as I went home, I just grabbed any pills and took 'em. My mom came home, and my little brother told her what I did, so she took me to the hospital."
Dr. Burton explains that in most cutting cases, suicide is not the goal. "It literally is their way of trying to cope with the emotions, to prevent themselves from becoming overwhelmed and maybe turning to suicide. I can't say that suicide is never associated with cutting behavior, but they really don't tend to go hand in hand, most of the time."
So, just who does this dangerous trend affect? It's estimated that roughly 150 to 350 thousand people a year cut themselves. Seventy percent of those are female. The numbers are higher with teenagers. One out of every 200 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 are cutting.
Dr. Burton explains why it's girls that are often the ones doing it. "Girls are more emotional creatures by nature. Boys can often kind of compartmentalize, and put the emotional stuff in a separate compartment. Girls don't have the luxury of doing that. They tend to be impacted by a lot of emotions."
Cutting is often tied to depression. But depression shows up differently in teenagers than it does in adults. Adults may become sullen and detached. With teenagers, frustration, irritability, anger and even rage are more common. And it's anger that led Sarah to the blade.
"The first time I did it, I was mad, and it was just something to do in the moment, you know. But I've always been kind of like a pain person. I'd heard about it, and thought maybe I should try this. So I was crying, and that's when it happened. So I tried it and it just kind of stuck with me."
Sarah says that as she progressed in her habit, anger continued to be a problem, with cutting being the only cure. Her parents tried to stop it, but Sarah wouldn't be denied.
"My mom has to take my razors out of my room. Every time I shaved my legs, I had to check one out, and check one in. I mean, I knew where they were, so I just went and got them."
Like most cutters, Sarah says the physical pain involved went away, leaving just the temporary endorphin surge. Kenneth Placke at the Burke Center says that's why it's just like any addiction.
"It's the same as someone drinking a lot of alcohol, or overeating, or having anorexia. Those are behavioral responses to how they're going to cope with emotional distress," Placke explained.
Sarah has been through some counseling, and says she's getting a better hold on being able to fight her anger, and keep the razor in the drawer. She also doesn't want to disappoint or anger her boyfriend, who she says has a history of cutting, and drugs. In fact, he's the main reason she's not cutting right now. But she also says that if the relationship ended, the cutting would probably begin again.
If you would like more information on teenagers that cut, or how to recognize the problem, go to www.selfinjury.com. You will also find more information in the full length interviews with Dr. Debra Burton and Mr. Kenneth Placke (see links below).