What Happens To Your Body When You Cut Yourself?

How Pain Covers Pain

It seems that self-harm or cutting have become as popular as drugs or alcohol as a method to cover the pain.  It also seems to be destroying lives in the same way as other addictions do. Hopefully, that life is not yours. But if it is, help can be on the way. You don't have to stay stuck in the vicious cycle of self-mutilation.

What Is Cutting?

Cutting is a form of self-harm often used to handle overwhelming or negative feelings. It is a way for people to “feel” something physical when they feel numb or pained on the inside. It also gives the cutter a false sense of control since they can choose when, where, and how to cut. Cutting can lead to permanent scarring, extended bouts of depression, diminished self-esteem, and possible infection.

Does Cutting Yourself Make You Feel Better?

If you’re a cutter, you might think it’s helping you feel better about the deep emotional pain you feel. But the truth is: cutting is a counterfeit helper. It promises relief from the hurt you’re feeling, but it only ends up making the heartache even worse.

If your thumb hurts, it doesn't make sense to cut off your foot. In the same way, making yourself bleed is no way to take care of your very real emotional and spiritual needs. Cutting yourself merely covers the deeper emotional pain you're feeling. But like every other addiction, it's far too much medicine for the sickness, and will come back to haunt you.

Nonetheless, you or someone you know likely cuts for the benefits you get from it. In fact, as someone once said, for every thrill there is a chill. So, let’s not deny, with cutting there is some kind of a thrill. If cutting yourself for fun is a temptation, it's helpful to understand the toll it takes on your body and mind.

Cutting Triggers Your Body's Chemistry

The body naturally produces a chemical compound called endorphins. Endorphins are released to help the body deal with pain and stress. In fact, endorphins cause an actual high designed to cover real physical pain. And cutting causes real physical pain.

You might have heard of runners high. This is simply the release of endorphins into the bloodstream when someone puts their body through something extremely physically challenging. This high, or euphoria, is extremely addictive.

Much of the same thing happens when you cut. Your brain is flooded with endorphins, which give you a rush, and a sense of calmness and relief that makes you feel like everything is ok. Some cutters claim the high can last up to 90 minutes, but what happens when the high wears off?

Sarah S. understands this chemical dependency, after being addicted to cutting for six years. "Your body has its own pain management using hormones called endorphins. Endorphins manage physical pain, as well as emotional. When someone cuts, endorphins are released and help [cover up] the emotional and physical pain. It will make you feel better for a few minutes and then you will crash again. Eventually, your body will build a tolerance to it and you will have to cut deeper and/or more frequently and more cuts at one time to get the same effect as before."

So, in the end, cutting is rather simple to explain.

It is using self-inflicted pain to get a high, in order to self-medicate an emotional pain with a temporary feel-good. The problem is the feel-good quickly can turn to a feel bad, or worse, to an addiction.

Megan says she got addicted to the physical high of cutting as an early teen. "I started cutting in junior high because a girl who was cooler than me was doing it. I kept on doing it because it helped with my pain that I was having from school or my family, or later from my eating disorder. I'm 20 years old and I realize now that I cut for a bit of a high, but I don't have that urge to feel that high anymore."

Megan doesn't feel the urge to get the cutter's high anymore. How did she stop? One thing I know for sure, she came face to face with the consequences of cutting.

A Struggle on Many Levels

Perhaps, after reading this, you've come to the realization for the first time that you need to deal with an emotional pain you have been hiding as well as find the strength to resist the temptation to cover that pain with cutting. This might be a lot to take in.  If your first reaction is a desire to put off dealing with the emotional pain, you are not alone. It's understandable that you don't want to go there. In fact, it's precisely why you've been covering it over with self-harm.  But if you have come to this realization today, I encourage you to not prolong the hurt. Get it out into the open. You are strong enough to deal with it and move forward.

You can face this trial with HOPE.  You are not alone. Many people do conquer their addiction to cutting.  You can chat with a HopeCoach when they are available. You can reach out to our partner organization, Door of Hope. And you can turn to God for help. I know it's hard to understand why bad things have happened, but God is good and wants to rescue you. You just need to turn to him.

“Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:17-19

If you lay this struggle before God and trust him to help you, He will give you the strength you need.

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7

Here are more Verses of Hope for Struggling with Self-Harm.

For more help to stop cutting yourself, read my blog on how to resist the urge to cut yourself.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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142 comments on “What Happens To Your Body When You Cut Yourself?”

  1. I stopped cutting about 15 years ago... and yet here I am searching the internet for an answer. I want to know why I still get the urge to cut 15 years later. I have a career, my own family... I'm a full blown adult and I still think about cutting. I have developed coping mechanisms; I work out, I do jujitsu... ect... I have recently cut waaaaay back on drinking. I would have a drink or 2 (sometimes 3 or 4 or 5) like 3 to 5 times a week. Maybe that's why these urges are so strong right now. I gave up one habit for another. Guess I've never really dealt with the problem of numbing the pain. The thing about drinking is it's socially acceptable, so no one gets up in arms when a mom comes home from a long shift and has 2 glasses of wine to calm her brain... switch drinking wine to cutting and that's a DCFS case. Actually I would bet many of us stopped cutting around 21 because we took up drinking... and I wonder how many of us have ADHD and can follow my train of thought? Hunters in a farmers world. It's hard to not fit in, even as an adult I feel like an outsider. I'm a more tolerated outsider, because I will just say to people "ya i know I'm a weirdo." I embrace that I'm not like everyone else. But it still can be lonely, even though I reject the company of friends and family.

    Well.... this turned into a journal. Whatever. I'm posting it. I feel better. Honesty doesn't make friends but it does earn respect.

  2. I'm 16 and I have been cutting since I was 12.
    I don't was live anymore. I hate myself. Every inch of myself. I just wanna disappear, I don't wanna exist.

  3. I’m 16 now. growing up my sister always did this, I never wanted to be like her nor do anything to harm my self I never believed in self harm the beginning of last year a couple of weeks after my birthday I grabbed a kitchen knife and would constantly scratch it against my wrist until the skin would become raw and start to bleed I never told my mom because I didn’t want to get yelled at then on June 5 I said something quite concerning to my family and my mom told my sister behind my back that I should just kill my self if I think my life is so bad though she went out her way to help my sister cope, I broke a razor and I sat in the bath and I cut myself deeper than I ever had I blacked out but miraculously woke up no one ever found out my Mom became aware about my open wound when we were in a car together the next day she never asked me about it. It’s been a year and I feel like I want to die a lot of the times but staying here and alive is just one way of proving my mom wrong ig. I don’t feel good I feel sick and disgusted with my self because of this ...I swore would never be one of those people who would ever harm themselves

  4. I am 25 years old nearly 26 and I've been cutting since I was 14years old. I hate myself everyone I do it. When I was younger it was a daily occourance to cope with the pressure of school, family and bullies. As I have gotten older it has become less frequent but when Ithe happens its sown much worse than the time before. Any small or big sad event in my life sends me right back to cutting... It's hard to hide the scars and people judge you so much but it's something I can't seem to stop. I wish I could because I've already attempted suicide twice in my life and luckily failed as I don't really want to die but my emotions are so deep that cutting is my only release. Please if anyone has any advice I would be grateful and to anyone who is selfharming also you are not alone and you are such strong brave beings who deserve to be happy. Thank you xx

  5. I’ve been cutting for 2 years now and my friends know what I’m doing they act like they care for about 12 hours and then move on like nothing happened and I’ve seen a professional counselor but it always felt like she was being rude to me. For example I told her no one ever believes me when I say I’m not lying and she said we’ll work on it and we played a game bc it was my first time there and she assumed I knew how to play the game and then proceeded to say I was cheating and when I told her I didn’t know how to play she called me a liar. And once my little 5 year old sister went with me and she called my baby sister annoying and stupid in front of me and she called my friend dumb when I went into her office and my friend waited in the waiting area

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