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. hello My name is Alex im 14 I starded cutting my arms and legs and it has alot of them Ive been raped when i was a kid and my grandpa died 7 years ago and stuff has been really hard Im not surporeted by my parents im trans to girl into a guy and they dont let me wear boy clothes and idk what to do anymore im always thinking of dieing

    1. and i feel like im not worth living i get told to die and get called names which makes me insurced acout my self i always starve myself and try to get water poisioning so i can die i feel like a mikstake

    2. Dear Alex,

      First of all, we are proud of you for reaching out for help. You are worthy and you are not a mistake. We care about you and we want you to know that you are not alone. We are here for you. We encourage you to chat online with one of our HopeCoaches at https://www.thehopeline.com/gethelp/. A HopeCoach is a great listener that is there for you judgment-free. You can talk to a HopeCoach about what you are going through. If you don't feel comfortable chatting online you can reach our to our partner that will help you with cutting at https://www.thehopeline.com/partners/door-of-hope-4-teens/. You can text, email or call them for help to overcome self-harming. Please never give up on yourself! You are valued and you are loved beyond what you are seeing in your life, right now.

      1. Alex....you are not unique in the way you feel but you are a unique individual as you are very special and do have lots of friends that you just haven't met yet. Please call the HopeLine and chat with someone as I am sure you will start finding friends there to help you thru everything. Your a great person and really smart for seeking out help. You keep up your faith and stay strong. I am proud of you!

  2. im 12 and in 7th grade, my life is pretty crappy rn i was assullted and abused,my aunt yells at me and when i cry my uncle tells me to shut up or he will give me a resone to cry, i have been thinking about cutting i try to stop myself but sometimes the urge is to much 🙁 i rly need help like an online therapy or sum else if u have tips pls help

    1. Ash, We are so glad you are reaching out for help with cutting. The struggle is real and your home life is contributing to it. It's important that you are in a safe environment. We are going to email you these resources and help you further there so it's not on a public forum. We have a partner that does online therapy and they can help you. The name of the organization is Door of Hope and they specialize in Self-Harm and have recovery coaches available. Please visit https://www.thehopeline.com/partners/door-of-hope-4-teens/ for more information about them and their number to text to talk to a recovery coach. Please chat online with one of our HopeCoaches too. It’s free and confidential. A HopeCoach will listen judgment-free and help you with self-harm. Chat online at https://www.thehopeline.com/gethelp/

  3. Im only 14 and i have alot of self harm scars and i am still cutting i will go days with out cutting then ill just cut myself maybe 3 times My famliy doesnt know because they will get mad so i hide them with makeup its getting worse and worse everyday I just get so down and have no one to go to i cut its like it makes me feel better and they are getting deeper and deeper everytime i do it i came here for some help i wanna stop so bad i just cant

    1. Anna, Please know you are valuable and worthy! We are proud of you for reaching out for help with cutting. It is good that you are ready to take the next step stop. We have a partner organization, Door of Hope, that specializes in Self-Harm and has recovery coaches available. Please visit http://www.thehopeline.com/partners/door-of-hope-4-teens/ for more information about them and their number to text to talk to a recovery coach. Please chat online with one of our HopeCoaches too. It's free and confidential. A HopeCoach will listen judgment-free and help you with self-harm. Chat online at https://www.thehopeline.com/gethelp/

  4. As of today it has been 5 years since I last cut myself. I started in 2005, and I tried to quit so many times from 2009 on, but it wasn't until 2014 on this day that I finally did it for the last time. I used to hit myself when I was much younger before I started cutting.

    It consumes me for years. Every feeling was stopped by cutting. It was an obsession and something that no one in my life knew about for nearly 6 years. When people found out, I tried to quit for them but never could. But I was surrounded by the very things that triggered me to self-harm still so I couldn't heal. And also, I didn't think I could. I didn't understand why I did it. I just thought there must be something severely wrong with me, I had no idea there was a reason for my mental instability. We. ow know that I had cPTSD, sensory processing disorder, and pretty bad depression/anxiety. I developed eating issues in my teens as well as OCD symptoms. But I just dealt with it all on my own.

    I grew up in a home where emotional expression wasn't allowed unless it was happy - and I was also in an adult role. I was parentified. I was abused in many ways, specifically for years by my mom, but by a few others as well. I finally realized in my late teens WHY I cut. I'm still learning reasons why I did.

    And I was addicted. It was the only thing that stopped my pain, and I was in control. It numbed me. I deserved it, I thought. I know now it affects the brain like cocaine. It kept me safe, because if I could be calm and collected, I wouldn't cause myself to be in as much danger. And I wouldn't hurt inside. It kept me alive, really. But as I grew older I realized it was unhealthy and had emotionally stunted me and I wanted to stop, but kept experiencing more trauma. It wasn't until I was finally in a safe environment and a healing environment I was able to begin facing my emotions.

    I realized emotions were beautiful, they were information, and enhancements. I want to feel the greatest happness and also the deepest of sadness, even if I'm still terrified of negative ones. Since I stopped, I'm learning to express my feelings for the first time. It's honestly been like being born again.

    It is still a daily struggle. It can be so scary to feel some of this stuff, and I'm still dealing with dissociation in different forms, as well as other issues I'm still healing. I have to sometimes talk myself down. But I always do, every time. I want to be alive. I want to feel, and heal. I wanna be free.

    I'm so proud of myself and I hope anyone reading this who is hurting please know you can heal. I promise.

    1. Rachel, You have overcome much in your life. We are so proud of you being clean for 5 years! That is amazing and we want you to know that you are strong and your story is going to help others that are going through some of the issues you faced. We would be honored to share your story on our site. If you would like to do this go to this page to share it: https://www.thehopeline.com/share-your-story/ We will only use your first name to protect your identity. Thanks! TheHopeLine Team

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