Why do people show their cuts

Scribing, cutting, burning - why young people injure themselves

Petra (13) repeatedly scratches her forearm with the razor blade. The bleeding lines are lined up next to scars that have already healed. “After that I feel better. I hardly feel any pain, ”she explains. Psychologists call it self-harming or autoaggressive behavior when people intentionally inflict wounds on themselves. These include cuts with a knife or other blades, burns with a hot iron, or the squeezing of cigarettes on the skin. One speaks of self-harming behavior when the injuries are socially unacceptable and are committed without suicidal intent. "This means that piercing, branding, dermal anchors and other forms of body modification are not included," explains Professor Dr. Paul Plener, senior physician at the University of Ulm, Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.

Gain control of your own emotions

Studies show that around 20-25% of young people in Austria and Germany have injured themselves at least once. However, some (approx. 4%) deliberately injure themselves over weeks, months and years. Girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are particularly affected. These actions are mostly incomprehensible to outsiders, but fulfill very specific functions for those affected. The main purpose behind light forms is to change or stabilize one's own emotional state. For example, those affected want to be more aware of themselves, want to feel physical pain when their emotional pain becomes too much for them. You want to vent anger off, want to maintain control over yourself, or want to punish yourself. Self-harm is then a form of processing problems or aggressiveness and at the same time an outlet for negative feelings. Another motive can be that those affected want to draw attention to their situation or want to influence the dynamics of relationships. It can also happen that self-harming behavior in a group is suddenly considered chic, it is imitated in order to impress and to belong. “The most common intention associated with this behavior, however, is to reduce uncomfortable, negative feelings. Tension and internal pressure are relieved, ”explains Professor Dr. Plener. "Scoring and cutting become the solution and often an addiction."

Multiple triggers

There are many reasons for self-harm. A depressive development often plays a role. Disturbances in childhood and traumatic experiences can also be causes, such as the death of an important person, the separation of parents, problems with boyfriends or girlfriends, bullying or sexual abuse. Parents, educators and friends usually feel irritated, overwhelmed or frightened by self-harming behavior. But how do you react correctly? Professor Dr. Paul Plener calls it “respectful curiosity”. Above all, it is important to listen, to take the feelings seriously and not to make hasty judgments. Statements like "No normal person does that" or "You just want attention" are completely out of place.

Self-harm and suicide

Of course, the question always arises whether self-harm is not also suicidal behavior. Self-harming behavior and suicidality have one thing in common: They can be seen as misguided attempts at solving problems and challenges and those affected need support. There is no clear demarcation. Self-harm is not always a sign of a suicidal tendency, but behind life-threatening forms there is usually a specific suicidal intention. Self-injurious behavior is always a cry for help that requires a reaction from the environment. Professional clarification and support can help to deal with this challenging situation well.