Why do people cut themselves?


Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), also called self-harm, is someone hurts themselves on purpose. When most people think of NSSI, they think of cutting, as when people use knives or razors to cut themselves. Other ways people commit self-harm include burning, hitting, consuming chemicals, scratching, hair-pulling, and overdosing (on OTC, prescription, or illegal drugs). Self-harm is more common in people with histories of depression, suicidality, or a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

Why do people commit self-harm? According to one theory, self-harm is motivated by emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is a key characteristic of borderline personality disorder, and is a problem for many people suffering from emotional disorders. People with emotion regulation difficulties tend to feel their emotions more strongly, stay upset longer, and have difficulty calming down. These people will often turn to unhealthy ways of coping with strong, negative emotions. One such method: self-harm.

A recent study examined the relationship between emotional dysregulation and self-harm. The result? A significant relationship between levels of emotional dysregulation and self-harm behavior. According to the authors:

Emotion dysregulation subscales most strongly associated with NSSI included limited access to regulation strategies, non-acceptance of emotional responses, impulse control difficulties, and difficulties engaging goal-directed behavior.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is designed to address issues of emotional dysregulation, through skills such as distress tolerance (accepting strong negative emotions) and emotional regulation (ways to reduce strong emotions).

Tanner Oliver