We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our friend Dr. Schneiderman discusses Adolescent Cutting. After many years of addressing self-mutilation with youth and some adults, I have become convinced that various sorts of self-harm entail "integrative" pain - a discomfort which helps a person feel more centered, whole, and complete. In fact, it is not unusual for somewhat shakily-constructed people to create or to be drawn to chaos and crises for their strange psychologically-integrating effects.
There might be an entire new theory of masochism in general built on that idea, but I think Freud sort of began to get there first. Perhaps he over-sexualized masochism, or over-death-wished it, but he was on the trail towards an understanding of masochism and its perverse gratifications.
Erving Goffman's magnificent Asylums has similar points.
A bunch of passages I underlined long ago
When a patient, whose clothes are taken from him each night, fills his pockets with bits of string and rolled up paper, and when he fights to keep these possessions in spite of the consequent inconvenience to those who must regularly go through his pockets, he is usually seen as engaging in symptomatic behavior, befitting a very sick patient, not as someone who is attempting to stand apart from the place accorded him.
Our young women (it is nearly always women) who cut often give explanations of "I wanted to feel something to prove to myself I was alive," or "Seeing the blood is a release of tension." Self-harm is quite distinct from suicidal behavior, though sometimes both can occur in the same gestures.
Assistant Village Idiot
I have a friend, not so close anymore, who is a Ph.D. in Psychology and did her doctoral work with teens. I asked her about cutters and what she thought about their ability to be 'healed.' (I had an acquaintance who was a cutter.) This friend told me that it is almost impossible to fix a cutter and solve the problem. They are usually incredibly messed up individuals.
I thought that was a rather sad conclusion from someone who wanted to practice psychology with children and teens as her patients.
I've heard the same about anorexic and bulemics.
and to some degree this type of behavior is becoming mainstream and accepted and expected; tattoos. Facial piercings. Body piercings. Scarring (paid for and done by someone else) ear gauges.
It's an overwhelming need for attention. Cutting, tatoos, blue/pink/purple hair, outrageous clothing choices, many many sex partners, suicide attempts, etc. Most probably bi-polar. They can't be fixed/cured. Medication will help but in the worst cases it creates zombies. But most young people sufferring from bi-polar will choose not to take their medicines instead preferring their "normal" manic self.
Tattoos, especially if just one or two, seem too mainstream these days to be considered evidence of illness. Military tattoos are frequently a sign of a lifetime bond (becoming a blood member of a group, perhaps). Two of my kids have tattoos (no, I'm not happy about it), and they seem as well adjusted as anyone else. Cutting and other disfigurations seem more serious.
That said, it seems all these examples of self-mutilation along with gender confusion, among others. are signs of a seriously ill society.
I think that Dr. Bliss makes an important point. People who cut are trying to keep it together. They feel that their worlds are out of control and that they are falling apart. They do not know why or how this is happening, but they try an activity that they can control that gives them a sense of being integrated. Of course, it is frightening that the only way they can keep it together is to enact its falling apart. I suppose that they believe that if they are responsible for its falling apart then they can also put it together again.
There have been times when the impulse to harm oneself was viewed with both admiration and horror. Think of the flagellants in monastic orders in the Middle Ages. When not totally pathological, what they sought was focus, to do penance, to bring themselves closer to God, to feel greater devotion to our Lord.
Plenty of people then and now might be clods without empathy enough to try and imagine what might lead a person to this (or cutting, which is generally part of a life of anguish and episodic isolation and despair--not to be snarked at but ministered to with compassion and patience, despite how scared and exasperating self harming behaviors may be to onlookers).
But cutters do get better with good treatment and also (duh)with better external life circumstances. Strongly correlated with child sexual abuse and/or troubled parental marriage and/or great stress in the home. Obvious genetic loading, probably related to bipolar (hard to separate out many borderline and BP symptoms at times, tho in general the borderline get in more trouble w law, get into more abusive relationships, do more drugs, need more intense treatment than People with bipolar alone.
People aren't just diagnoses or symptoms. Someone may cut for a brief period and never again, but get saddled w a stigmatizing diagnosis that seems hopeless. Others, who improve spontaneously, make their treatments appear more effective than they actually are. IMHO sneering at anyone who cuts, calling them a hopeless case, only does damage and is Ungodly cruel. And I worked professionally in youth with all kinds of kids labelled "hopeless" , hence my crankiness. Better to be hopeful and an agent of God's grace and be kind, (and feel a jackass when manipulated by a sociopath ) than negative and discourage the ones with a chance.