Self Cutting Among Young Women


Self-cutting is a phenomenon with increasing numbers in young women in the U.S. Mental Health America says that over 2 million people inflict self-harm and most are young adolescent women.  From a report Cello plc, a health focused group who did a study on self-cutting, it is reported that “One in twelve children and young people are said to self-harm and over the last ten years inpatient admissions for young people who self-harm have increased by 68%. In the last year alone these hospital admissions for under 25s increased by 10%. And, among females under 25, there has been a 77% increase in the last ten years.” (

In a study of Self-Mutilation, Obsessionality and Narcissism, Gardner and Gardner look at 22  young women who repeatedly cut themselves. They reveal in their study, that “self-cutting behaviour can commence as early as 9 years of age and as late as 56.” (Gardner, 2011, pp. 127-132)

In the U.S., the term is non-suicidal self-injury or (NSSI). The wrists and forearms are typically the areas of cutting, and for Gardner and Gardner’s study, all 22 women cut either their wrists or forearms. What initiates this behavior? The young women reported the feelings of tension or unpleasant feelings which increasingly amplified the tension. The cutting relieves or lessons the tension. Angry feelings were also included as motivating factors for cutting.(Gardner, 2011, p. 129) It is interesting to note that “these same patients all suffered depersonalization before the self-mutilation,” (2011, p.129).  however this conflicts with earlier studies that point to depersonalization being the primary motivation preceding mutilation. (2011p.130 ). All of the young women felt no pain during the act of self-mutilation, but felt pain “minutes or hours later,” (Gardner, p. 129)

Anorexia nervosa is more common in this population of young women, (Waldenburg ,1972), There is a growing need to seek solutions to equip young women who are suffering from self-mutilation. Graff and Mallin (1967)  view self-cutting as a pre-verbal message that can be augmented by holding the person’s hands, and putting one’s arms around the person. This seemed to be an effective method. Gardner and Gardner suggest that teaching the person means of controlling tension, and equipping them with relaxation techniques may be the next logical step in assisting people who are self-mutilators.(2011, p. 132)

Teaching young women breathing techniques, somatic art practices and expressive movement is an additional means for equipping young women with the resources they can utilize within themselves to stave off the tension that pre-cedes self-mutilation. Art and relaxation techniques  that combine drawing, then moving and writing, can provide expressive means and outlets for self-mutilators. Additionally, relaxation with music and tension relieving exercises could provide practices for relieving the tension that builds prior to self-mutilation.



 Gardner, A., & Gardner, A. (2011). Self-Mutilation, Obsessionality and Narcissism. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 127(2), 127-132.

Graff and Mallen R. (1967) The syndrome of the wrist cutter. Amer. 3. Piat., 124, 36-42.

Waldenburg, S.S.A. (1972) Wristcuttingâ €”a psychiatric inquiry. Dissertation for the degree of M. Phil.,Universityof London