The Hand That Stays

25 February 2006 at 9:54 (General)

I don’t know if anything can be gained out of cutting oneself. Years ago I’d barely break through the skin. But it isn’t something that I touch now and I never plan on starting. However, I do know that the drive is real. For example, I can be empathising with a fictional character and feel a desire to run a knife under my skin. Such behaviour is not in anyway desirable and it is totally illogical. So WHY do I have the reoccurring impulse?

The emotion initiates the association. The emotional pain of a break up, disloyalty or abandonment summons an associated physical pain; cutting. Maybe it is because I can’t see how to easily deal with the emotional pain. The initial pain is intangible, it lacks a clear climax, there is no obvious result. It is difficult to digest. Immediately and unconsciously I consider substituting for a physical pain. Cutting is clear, it is defined, it is understood and it provides an end point, a point of relief. It seems a more attractive way to process the emotion.

But it is illogical and instead of being a solution to a problem it will only create more. It is destructive. It screams exhibitionist. It’s addictive tendencies suggest it would be unsustainable. It is not socially acceptable like drowning your sorrows or smoking. Like most taboos it is difficult to comprehend from the outside.



  1. Deirdre said,

    I’m now an instant expert on cutting and self injury, thanks to this site:
    It just seems so distressing, just the idea of someone hurting themselves deliberately, and really WANTING to do it, and more than that, not wanting to stop either. Apparently (according to that site and others) there are any number of reasons for it, and it’s not illogical at all – it makes sense for the person doing it and in the short term helps them cope with whatever it is that triggers the initial distress. Like you say, though, it’s so damn hard to comprehend from the outside. There’s something (in that link, I think?) about the reaction in hospital ERs: people who cut themselves often aren’t treated with the respect that would be given to people who injure themselves in less obvious ways eg. through an overweight and sedentary lifestyle that ends up in a heart attack, say.

    Anyway, I’m convinced all humans are weird. And you’re the King of Weird, toto. That’s quite an honour, y’know.

  2. toto said,

    it seems a fine line between being supportive (ie saying it makes sense for the person) and condoning the behaviour.

    I don’t know.. I don’t think it’s a problem for me, it never goes beyond a stray thought… but it just seems like such a random compulsion.

    oh and thanks for the link. a very well built site.

  3. Kent said,

    I like the last paragraph :-)

  4. Deirdre said,

    “But it is illogical…”?

    What does logic have to do with it? According to that site, people cut themselves because it’s a way of dealing with their feelings, not because they think it’s a good logical idea. To suggest they’d STOP cutting themselves if you point out they’re being illogical is in itself illogical. I think.

    Anyway, next up in my occasional Sunday lecture series is this, from the good Mr Gilbert K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy [not quite on-topic, but who’s counting?]:

    Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. […] Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. […] Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion […] To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

    My conclusion: chess will kill you. Stop it.

  5. toto said,

    I started by saying “I don’t know if anything can be gained out of cutting” which is clearly wrong now that I’ve thought about it. I think I decided on that sentence because I didn’t want to instantly alienate the majority of readers. Regardless, I still think cutting is illogical, but then many things that people do are illogical.

    It is quite similar to smoking, both provide some relief/escape however, ultimately both are not good for long term survival. That doesn’t mean that I would discourage everyone from taking part in these activities. Some people should smoke cigarettes. It may not help them to get through the next 50 years but if it’s a choice between clean lungs or their sanity I think it is logical then to choose sanity. If there is a reason for unwanted behaviour beyond addiction, I think that the reason should be dealt with before you try to drop the habit. i.e. if you smoke to feel calm perhaps you should try to work on your stress management before you cut back.

    Personally though, (and I was talking personally) it seems illogical for me. I don’t presently cut and just because I have strong desires to cut at certain times is not reason enough to begin. When I weigh up the pros and cons I think my life is better without it. I have other ways of dealing with angst so I just go for a cycle (possibly burying everything deep inside until one day I’ll lose the plot or my head will simply pop off like a cork gun).

    And maybe chess will kill me, but if i cycle a little more that will counter it and I’ll be bound to grow old and become a grand chess master. Or a senior citizen who hangs around the public library.

  6. Deirdre said,

    Toto, please! You’re making a mockery of my “logic is yuckky” argument.
    It would be rather good if you become a grand chess master and groovy senior citizen, yes. Cycle on, sir. I was also wondering if a Chess Club exists, where chess meets Fight Club, and you get to beat your opponents really REALLY aggressively. Better than losing the plot or your head. Presumably.

  7. Kent said,

    Unless someone important with your blood type is bleeding to death next to you and needs a transfusion, there is NO reason to begin. Glad you agree :)

    The best way to go about solving problems is not to start by exacerbating them. Glad you agree again :)

  8. toto said,

    extreme chess is cool.

    and yes kent, agreed. however I don’t think that is standard practice first-aid.

  9. Kent said,

    What, so you can have extreme chess and not X-factor first aid?

    Pfft. Double standards.

  10. Deirdre said,

    Combine the two: it’d be really fun! Anybody who needs a transfusion has to play extreme chess first. Winner gets a blood donor with compatible blood type, loser has to take potluck and/or be the donor. It’d be like, “Checkmate! And get a line in yer arm NOW!”

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