Self Injury
Self Cutting > Self-Cutting During Grief

Compiled by Shelley Moss
and Kara L.C. Jones

Notice: If you or someone you love has self-cut and is in need of medical or mental health help, you can call your local hospital and ask them to refer you to someone who is an expert in self-injury. All information provided here at KotaPress is for informational purposes only and should not replace the seeking of professional or medical support!

2014 Update

by Kara Jones

We know this is still a very important issue for many and as more people emerge to share their stories, more and more help in this area is needed. Thank you to all of you out there doing this support work. Just as FYI, the information you see below is archived and available now as reference. Here at KotaPress, we no longer have staff or contributing writers/editors to continue updating these archived pages. We hope what you do find here is supportive and maybe gives you ideas of where you can start in your search for support or in your efforts to offer support services. Thank you.

2009 Update

by Kara Jones

Recently I've heard from three self-identified cutters. One in her 30s, second in her 40s, and the third in her 60s. All of these women have had great hurdles in seeking support for cutting in the context of being an adult. There are tons of programs and resources aimed at teens. But for adults? Why is it so difficult to find a good system of support for the cutting issue?

In the meantime, I offer the following updates to add to this full page of resource and ideas here. These are offered as possible ways into creating support within the context of being an adult cutter. Yes, it sucks to have to be your own advocate at exactly the moment you need help the most. But it seems to be the state of things for adult cutters at the moment. Hold on, you are not alone. Please check out these resources and read this entire article to see what you can create for your support system:

1) Steven Levenkron

He wrote the book Cutting which you can find on Amazon here or I'm sure you can source a copy thru your local library. This book can be helpful and gave a good context to you and your therapist as together you create a system of support unique to your situation. Dr. Levenkron also has a webpage about cutting posted at:

If your therapist needs additional context/training in how best to support you, Levenkron might be a good resource professionally. And maybe as a consult to your particular situation.


They run an information line 1-800-DONTCUT. They run rehab/support programs for BOTH teens AND adults. They publish the book "Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers" and suggest you view the documentary "Can You See My Pain?". You can contact them via the info phone line or their website to ask for a free information packet. They also have a safe space blog and give other resource for instance:

There seems to be more and more people popping up to do research about non-suicidal cutting, and some, hopefully, in the context of adult support. The Self-Injury site offers two resources on this front:

First, a listing of researchers working in this field:

Second, a listing of calls for participants for these research studies. This kind of pariticpation may suit some, and not others. For those where it is a fit, it can be a gateway into a system of support:

3) To Write Love on Her Arms

This organization was originally set up/geared toward younger people presenting the issue of cutting, but they acknowledge that we do not know the full spectrum yet because this issue is still so closeted. They have some resources posted on their site at:

4) A forever recovery - a new approach:

It is very important that you follow these kinds of leads -- best done in partnership with a good therapist -- to create an approach that will address the cutting issue specifically within the scope of overall treatment unique to each of you. Please do not give up trying. You are worthy of the best self care possible. Read, discover, and know that you are not alone.

Introduction to Self-Cutting During Grief

[originally posted 2006; resources kept updated thru 2009]

by Kara Jones

Over the course of two months, three different bereaved parents came to my attention who were all self-cutting. The first had dropped something made of glass accidentally, but in cleaning up the broken pieces, she had cut herself and found a sense of release in the cut. She began self-cutting after that on purpose. The second threw something made of glass and again in picking up the pieces, either accidentally or purposely cut herself with one of the pieces. Again the sense of release it brought led her to do it again later intentionally. The third was brought to my attention via a care-giver who told me that a bereaved dad had punched out the windsheild of his car on purpose, but I didn't have the chance to talk to that dad directly.

My reactions were three-fold:

1) In a way, I could understand why this physical manifestation of pain would bring a sense of release to all the pent-up chaos that happens inside, emotionally, after the death of a child -- chaos that often gets silenced after the funeral service is over and everyone goes home. And with at least one of these self-cutters, I know that the family & friends involved were very much of the "get over it" and "stop talking about it" kind of (non)support. So that bereaved parent was experiencing suppressed grief & emotions, not just in a self-imposed, but also reinforced from the people around them.

2) I was very scared for each of them. I know that expression of grief and the chaos it brings is inevitable for everyone. But in my heart I hope and pray that people find safe ways to express whatever comes up for them. And when I learn of people who are expressing via self-harm, I worry. I know that self-cutting is often a non-suicidal self-harm, but I know that depressions can spiral quickly, and suicide is also self-harm. My heart leaps for each of them, as I care about all bereaved parents in a deep, self-identified way. I want them to have the best self-care possible during their expressions of grief. I ache to know that they are each in situations where they feel the need to self-harm in order to express something.

3) I felt like a complete idiot because I had no resources, information, nor referals on hand to offer to these families. So I began asking questions, reading articles, searching websites. I connected with Shelley Moss who I knew had done some writing about self-cutting during the teenage years. I asked Shelley if she might know of resources for adults who are self-cutting, and Shelley was generous enough to write the following article for us in response. (In addition, Russell Friedman of responded to my request for information and resources -- please also see his article in this section, titled "Unresolved Grief - Self-Mutilation - The Connection.")

If you or someone you love is self-cutting, I hope you will find something here to help -- a lead to finding the support you need to get self-care and safe expression for everyone involved. If you are a care giver or support group facilitator, I hope this offers resource information to you that I didn't previously have at my finger tips. And if any of you know of other resources we might offer, please let me know ( as I'm always willing to run another article about this.


Self Cutting During Grief: Tears of Red

By Shelley L. Moss

I have written a great deal about teen cutters and self-injury. There are finally many websites dealing with this troubling issue due to awareness raising works by writers like myself and thanks to all those parents who vowed, not only to understand, but to pass along what they knew. And websites on teen cutting still continue growing! When I first began writing about teen cutters 7 years ago, help and support was difficult to find on and off the Internet. Once again the world dealt with this issue by turning its backs and closing the closet door, the door which holds back way too many skeletons already. When an issue such as this is dropped in my lap, there is no turning back or closing doors, instead I face the "evil" and open the doors.

Just recently I was asked if I had read or knew of any websites dealing with adult cutters. Personally not knowing anything about adult cutters, I set out to do some research. Not bragging, but I am excellent when it comes to research, and yet it took days to find any information on adults who cut. So this where my interest on adult cutting grew. I would like to share the information I found with those who may be seeking answers, while providing as many resources as possible.

So what is self-injury, cutting? What most people do not know is that self-injury is a disease, a dis-ease in which a person purposely damages his or her body. Self-injury is an acute psychological expression, an act done to one's self, with the intention of helping one's self to express feelings. The cutters don't want to die, they just need to feel, to express, to cry through their very own blood. Self-mutilation is also sometimes an associate feature of other diseases such as, but not limited to, Multiple Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, sexual abuse and even Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and severe depression.

1.9 million Americans are cutters. While the vast majority are women between the ages of 13-38, some are men, and ages vary. This disease can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, economic status. Often, some carry on successful careers while others love to stay home to raise their families, school teachers to waitresses. Often people say that self-injury helps them to release unbearable tension, which arises from anxiety, grief, anger and loss. Many people deal with their pain differently by turning to drinking, smoking, drugs or even through crime. Some even do all of these things. They come to feel like lost souls wondering in the dark.

Self-cutters are screaming from the inside out for help, support and understanding. The mother down the road gave birth to her first child last year, and that child was stillborn. Somewhere in a city a woman is being raped, violated and left naked in an alley. Out in the country a wife dreads her husband's arrival, for he will beat her and call her filthy names, just like always. There's this teen who lives mostly alone due to the fact the both his parents need to work full time. But he sure wishes they were around when all those kids pick and torment at him after school on his way home. To all of the above, picking up a knife or blade or piece of broken glass seems like a viable option, maybe even an exciting option. The knife is their friend and as they cut, each trickle of blood is a tear un-seen or un-heard.

There are people who have lost babies, been raped, are going through spousal abuse, job stress and or the loss of a job -- any and all of these things may leave them feeling unworthy. Some people can pick themselves back up after the world has knocked them down, and then turn back around for even more. But for those who cannot, they turn inward and find ways to deal with their pain, ways like cutting.

Some keep journals using words to release their feelings. But when the pain level is high, they turn to cutting. They may let each droplet of blood fall onto the journal page. They are using their blood to show tears they they are unable to shed. The pain of the heart is so deep that, when cutting, people do not feel the razor going through their skin. Where others might call a friend to share pain and emotions, the cutter finds release in the trickle of their own blood. Self-cutters hold just about everything on the inside, which seems to be a place they can call their own when feeling pain and loss.

There is no magic key to fix everything instantly-- but there are places and people who do care. Look at your scars for a moment and think about what they will mean in the future when you talk to your grandkids, to your future husband or wife about them. Scars will remain after you find help, they will be permanent reminders. It must be exhausting to worry about what to wear all the time so that none of your scars are seen. Being a cutter may often feel sad and lonely, but if you're willing to reach out, the help is there. You can stop cutting before the cutting stops you!

Alternatives to Self-injurous Behaviors

Try something else:

  • ASK FOR HELP - **If the first person you ask doesn't understand or doesn't seem to be helping you, then try asking another person for help!!**
  • If the self-cutting has come up as a result of another situation, get help for that situation. ie, if you are in a domestic violence situation, get domestic violence intervention help. OR if you are feeling unable to express the grief over a loss in your life, get help for finding ways to deal with that grief.
  • Ask yourself inside, what YOU need
  • Connect with others around you.
  • Call a therapist or friend.
  • Call a hotline or support group
  • Use washable red markers to "cut" on your skin
  • Place your hands in freezing cold water
  • Listen to music/relaxation tapes
  • Make a mourning wreath (start with black flowers and replace with colored flowers)
  • Repetitive reality checking (It's April 1997, and I'm going to be ok)
  • Negotiate with yourself
  • Get to know others
  • Recognize and acknowledge the choices you have NOW
  • Offer options
  • Carry tokens to remind you of peaceful comforting things/people
  • Create and use mental safe places (beach, cabin in the woods, peaceful mountain)
  • Get out on your own, get away from the stress
  • Help someone around you (reach out on a bb, newsgroup, phone list etc.)
  • Pay attention to the changes needed to make you feel safe
  • Count yourself down (10...9...8...7...)
  • Take a different perspective (different vantage point)
  • "I'm aware" Repeat 5 things you see, smell, touch, taste in your present surroundings to help ground you in the present
  • Pay attention to your breathing (breath slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth)
  • Pay attention to the rhythmic motions of your body (walking, stretching, etc.)
  • Move to music
  • Make affirmation tapes inside you that are good, kind, gentle (Sometimes you can do this by writing down the negative thoughts and then physically re-writing them into positive messages)
  • Journal
  • Touch Something familiar/safe
  • Draw
  • Put your feet firmly on the floor
  • Make something (craft, needlework, etc.)
  • Accept a gift from a friend
  • Meditate
  • Make a phone list of people you can call for support. Allow yourself to use it.
  • Learn HALT signals (hungry, angry, lonely, and tired)
  • Identify what is causing you pain
  • Accept where you are in the process. Beating yourself up, only makes it worse.
  • Do something fun, something safe that gives you pleasure.
  • Take a break from mental processing
  • Take a SAFE risk (like taking a low ropes or rock climbing class)
  • Tear up paper (old phonebooks, newspapers, etc.)
  • Honor your present anger
  • Throw ice cubes at the bathtub wall, at a tree, etc.
  • Give yourself permission to.... (Keep it safe)
  • Lose the "should-could-have to" words. Try... "What if"
  • Choose your way of thinking, try to resist following old thinking patterns
  • Put memories in air tight containers with air tight lids
  • Notice black and white thinking (ALL OR NOTHING THINKING)
  • Notice "choices" versus "dilemmas"
  • Keep in touch with others who are fighting the same fight
  • Check in with yourself and others frequently (try not to isolate)
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible (Without using food)
  • Take a bath or a shower
  • Color in coloring books
  • Hold a stuffed animal
  • Write a poem
  • Leave the room
  • Leave the premises
  • Write a letter, NOT mailed, to the person or problem upsetting you
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Plan regular activities for your most difficult time of day
  • Listen to a comedy tape or video
  • Reality check old messages (Those you supply and those you hear others tell you)
  • Clean the house
  • Get out a fine toothcomb and vigorously brush the fur of a stuffed animal (but use gentle vigor)
  • Pull weeds in a garden
  • Plant flowers

Note: Some ideas were generated from lists like those offered at alternative ideas site...

Editor's Note:The following characteristics are from a medical site offering insights to diagnosis and things to look for that might be surrounding issues to the self-cutting. These characteristics are not set in stone -- if you are a self-cutter, you may have some or none of these. This is just a general guideline for psych professionals -- you can expect a therapist or counselor to look for some of these along with the self-cutting.

Psychological characteristics common in self-injurers
An overall picture seems to be of people who:

  • strongly dislike/invalidate themselves
  • are hypersensitive to rejection
  • are chronically angry, usually with themselves
  • tend to suppress their anger
  • have high levels of aggressive feelings, which they disapprove of strongly and often suppress or direct inward
  • are more impulsive and more lacking in impulse control
  • tend to act in accordance with their mood of the moment
  • tend not to plan for the future
  • are depressed and suicidal/self-destructive
  • suffer chronic anxiety
  • tend toward irritability
  • do not see themselves as skilled at coping
  • do not have a flexible repertoire of coping skills
  • do not think they have much control over how/whether they cope with life
  • tend to be avoidant
  • do not see themselves as empowered

Helpful Links

This is a transcript from an online conference with the author of the book "When the Body is the Target" -- loads of ideas and other links offered there:

Books written by women on helping women who self-hurt:

An excellent book, rated 5 *****, Women & Self Harm by Smith, Cox, & Saradjian

Another excellent book focusing on women cutters, Women Who Hurt Themselves by Dusty Miller

Huge website dealing with self-injury and so much more - Silent Struggles

A diagram on self-injury, breaks it down into parts and is very interesting to check out.

Cutting? Self-Injury: You ARE NOT alone - A website full of excellent resources.

Website offering to help you find the right therapist -

A great way to find the right help and in your area -

Listing of research papers about cutting but there are some synopsis available here...

Main section at Healthy Place for Self-Cutters - lots of information here about self cutting, articles, forums, some ideas for why we do it and how to handle all the emotion behind it... for depression and self cutting -- it has lots of pop up ads -- but once you get past that, there is some amazingly honest expressiong here from these women...

Recommended reading on cutting

  • Women living with self-injury, Author Jane Wegscheider Hyman, Ph.D
  • A Bright Red Scream, Author Marilee
  • Woman Who Hurt Themselves, Author Dusty Miller
  • Healing the Hurt Within, Author Jan Sutton
  • Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation, Author Steven Levenkron

Hotline for Support and Advice

Self-Injury Hotline: 1-800-DONT-CUT
[2009 update: Self-Injury Hotline is not 24/7 crisis line. You can call for information and leave a message for intake to their program, but this is not crisis support.]

National (US) Crisis Hotline, open 24/7
Call 1-800-273-TALK / 1-800-273-8255
or 800-334-HELP
They are suicide oriented, but they can talk you thru cutting crisis and refer you to local support.

Notice: If you or someone you love has self-cut and is in need of medical or mental health help, you can call your local hospital and ask them to refer you to someone who is an expert in self-injury. All information provided here at KotaPress is for informational purposes only and should not replace the seeking of professional or medical support!

About the Authors

We are sad to report that in Spring 2006, we got email from Shelley's family letting us know she had died. Shelley L. Moss was one of the best researchers and tirelessly gave her time reaching out to those in need. We are sorry to hear of her death and are eternally grateful for her contributions here at KotaPress.

Kara is a Grief & Arts Coach who has been using poetry and other expressive arts tools on the grief journey since the death of her own son in 1999. Her poetic and non-fiction works have been included in publications such as New Works Review, PoetsWest, Real Henna, Shared Heart Foundation's "Meant To Be", LightHearts Publication's "Soul Trek", MISSing Angels Newsletter, American Tanka, Mother Tongue Ink's We'Moon, Honored Babies, Cup of Comfort series, and more. She is a Carnegie Mellon graduate who co-founded KotaPress with her husband Hawk Jones. Her books "Mrs. Duck and the Woman" as well as "Flash of Life" have both been released thru KotaPress. She is a Reiki Master Teacher and henna body artist, always exploring the use of art and ritual for healing purposes.

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