Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation a Book Review

The first thing that I noticed were scratches on the forehead and I was told that they were a result of some vicious sleep scratching. The sight and thought quickly seeped through my mind until one day I noticed them again…and again…and again. This person was very close to my heart and so I asked them what was going on? It must have taken tremendous courage and strength to tell me that they were self-harming. It’s a shame that my reaction did not deliver the feedback their courage and strength deserved.

Are you mad! Are you stupid!

Thinking back to the time that I said those two offensive sentences I actually had great belief in the words as they poured scorn out of my mouth. I did think this person was mad and I did think that they were stupid. Why else would anyone take a razor blade, puncture their skin and drag deep until the blood trickled down the arm turning the elbow into a crimson waterfall? Why would somebody plug an iron into the wall, wait until it clicked OFF and then place the tip onto their arm until the pungent smell of fried skin drafted upwards and into their nostrils?

It wasn’t just me who reacted in this way, in fact everybody close to this person behaved the same. We were so naive, so uneducated, and so ignorant. We loved this person and yet when they reached out for help we pushed them into a dark cupboard and closed the door. Years passed and I just hoped that the madness and stupidity would just go away…but it never did. Then my life started to change. I had realisation after realisation that my ego was keeping my mind locked in a prison. I have battled quite successfully to free myself and have had a few successes. Abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes, giving up my job and dealing with the break up of my marriage. All of these so-called problems were just cheap parlour tricks created by my ego. Once I realised that I controlled my brain – and not my ego – then I was able to change my beliefs and therefore my actions.

So would this new man be able to help The Cutter? I tried to reach out once more. I saw the glint of hope sparkle in the corner of their eye as they believed this new and improved Lee could help. Once again I got it all wrong. This person was convinced that their problem was hereditary. Something biological. Something that was beyond their control. I was convinced that it was all in their mind. It was SELF-harm, meaning the mind told the body to inflict pain upon itself. As this person controlled their own mind then it was within their control to just stop. Unfortunately, as with most things, all my exuberance and willingness to help came to naught, as I lacked the skills to really make a difference.

It was then that I decided to turn to literature once more. I searched the Internet and came across this book. I told The Cutter that I was going to read the book in order to learn more about, what I called back then – The Cutters problem, and I could see that this was the most positive thing anybody had ever done for them in regard to their problem. I have deliberately used the word problem because I want to make the important distinction that before I read the book that is all I thought it was. Thanks to Steven Levenkron I now understand that this person is suffering from a severe mental illness, one shared by millions of people and even high profile people such as the late and great Princess Diana.

Reading the book was an uncomfortable experience for me. Since I was the victim of a stabbing around 18-years ago I have always found it difficult to watch, read or talk about anything to do with a blade. When I have these thoughts I get an uncomfortable physical feeling in the back of my legs, buttocks and gut and they were present throughout the reading of this book. But as with most things in life the more I read the more desensitised I actually became. I had the strangest experience while reading this book as I would find myself staring at it, lying on my bed, horror personified. The stories that were contained in the book were horrifying because they were real. Then there was the guilt. I just couldn’t shake it, after finally realising the reality of the situation. Here was someone that was very dear to me, scared to death with life and all the time under the very nose of someone who felt he was placed on this planet to help people. I felt like a fraud, a failure and it saddened me greatly.

If you know anybody who is a Cutter then I recommend that they take a look at this great book. I have also appended a few helpful links that people can visit below to get more educated on what is a very serious mental illness.

Mind for Better Mental Health

National Self Harm Network

Shakti Rising

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  1. Very courageous, both your reading the book and writing this post. My nephew used to cut. Fortunately, his mom found a wonderful counselor but I will keep this book in mind anyway. Such a sensitive subject. Bravo, Lee.

    • Hi Linnea,

      I agree, it is a very sensitive subject – almost taboo. But by raising the issue to the wider public I believe it will help the sufferers. Being a Cutter can be such an isolated and lonely experience because it is a “sensitive subject”. I am glad your nephew found help because rest assured there is help out there.


  2. Thanks for putting this information on the blog, hopefully someone who needs help may come across it. I once knew someone who self harmed and it seems so alien and difficult to comprehend so the default reaction of most people is as described at the beginning of your post.

    Does the book ever mention cutting as a side effect of taking antidepressants?

    • Hi Neil,

      I don’t recollect cutting being a side of effect of taking anti-depressants. Most of the stories all stemmed from a very young age and they all had a few things in common including that the majority of victims were female. They all started cutting quite young, they were victims of abuse, they came from families where their style of parenting was missing either nurturance and authority or there was a genetic link i.e. parents suffered from depression.

      In most stories people turned to cutting as a way of taking their thoughts away from the despair in their minds. For some it was the sight of blood that calmed them down, for others it was the pain and for others it was simply the drama of the whole event (i.e. by the time they had cleaned it all up they had forgotten what they were upset about). There was also a link between OCD and Cutting, and it really got me seriously thinking about the way I have raised my child, and in particularly the effect such emotionally traumatic experiences such as a divorce can have on a child. I learned a great deal from this book but it was a very disturbing and difficult read at times.

      If you have anymore questions I will be happy to try and answer them.


  3. Thank you for highlighting this issue, Lee. I had never experienced cutting until I went to university, and let’s just say I am a lot more knowledgable about it now. I also agree that it needs to be discussed, or at least shown more sensitivity to those affected. I never had the inclination to do this to myself, but I do understand why some people have and still do. I might read this book out of interest and self-development actually.

  4. Linda Howell Betz says:

    There are so many hurting people out there. Anything we can to do to help them is so important. Thank you for sharing.

  5. This is indeed a disturbing subject. I have never known anyone to use blades to harm themselves, but I have known a number of people who gouge their arms with their fingernails. Three of them were women and one a man. So that supports the stats that it’s mostly women who do it. As Linda said, there are so many hurting people out there and we usually only see the surface of what’s going on. Some of these issues go so deep that I don’t think the people themselves even know what the source of their problems are. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lee. I hope at least a few people who suffer from this condition will read it and find help.

    • Lee Davy says:

      Some of these issues go so deep that I don’t think the people themselves even know what the source of their problems are.

      This seems to be the problem with the friend I talk about in the post. They really have no idea where the illness stems from. Did you also know that my friend has been on a waiting list for two-years with the NHS to see a specialist, can you believe that?


      • Yeah, I can believe it. People here wait for surgery for two years sometimes. I know someone who desperately needed knee replacement surgery and it was months before she could even see a surgeon. Another friend needed cataract surgery and they told her it would be two years, so she booked the surgery in a Windsor hospital instead of here. She got in quite quickly there. I was really fortunate last year when I discovered I could have my cataracts removed. I saw the specialist within about 3 weeks (in May) and the first implant was done near the end of July and the second on October 3. The second one would have been done sooner but the Dr.’s secretary was on holidays and and so I couldn’t get an appointment for my one-week post-op check until nearly 4 weeks later.

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