Britney is an active member of her student council; she has made the honour roll every year; she always has plans on the weekends; she has lots of friends that would swear they knew her inside and out. But while on the outside she may seem perfect, she has a secret she feels she can’t even share with her BFF. When she is isolated from the crowd, an overwhelming sense of anxiety overtakes her and she makes tiny cuts on her wrist with a razor blade—just enough to leave small scars if you cared to look closely.
A recent survey from Girls Incorporated entitled “The Supergirl Dilemma” found that girls are getting pressure at younger and younger ages to be “everything to everyone all of the time.” Girls Inc. released a national report on the state of girls’ self-esteem and found that an alarming number are turning to destructive self-harm fixes such as cutting when they feel insecure. It can be hard to handle society’s crushing pressure to fit in and be “perfect.” And so, some girls try to relieve those painful feelings by cutting themselves. This alarming trend is on the rise and research estimates 1 in every 6 girls, ages 13-19, have cut themselves.
These girls are bright high-achievers who have everything going for them, but inwardly struggle with intense feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety or other pain; they may feel stuck in situations that they believe they are powerless to change.
You may be asking yourself why someone would purposely take a razor blade and cut themselves, usually superficially, drawing blood. Yet every day millions of teenage girls do just that.
A number of celebrities have admitted to self-injury as a way to feel better. Christina Ricci, during several interviews, revealed scars on her arms and said “I wanted to see if I could handle the pain.” There were scratches on her arms from her fingernails and soda can tabs. She explained that, “The pain was so bad, it would force my body to slow down and I wouldn’t be so anxious. It made me calm.”
Amy Winehouse, Angelina Jolie, Courtney Love and Fiona Apple have also talked openly about their struggles with self-injury and how difficult it was to overcome them—especially in the public eye. Angelina Jolie has admitted she struggled with cutting at one point.
Self-injury is an unhealthy way of dealing with stress and can put someone at risk for infection, scarring and severe blood loss. It may seem difficult to understand, but it is only one part of the whole picture. Experts say that it’s almost always a component of a larger problem. Every cutter has their own reasons, but most agree that it immediately relieves tension, stress and sadness.
For most of us, pain is something we avoid, not something we are drawn to; for those who cut, however, the self-inflicted pain is a welcome relief and escape from painful and paralyzing feelings beyond their control. For some, it starts as an experiment, but it can easily become a compulsive habit. They may begin to associate cutting with comfort, as the physical pain is more tolerable than the emotional pain.
Researchers believe that endorphins, similar to a “runner’s high,” are released when someone participates in self-injury. Those endorphins temporarily dull the pain, but it doesn’t last. The stress that triggered the cutting remains and a deep feeling of shame often develops. The brain starts to connect the false sense of relief from bad feelings to the act of cutting and it craves this relief the next time tension builds. A behaviour that started as an attempt to feel better and more in control can end up controlling the person instead.
Experts agree that cutters haven’t mastered healthy ways to cope with upsetting issues. Or their coping skills are cancelled out by such intense feelings. Some say this phenomenon is being fueled by current trends in music and movies that may romanticize self-injurious behavior. But that also begs the age-old question of whether art mirrors life, or vice versa.
No matter what side of the debate you land on, the growing problem still exists. Though the cuts may heal, the scars linger on the skin and tell the story of a girl who longs to be told—and to believe—that she is enough. That the good grades and the popular friends and the list of charity work are all fantastic, but none of it needs to define her. It doesn’t need to make her seek extremes to feel control. It doesn’t need to control her. If only someone would tell her.
Angelina and Brad at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards, photo by Jason Merritt for Getty Images
Written by Faze contributor Dawn Marie Barhyte