I don’t belief self-mutilation is any of those things. When I was 17 and 18, I used to cut my forearms, upper arms and breasts very often. I would say that I was so severely depressed that the pain of the cutting was the only thing that made me feel something but numb. I used to think of the Nine Inch Nails song that went, ‘I hurt myself today to see if I still feel; I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.’ It sounds melodramatic, but when you can’t even bring yourself to get out of bed or take a shower, it makes a lot of sense.
I used to cut myself mostly when I was very angry or completely despairing. The cuts weren’t very deep, though I did know people who cut (or burned) themselves more severely than I did.
I was not seeking attention; in fact, I went to great pains to hide my cutting. I was not mentally disabled, unless you count severe depression. You might call it cultural; there are certain groups of young people who struggle with mental illness who seem more prone to self-injuring. I had one friend who even told me which kind of knives were best.
In the end, a nurse at my college’s health clinic saw my cuts and sent me to a psychiatrist. I haven’t done it in years, though for a long time after, the urge would come back whenever I was very, very upset or hurt. I can say that, eight years or so later, it has completely stopped.