“Is Cutting a Cry for Attention?”

Just as a warning to anyone in a sensitive time, I am writing about suicidal thoughts and self injury. I even triggered myself writing this so please take care of yourself.

Last week at work we had a suicide prevention seminar. A client killed herself in our building earlier this year so my boss thought it was appropriate to have one of the local universities bring their special suicide prevention team over to do a presentation.

Being someone who has been suicidal and being relatively active in the mental community, I had my critic hat on. I didn’t expect to learn much because I know the signs that somebody is suicidal. I lived it for many months.

So the presentation went fine, I had no qualms or anything to be pissed off about. Until…

For some reason that I don’t have the answer for, two of our organization’s board members were present. I had no idea why they were there but they were. It all went to shit when the one woman raised her hand and asked:

“So what about cutting? Do people cut themselves as a cry for attention? Are they suicidal?”

I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly fell over. I was hoping the speaker would say something intelligent, to show that she actually knew what the hell she was talking about. Instead her response was outdated and she was entirely misinformed.

She said yes to both of her questions. I immediately became silently angry. I couldn’t believe that somebody who is an alleged expert about this is telling my coworkers that people who cut want attention and want to die.

Here’s my response to her question:

You can’t lump every person who self injures into a shallow explanation like that. As someone who has struggled with self injury for 8 years, I never once did it for attention. I have always work diligently to hide my cuts and scars from people. The last thing I ever wanted was for someone to see what I did to myself. For me, it’s always been embarrassing.

Some people are suicidal and cut but use self injury as a coping mechanism. Not as a means to kill themselves. During my severe depression where I had constant thoughts of suicide, I cut myself daily. But that’s just my experience, not everyone’s.

Responses to questions like that only perpetuate the falsehoods about people who self injure or are suicidal.

What are your thoughts about this? What would your response be to that woman?

27 thoughts on ““Is Cutting a Cry for Attention?”

  1. You should have been the one to answer that woman’s question instead of the ding-bat professional giving such a lame-ass, uneducated guess. However, I know you certainly wouldn’t have wanted to bring attention to yourself. I most certainly agree with you answer wholeheartedly.


  2. For some who cut, crying out for attention is what theyre intending to do. The individual might have lawyer dad and doctor mom, who are never home? Or in a family of successful siblings and he/she is LGBT. This crying out for attention isn’t too say hey look at me, I want to be the center of attention front page news… He or she is saying ” hey Fuck*r, I’m here and I’m having a super hard time. Invest some time into my life as you do to do many others.”


  3. To what extent would you go to have someone finally see your scares? Some don’t try to hide it… Some know they really need help… But they’re treens, or disowned. I think cutting is a way to rid the internal pain outward, but it is a cry for help… Which always deserves attention


  4. Hello Megan — this is jameesky’s mom i did not find he had been doing this for years and when i found out it totally freaked out it scared me so bad, so obviously he did not want attention since he hid it so well. I needed to know why he was doing this so he explained to me that the pain diverted his attention away from the suicidal thoughts, and I had to try to look at it from his perspective. It is very scary to find out your child is doing this, instead of judging the person because this behavior is very scary we should try to understand their point of view. I am so glad he does not do this any more.


    • What an honor to have Jame’s mom comment on my post! I’m sure it was very scary when you found out that was happening. Having a supportive family is so important in those challenging times.


  5. Nice post dear, I would have told her she was wrong, people that self-harm do it as a coping mechanism to deal with the depression their gone throw any cycolges knows this, that would have been my answer to her.



  6. I can only speak for myself. I also never cut for attention as I also hid what I was doing and was also embarrassed by it, save for the first times which were ended up on my wrist.

    Once I was “caught”by my psychiatrist I lied about continuing the behavior and cut in places like my leg or bicep where no one could see.

    Cutting for me served two functions:
    1. to cope with extreme and overwhelming feelings of sadness, despair, abandonment, or rejection that were intolerable. Somehow, cutting itself released those emotions as taking a stiff martini would to an alcoholic.

    2. Less frequently cutting was used to punish myself. I was not able to tolerate a mistake I made and since I couldn’t forgive myself and could not bear the shame and pain of what I had done. Since no one knew what I had done, no one was going to punish me, I felt I needed to self-injure .

    I made 3 suicide attempts. Cutting was not ever a means to an end for me. It ran parallel with my suicidality but was also there long after that had resolved.


  7. I would have told the woman that I have cuts on my thigh from my adolescent years, during which time, I had attempted suicide, but cutting became my then coping mechanism. I would suggest that there is no shoe that fits everyone. There are different layers of truths to all of this and I would hesitate to say that my attempt at suicide wasn’t for attention. It wasn’t, consciously. Besides, we associate this phrase, “for attention”… as part of some drama ploy. In hindsight, I have so many more thoughts on that, but in the context I was in then, it’s not about attention, as it is… a need for inquiry. That something has gone wrong. For myself to know… and if I cannot help myself, then for others who might be able to offer me the tools, to help.


    • You make a very solid point that it can sometimes be a plea for someone to ask if something is wrong to get help. I still have scars on my arms from when I was 18 as well. Thanks for commenting, Sand!


    • People who aren’t educated about mental health and self injury do typically ask questions like that. Mhmm a very ignorant response from someone who is supposed to be a professional!


  8. I suspect the reasons for self-harm are as varied as the individuals who do it. Blanket statements help no one.

    For me, digging gouges into myself was usually punishment more than anything; punishment for whatever failure, missed target, mistreatment (that I surely had asked for or encouraged in some way, the lizard brain whispered) or general bad situation that had come up.

    Other times it was because while it’s illegal to dig your nails into another person and tear a chunk off, the law doesn’t care if you do it to yourself. I may be a depressed bipolar schizophrenic, but I have this pesky inner voice that prefers to follow the law and avoid injury to others, even if they’ve done something supremely deserving of it.


    • Exactly, one blanket statement is a blanket of ignorance. Thank you for being open and honest, Kaine! I always appreciate hearing about others who struggle with self harm.


  9. My comment is a little late, but I’ve self harmed for about 5 or 6 years now. It’s a gradual thing that builds up on you, recedes and comes back like the ocean tide. I’ve always selfharmed as a coping mechanism. It’s an intense release, I’ve only had suicidal intentions once. Some cutting can be for attention though and its important to distinguish that selfharm (in general) for attention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (All self harm is bad but I’m referring to the stigma that follows this aspect) it can be a cry for help, or someone just wanting to feel cared about. Humans are emotional, though, it’s normal to do things to get attention. We need some degree of attention to be happy and healthy. Personally I’ve always hidden my selfharm and have just recently started blogging about it because keeping something that’s such a personal issue to yourself for so long can truly hurt. Though, I would never want anyone to know that it was me. It’s kinda just a way to tell the world, without telling them.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s