Just read a post over at Blonde Sagacity about "cutters" and thought it merited a link from me.
I have seen quite a lot of this sort of thing in my position as a high school teacher and as a mother. My oldest daughter has been compulsively pulling out her eyelashes and eyebrows since age 9, and nothing I do has been able to stop her (short of about three months in a straitjacket, and the social workers might have objections to that). Everything I have read and researched about trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling) has encouraged me to do nothing, because there isn't anything that will stop it.
I've reported several students to the school nurse who had unusual injuries on their forearms, who I suspected of harming themselves. One girl in one of my classes was hearing impaired but refused to wear hearing aids; when she did show up for school, which was unusual, she often had new homemade tattoos (gang-related) and was extremely antisocial. I tried (as I did with any of my students who seemed to need it) to form a relationship with her, but she would have nothing to do with me. She was never belligerent or hostile, just sullen and withdrawn. She disappeared and I have no idea where she went, but I grieved over her because her world of silence and muffled speech isolated her and made her feel like an outcast.
I think that the popularity of piercing (particularly unusual forms) and tattooing belies a culture of pain displays and personal punishment. Of course, for every goth/punk/freak who has something new and painful-looking pierced every week, there's a kid who just does it because it looks cool and who doesn't have deep-seated emotional baggage. It just seems as though the entire youth culture is bent on some form of self-destructive behavior... from the ones involved in extreme sports risking their lives and limbs, to those who glorify murder and rape in rap music, to those who pierce or tattoo every inch of exposed skin.
This is from an almost-40 woman who's got a tattoo and a couple of unusual ear piercings... so don't think I'm one of the snooties who get all up in arms about those forms of self-expression.
Self-expression... and the "high" that results from risky behavior...
That's really what it's about. Kids, young people, adults, anyone -- everything you do or involve yourself in is a form of self-expression. Self-harm is just another high-risk thrill vehicle; just as a skateboarder is compelled to careen headlong off a gigantic half-pipe or a ski-jumper sails off the end of an enormous ramp, those who cut themselves receive a rush, a high. I know it's real, because every time I've gotten pierced or tattooed, I leave the place feeling exceptionally stoked-up and excited. I can relate to people who get it done often, because it's an invincible feeling and it would be easy to be addicted to it. Compulsive gambling is another vehicle for this "rush" experience. Illicit sex, illegal drugs... just points on the spectrum of self-harm behaviors.
And when society begins to view self-injurious or risky behaviors (promiscuity, gang culture, smoking) as normal and natural, people then gravitate toward other more dangerous taboos to gain their thrills. We humans seem to have a need to be naughty, I guess.
Wonder where I've heard that before...