I am sure for everyone there is a different mechanism at play when they cut. No two individuals are the same. I can only speak for myself when I explain what might be happening inside someone who cuts.
But first and foremost I want people to understand that cutting itself is not the problem. This goes hand in hand with thinking that a person is at their worst, when they are about to cut. Trying to help me, when I have just chosen to cut myself does not make sense. Because I have been trying to fight my mental pain, my stress and my anxiety for so long, that I feel helpless. I feel like they have no control over my life at all. So I decide to take control back. A number of different things might happen. I might finally have a reason to hate myself. But really I have just given myself a target to aim my hatred at. Or I might be disappointed because my emotional state has not changed at all. Or maybe I realized that if I can beat the survival instinct, I can also beat my anxiety.
Here with what emotions I think people think, when I tell them I cut. Pity. Judgment. Worry. And willingness to help. The first three will not do any good. Again: Someone pities me for cutting? Why? Cutting is the thing that helps me, not the thing that is tormenting me. Judgement… Ah well… I have enough of that myself. And worry. Don’t. I beat my survival instincts by cutting. If I wanted to kill myself, I would not be alive anymore. And just because I cut does not mean I am stupid. I have seen enough cuts to know when something is off. And that is when I will make sure to not die of an infected cut.
As for willingness to help, I am sure there are a number of ways that might help. For some that may be distraction and fun. For others that may mean a shoulder to cry. And I bet, it depends on the situation as well. But what I have found, is that I am in a stressful situation. I am anxious and I worry. I start showing all sorts of symptoms from extreme jumpiness and nightmares to a messy room and constant crying. Then I get into a situation that triggers all of my fears. And all I want is to escape. I blame myself for being in this situation to begin with. So I cut. On one hand it is my fault I am in this situation, so I deserve the pain, on the other hand it is a coping skill. I am not afraid of cutting. I am not even afraid of triggers. Because they are powerless, when I am alright.
The reason I want to stop cutting is not primarily that it is violent, or that it hurts. It is because it triggers so much fear in the people around me. And because of the stigma. I can talk about this all I want but there will always be a stigma surrounding self harm. Of course I want to learn how to deal with stress and anxiety without hurting myself, but not because I am afraid of hurting myself, but because those techniques might be able to relief stress before it becomes such a dreadful mental pain. I would love to find a way to treat myself with more respect. But the reality is: cutting may be a lot less harmful than other coping mechanisms like drinking alcohol in excess. Too much alcohol will harm the liver permanently. Cutting has no permanent damage other than scars and those aren’t a risk to one’s health. Of course cutting in itself isn’t optimal. But not because of the cutting itself, but because of how we feel before and the fact that we seem to be unable to deal with that mental state.
So helping really means two things: Allowing me to let myself off the hock. This is crucial. As long as I am busy blaming myself for being anxious and in consequence for cutting myself, there is no way I am getting better. And the next step is to actually deal with the stressors. And to learn techniques to deal with stress in general, but unless the person trying to help us is a therapist or very experienced with such issues themselves they cannot help us with that.
Maybe we need professional help. The thing is: when we are at a point of self harm, we will not have the mental energy to go out and get that help. and therefore we might not even allow ourselves to realize that we do need help. And when we are better again, there is no reason to get help. So our bad times come and go as stress comes and goes.