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Mental Health and Creative People: Self-Injury

“It’s like having a drink. But it’s quicker. You know how your brain shuts down from pain? The pain would be so bad, it would force my body to slow down, and I wouldn’t be as anxious. It made me calm.”

That is a quote by Christina Ricci from a 1998 Rolling Stone interview, explaining that the scratches on her forearms came from her using fingernails and soda tops.

In another magazine interview she revealed that she sometimes would put out cigarettes out on her arms. When asked if it hurts she replied, “No. You get this endorphin rush. You can actually faint from pain. It takes a second, a little sting, and then it’s like you really don’t feel anything. It’s calming actually.”

Other well-known people who have engaged in cutting or other forms of self-harm include teen actor and singer Demi Lovato, who has at least one album, and has been candid about her rehab for mental health problems including bulimia.

She noted in an article that, like many young performers who have managers and others supposedly looking after their health, “I had learned how to control and manipulate everyone around me into believing that I was OK.” (Demi Lovato’s rebirth, By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times September 23, 2011.)

Of course, it isn’t just actors or performers who engage in non-suicidal self-injury. A factsheet (What is self-injury?) from the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior reports that “Among secondary school and young adult populations, studies find 12% to 24% of young people have self-injured. About a quarter of youth who have self-injured report injuring only once in their lives. Studies typically find that about 6%-8% of adolescents and young adults report current, chronic self-injury.”

Why do people self-harm?

Dr. Michael Hollander of McLean Hospital says, “Often times, the individual is practically bursting with overwhelming feelings and this can be too hard to bear. I would say 80% of patients self-injure for emotional regulation,” which can involve endorphins.

From my article Creative People and Self-Harm for Emotional Self-Regulation.

In her Psych Central article Teen Cutting and Self-Injury: Why Do They Do This?, Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP, notes the underlying dynamics may be complex. “Most describe it as a way to deal with overwhelming negative feelings to avoid suicide. Instead of feeling angry, sad, numb or anxious, the person cuts or mutilates self. Instead of screaming they create visible and noticeable wounds. Sometimes they are re-enacting a trauma. Sometimes they are protecting someone else from their anger.”

For some people, a related behavior may be getting tattoos. I’ve lost the reference, but I once read a comment by a psychologist that one of his clients told him when she felt the urge to cut herself, she would get another tattoo.

Johnny Depp reportedly has a series of seven or eight scars on his left forearm where he has cut himself. In a 1993 Details magazine interview Johnny explained his self-injury, “My body is a journal in a way. It’s like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist.”

[From the site: Famous Self-Injurers – also the source of quotes of Christina Ricci.]

The photo is of Angelina Jolie, showing one of her many tattoos. She used to hurt herself during her early teens but stopped around the age of sixteen. In a 1999 Access Hollywood interview she explained, “I was..trying to feel something… I was just a kid. I was like 13. And, I was saying that it is not something that is cool. It’s not cool. And I understand that it is a cry for help…” [Also from the Famous Self-Injurers site.]

In a 1999 Mademoiselle interview, Christina Ricci commented, “When I was younger, I did self-mutilate. I’d be upset, so I’d do it, and it would calm me down. It’s a horrible way to feel better. But there are two parts of your brain – one that really wants to destroy the other. And sometimes the idea of self-destruction is very romantic. I got over that.” [Quote from the Famous Self-Injurers site.]

The photo above is a magazine cover related to her role in the TV series “Pan Am” as one of the perky 1960s-era stewardesses.

Being a highly sensitive person (as I am) can make us more vulnerable to anxiety and other “negative” feelings. Here is one of my related Highly Sensitive site articles on that topic: Sensitive to anxiety.

Also see my Anxiety Relief Solutions site – Multiple drug-free self-help products and programs.


Mental Health and Creative People: Self-Injury

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2013). Mental Health and Creative People: Self-Injury. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2013
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