The sight of their own blood is important to some people who self-harm

The sight of their own blood plays a key role in the comfort that some non-suicidal people find in deliberately cutting themselves. That’s according to a new study by Catherine Glenn and David Klonsky that suggests it is those self-harmers who have more serious psychological problems who are more likely to say the sight of blood is important.

There are plenty of anecdotal reports hinting at the importance of the sight and taste of blood to self-harmers, as well as references in popular music. ‘Yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive,’ sing the Goo Goo dolls in Iris. ‘I think it’s time to bleed I’m gonna cut myself and Watch the blood hit the ground,’ sings Korn on Right Now. However, this is the first systematic investigation on the topic.

Glenn and Klonsky recruited 64 self-harmers from a mass screening of 1,100 new psychology students. With an average age of 19, and 82 per cent being female, the students answered questions about their self-harming and other psychological problems and specifically reported on the importance of the sight of blood.

Just over half the participants said that it was important to see blood when they self-harmed, with the most common explanation being that it helps relieve tension and induces calmness. Other explanations were that it ‘makes me feel real’ and shows that ‘I did it right/deep enough’.

The participants who said blood was important didn’t differ in terms of age and gender from those who said it wasn’t. However, the blood-important group reported cutting themselves far more often (a median of 30 times compared with 4 times) and they were more likely to say they self-harmed as a way of regulating their own emotions. The blood-important group also reported more symptoms consistent with bulimia nervosa and borderline personality disorder.

‘Overall, these results suggest that self-injurers who report it is important to see blood are a more clinically severe group of skin-cutters,’ the researchers said. ‘Therefore, a desire to see blood during non-suicidal self-injury may represent a marker for increased psychopathology.’

Glenn and Klonsky said more research was needed to find out why the sight of blood has the significance it does for some people who self-harm. However, they surmised that the sight of one’s own blood could, after an initial rise in heart-rate, lead to a rebound effect characterised by reduced heart-rate and feelings of calmness.

ResearchBlogging.orgGlenn, C., & Klonsky, E. (2010). The Role of seeing blood in non-suicidal self-injury. Journal of Clinical Psychology DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20661

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

22 thoughts on “The sight of their own blood is important to some people who self-harm”

  1. Being a self-harmer with about a year “sobriaty,” blood is an important issue. It helps me to calm more easily and yes I do have more psychopathology. I have self-injured for almost 30 years. At first, seeing bruises was important, then it moved into needing to see blood. Lots of self-hatred issues involved.

  2. I think this is such important research. This is the kind of research which is cruicial in breaking down the myths surrounding self-injury Eg: as a means to get attention. The more that is understood about the physiological reasoning behind why people self harm, the closer we can get to identifying the cause

  3. I love the site of blood when I cut myself. That way I know I did a good job. It is pointless to cut yourself & not draw blood. Cutting myself makes the flashbacks stop.

  4. The sight of the blood makes the pain drip from the inside out, so that I am no longer caught in the tumult of my inner thoughts and feelings. I want to understand what chemical or hormone or something that is released when this happens because I feel an immediate calm, almost like a high. I want to stop cutting, so if I can figure out what causes that reaction, maybe I can recreate it without cutting. …?

  5. i drain blood using hypoderic needles most days and its for the 'high' i get when i do it. i love to see the blood flow and when it lessens, ill do another vein till i dizzy. i have struggled with EDNOS bulimia nad anorexia and had lots of help for depression.


  7. I'm 36 years old. I've been a cutter for 20 years. I've never cut myself for attention or with the intent to commit suicide. I did it to feel relief from emotional pain and anger. I've always kept it to my left arm and I do it with my knife. And I do feel immediate relief when I see the blood and feel it run down my arm. And. it makes me feel a certain power over my feelings. I've not cut in a long time. I only done it when I felt out of control. Maybe its because I'm older and I just don't care as much. I'm not ashamed of my scars, lifes hard and I did what I needed to do to deal with it.

  8. I totally understand this. I've been cutting off and on for over 20 yrs and love the sight of the blood. But, I don't like having to hide the cuts later. The only thing that worked for me once was strawberries. I bought a pint of them when I had the urge to cut, got in the bathtub, and 'cut' myself using the strawberries instead. It was a 'bloody' red mess. And somehow, it worked. I got the same release, but no marks afterwards.

  9. I have been a cutter on and off for 12 yrs now.. For me I love the blood, I love the feeling of ur arm right after you cut and u get a sting of pain then it get hot in the area and u can feel the blood dripping down. That's when u get a good cut and quite a lot of blood, it calms you right away. But like most ppl I have a lot scars and it sucks when they keep adding up and then u gotta deal with that.. I'm not sure why the blood give ppl satisfaction, where others its just the pain..

  10. I have been cutting and stabbing my self for about 20 years, off and on. I started to get the needed adrenaline rush to get an orgasm. But now to just cut to see the blood run down my body. I would like to watch it gush out, but I don't want to die. It seems, everytime I do it, I must be MORE daring for that rush……. What's ppi?
    -solomon 2410

  11. Had PTSD, incredibly severe depression, and probably other issues as a teen who grew up in a terrifying home. I first did it in Jr high to punish myself for being worthless. It used to help assuage the intense rage and hatred I felt toward myself.

    But as I aged, the reasons changed.

    I now know that I had pretty severe derealization and depersonalization. But back then I had no idea that was a thing. I was under so much stress from both home and school life that I ceased to exist. I was merely a brain in a host body. I was unable to feel anything but agonizing emotional pain. And it got so bad that when I'd cut myself, I'd make sure that there was blood. Because that was the one thing that kept me connected. This is my blood. Coming from my body. Causing me to feel pain. Hurting myself and seeing the blood confirmed that I was, in fact, real. Harming myself was my only connection to the living.

    At one point, there was another reason but these two are the most prominent.

  12. I was 19 years old, a student of Advertising and when I am in a very depressed state I have this urge to cut myself and I have the feeling that seeing my own blood will soothe me. But I was very scared.

    Instead, when I had an activity about creating a wedding theme I conceptualize a bloody wedding and I needed to make a fake blood for my presentation. The fake blood soothed my mind though…

  13. I love the sight of my own blood. Watching it run down my arm or leg, wherever. Feeling the wet tickle as it goes the length of my limb an hearing the almost invisible “splat” on the floor.. It comforts me more than anything else. I dont know why or how but Ive been this way since I was a child.

  14. I have Borderline Personality Disorder and most of my cutting have been small. But oh yeah once I see and feel the blood. Immediate calmness. its like the pain is so overwhelming and the only thing that can help me lesson it is the feel and sight of my blood running down my arm.

    I’ve been really good for many years, however a few weeks ago, going through some relationship issues. I thought I was losing my best friend and I was drunk and yeah I cut my left arm 30 times in front of my Partner and told he did this. This is the physical manifestation of my pain. Which is true in some ways but mostly it was the only way to become calm.

    I would too like to know what it is about our brains that this is the release ours needs to calm ourselves.

  15. I love seeing blood but before ‘I have never been interested to it but now? I cut myself just to have calmness and to see my blood just to ease pain.

    1. I like to see my blood when I cut myself
      But I was squeamish before now i do
      More than cut my wrists I cut the corners
      Of my mouth and I like the pain

  16. i want to see blood, and at first it was satisfied with once a month period blood but i need more. where are some non-permanently harming places to cut yourself?

  17. The article and these comments are so helpful. Thank you so much. My son does this and it is very distressing to me to see him write with his own blood on the walls of my home. I have told him it is unacceptable. Didn’t know there could be any reason to do this.

  18. So knowing I have borderline personality disorder I actually find that watching my own blood flow is a way to control my own life in away I can’t my life has been an an up and down spin from abuse mentality and physically my entire life now as an adult I find it very difficult to both understand other peoples emotions and how to cope with my day to day life choices I find that the only time I’m in control is when I can be alone with alchohol or my knife… dont get me wrong I dont want to die or end my life but I just need that sense of control I am currently seeking help to find a better outlet but still unable to find one…..

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