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A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,937 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Self-mutilation is a behavior so shocking that it is almost never discussed. Yet estimates are that upwards of eight million Americans are chronic self-injurers. They are people who use knives, razor blades, or broken glass to cut themselves. Their numbers include the actor Johnny Depp, Girl Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen, and the late Princess Diana.Mistakenly viewed a ...more
Paperback, 234 pages
Published October 1st 1999 by Penguin Books (first published 1998)
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Cutters Don't Cry by Christine DzidrumsWintergirls by Laurie Halse AndersonCut by Patricia McCormickWillow by Julia HobanScars by Cheryl Rainfield
Books On Self-Injury
10th out of 82 books — 174 voters
Cut by Patricia McCormickCutters Don't Cry by Christine DzidrumsWillow by Julia HobanScars by Cheryl RainfieldWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Books About Cutting Yourself
16th out of 68 books — 239 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 24, 2008 Kirsten rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in mental health and self-injury
This is an interesting but ultimately flawed look at the phenomenon of self-mutilation as it relates to mental illness. Self-mutilation can take many forms, but the most common seem to be self-inflicted cutting and burning. It's not undertaken with an intent to commit suicide; instead, many people who cut or otherwise injure themselves believe it is one of the things that prevents them from committing suicide.

There aren't that many books for the layperson on this issue, despite increased exposur
Dec 03, 2008 Cari rated it it was ok
A good start with a lot of insight into the chronically misunderstood behavior of self-injury. Unfortunately, Marilee Strong focuses almost completely on the percentage who cut because of severe childhood trauma and abuse, effectively ignoring the significant percentage (between 40% and 50%, depending on the study) who experienced no neglect, no physical or sexual abuse, or any other similar circumstances at any point in their lives. For me, this detracted heavily from the book, as it was so one ...more
May 28, 2012 Brisbride13 rated it really liked it
This is an incredible book. I am a cutter so of course that was my pull. Its full of a lot of "psycho-babble" and normally I skim read when this kind of text arises, but this time I just put the book down for a while and came back and Im glad I did. This book covers all parasuicidal behaviors: cutting, burning, head banging, pulling out ones own hair, etc. It discusses at great length the psychology of it, the reasons why and what the person gets out of it; all of which is gathered through data ...more
The Rainbow Zebra
May 19, 2010 The Rainbow Zebra rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: see review
In my life, I have self-harmed.

I've had this book for a long while. I would read bits of it, but when you're in the midst of crisis, sometimes just reading about it can trigger episodes. But since it's been a long time since I've SH, I was able to finish it.

This book is a vital resource for anyone who self-harms, treats those with SH, guidance counselors, friends and family. It's important to note that those who self harm aren't typically suicidal (at least not in the beginning). And while peopl
Jennifer Day
Jun 05, 2012 Jennifer Day rated it it was amazing
A friend made me read this at the time in my life where I still found the most relief in making myself bleed and creating new scars. A Bright Red Scream is a wonderful book that really did help me. It sheds a lot of light on the reasoning of cutters themselves and also on the underlying issues that can cause this behavior to manifest itself. I recommend it to both current and former cutters as I think it has the possibility to help you understand yourself. There is a lot of good information in t ...more
Rebecca McNutt
I don't know about this book... it was certainly interesting, but it also isn't the first to go with this topic - and as usual, it goes to the extreme and makes it seem like there's an epidemic. Did an alarmist write this?
Jan 30, 2013 Vanessa rated it it was amazing
As someone who has struggled with self-harm since the age of 11 (I'm just turned 25 three weeks ago), I found this book very intriguing. While there are some definite flaws, at least based on my own personal experiences, I would still recommend it to people trying to get into the mindset of someone who self-harms. While it can be frustrating that it doesn't accurately describe everything, you're never going to find a book that does that 100%. Self-harm begins and is done for such personal reason ...more
Looking to learn about the issue of cutting amongst adolescents for the work I do, I looked to this book. It takes a very psychoanalytic approach to the problem, describing cutters issues in terms of family dynamics and interpersonal experience. I just wonder to what extent this issue, like many other mental health issues, has a biological component. I didn't finish the book because it felt like I was going far down a path that I wasn't sure was the current model used by mental health practition ...more
Jay Shahwan
This difficult book came to me out of necessity, as my life has been upended by a loved one who chose to self-injure. It's a phenomenon that's quite common, I've come to understand, and I needed to learn how to reach out to someone whose pain was so imbedded that the only possible solution was to cut. The author's interviews were both horrible and enlightening. Not for the faint of heart.
Sarah Crawford
Jan 29, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it really liked it
book by Marilee Strong, 1998

Marilee Strong is a journalist. She obviously did very, very extensive research for this book and the hard effort she made is very obvious and helps the book considerably.

This is not, of course, a happy book. It's filled with personal stories of people who have been through extremely intense physical and/or emotional pain and who have found the need to practice SIV, or Self Inflicted Violence, which is most often associated with cutting but can also include hiding and
Allen Turley
Sep 17, 2013 Allen Turley rated it liked it
I read this book because i wanted to try to wrap my head and heart around cutting. It was completely beyond my comprehension as to why someone would self-mutilate.It definitely helped. I am not as near afraid of helping people with this struggle. This is a secular book that offers no hope. Jesus is the one who truly offers love and healing.
May 13, 2007 darrienmichael rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Psychology students or people with a cutter in their life.
I read this book a while back but I remember it being interesting and full of true facts and stimulating interpretation. If you are a cutter, or if you know a cutter, this book will help you to understand the emotionally painful and taboo subject. Psychology students should also read this book.
May 12, 2010 Sumayyah rated it liked it
I had so many problems with this book that I don't know where to begin. I simply hope that, in the future, there is more inclusion of people of color and people who are well into adulthood and still struggling with cutting/self-injuring.
Aug 06, 2014 dee rated it liked it
This book, divided with many topics associated
with self-mutilation (i.e. Eating disorders, sexual abuse, PTSD, etc.). It offers a great many testimonials. It provides little discussion on
ways of for dealing with these issues
if anything it glances over topics of talk therapy and cognitive options. It is there just not in the abundance I would have liked.

The PTSD chapter is helpful for anyone who wishes to get a little bit of insight (my purpose for buying). Again it glosses over some treatment
Nov 10, 2013 Julia rated it really liked it
A Bright Red Scream is a very good piece of popular psychology for those looking to either understand more about a friend or relative who self-mutilates, or even for those who suffer themselves who want to maybe explore/understand their own condition further. I'd agree with other reviewers that Strong puts far too heavy an emphasis on those who self-mutilate as a result of historic abuse. It seemed to be a factor in almost every case study she explored, and perhaps lead to too neat an "explanati ...more
Jessa Scheibe
May 26, 2014 Jessa Scheibe rated it liked it
All in all, this book was okay. I often found myself reading multiple subjects, topics, ideas as well as explanations over and over again. Marilee Strong did a wonderful job of digging deep into the subject of self mutilation and the views on this topic were very diverse. Yet, it did lack a certain meaning and relevance to the subject at times.

Many of the stories of the self mutilators were very personal and direct but I would have liked to hear more aspects from their point of view, otherwise
Robert Beveridge
Jan 25, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it really liked it
Marilee Strong, A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain (Penguin, 1998)

It amazes me how psychologists can take a series of seemingly unrelated symptoms, come up with a hypothesis, and be dead-on right. For the past twenty years, they've been doing just that with the small, but increasing, segment of the populace who injure themselves through bloodletting, beating their heads against walls, breaking bones, and other such behaviors. Strong, a journalist, boils all the researc
Elena Kent
Jan 16, 2015 Elena Kent rated it really liked it
Finally explains the multiple reasons of self mutilation. It gives you personal stories to allow you to feel the person's pain. Many people don't understand why people could go to great lengths, and this book is an indication of the hurt people go through and the long process of healing. It's a wonderful book and I recommend it!
Jan 25, 2010 Mandy rated it liked it
I think this book would be useful to someone trying to understand self injury (SI). It discusses some of the potential reasons why a person would SI. Strong even discusses eating disorders, which often go hand in hand with SI. She does a good job of mixing stories of real life people with scientific research and theories. When there is a disagreement between the scientific theories and treatments, Strong does a wonderful job of impartially discussing both sides. My only qualms with the book is t ...more
Tyler Jacob Baird
Mar 04, 2014 Tyler Jacob Baird rated it it was amazing
I think that everyone should read this book. It explains so much and captures everything that people need to know. It has helped me tremendously with trying to understand self mutilation. I would highly recommend it to readers of all ages. Even if your not intrested this book will hook you from page 1.
Aug 18, 2015 Sarah rated it liked it
An interesting perspective on self-injury, but with heavy emphasis on PTSD and disordered eating as the cause - definitely needs to be approached again to include other mental illnesses.
Also well and truly out of date in the understandings of body modification and subcultures. Pierced navels are portrayed as wild and out-there!
Apr 18, 2008 Susandhra rated it it was amazing
After having read several books on self-mutilation in the past, this was the first book that really spoke to me. It provided not only reasons and explanations for why self-mutilation occurs but also helped me to not feel alone. Self-mutilation is a very lonely thing, and when people find out that someone is doing it they react in different ways. Most reactions are negative ranging from horror to disgust to shock, which only serves to shame the self-mutilator more. A Bright Red Scream was clear w ...more
Sierra Miller
Oct 23, 2014 Sierra Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

as someone who self harms this really hit close to home to me. I recommend this book to everyone struggling.
May 01, 2014 Jasmine rated it it was amazing
This was not an easy read (the people interviewed have been through some horrific things), but it's worth it if you want to understand what leads people to self-harm.
Kelly H. (Maybedog)
Thoroughly researched, compassionate, thorough and interesting, this is an excellent book for people interested in the subject of people who cut themselves. It focuses on those who do it for psychological reasons (traumatized cutters) but it also includes information on performers, scarification, piercings, tattoos and the modern "modern primitives." There are sections on causes, diagnoses, reasons, and treatment. Rife with examples from real people, the book is fascinating and horrifying at the ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Paige rated it it was amazing
This was a rather hard read for me due to the topic of the book. However it was an accurate description of what people who self-harm go through on a daily basis. Marliee Strong took interviews and observations to create a view inside the life of cutters/burners that has never really been looked at before. There is literature about the mental health of these individuals but not on what has caused them to form this coping mechanism.

This is not a "self-help" book by any means. It is a way to gain a
Tracy Collins
Sep 03, 2015 Tracy Collins rated it really liked it
Very insightful in a way that helps non-cutters understand the behavior and its cry for help.
May 20, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book gives an interesting look into the mind of self-mutilators and cutters. Based on research and personal interviews, you get to read the stories of people who self-mutilate and why they do. "A bright red scream" is how one of the subjects describes cutting. This is a compulsion that, affects over 2 million Americans.
Although usually cutting has been viewed as suicidal behavior, Strong states that it is more a survival technique, a will to live, often despite overwhelming childhood abus
Dec 27, 2014 Steph rated it it was amazing
I wish that more people had the opportunity to read this book. As a person who is very familiar with self-harm, I found myself understanding the mindset behind many of the stories in this book. This is an issue that is often not discussed as much as it should be due to its taboo nature, but it is something that really should be discussed as much as possible. Many thanks go to the author who is able to bring light to a very bleak subject.
May 31, 2014 Michelle rated it it was ok
This book was okay; however, it appeared to present a very limited view of self-injury (types, "causes," treatment, etc) and at times seemed judgmental of these individuals. I had checked a copy out from the library years ago, and people had commented in the margins in response to especially judgmental portions of the text, which I found enlightening. Again, it was an okay read but was not the best book I have read on the subject, by far.
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“You don't feel like you're hurting yourself when you're cutting. You feel like this is the only way to take care of yourself.” 84 likes
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