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To Hide or Not to Hide Self-Harm Scars

For a long time I didn’t wear sandals. No, not because I don’t like them or because my toes have an aversion to open air but because of the scars on my ankles – that’s where I used to cut. My ankles looked like there were pink, wriggly worms embedded in them.

And I was scared that everyone would see them and know what happened, know what I did.

I figured people would take one look at me (zero in on my ankles for some reason) and then judge me as being a freak and a lunatic and I would be ostracized from normal, human interaction.

That was a bit of an overreaction on my part driven by the shame of self-harming in the first place. I’ve gotten over it.

Self-Harm

Self-harm is not rare, weird or freaky. In the US it’s estimated that one out of every 200 girls between 13 and 19 years old cut themselves regularly. And, much worse, a study in the British Medical Journal estimated that 13 percent of 15 and 16-year-olds injure themselves on purpose (this would include all forms of self-injury).

So while people can’t agree on the number of people who self-injure, what we can agree on is it isn’t rare.

And make no mistake, there are plenty of adults who self-harm, it is not a problem restricted to teenagers alone.

Hiding Self-Harm

And, of course, the vast majority of people who seriously harm themselves are keeping it secret. It’s the kind of behavior that flourishes in the dark.

Hiding Self-Harm Scars

But even once the self-harm stops, you’re stuck with the scars forever. Sure, the mental ones can be worked out through blaming your mother (jk) but the physical ones are not that easy to get rid of.

And honestly, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to want to hide them. This is a self-protection mechanism. No one wants to put themselves out there for the world to judge particularly if they feel ashamed of their own actions.

And this, I think, can be a very good instinct. When you’re not feeling strong it’s not the right time to possibly put yourself in harm’s way, in the way of people who would judge you and not understand. It’s OK to want to protect yourself from that.

But it’s also OK to stand up and say yes, this is something that I did, and I’m OK with it. It’s also OK to stand up and realize that whatever small minds would judge you simply are ignorant. It’s OK to stand up and say, it’s hot out, I’m wearing sandals. Damnit.

Now I’m not saying that it’s always the best ideas to show off scars, for example, in the boardroom, you might want to cover up, but I am saying there is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have a past and even a present and we all have scars from what has happened and what we’ve done. The only difference between someone with self-injury scars and someone without is the visibility of the scars.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

This entry was posted in About Natasha, Coping, How Others See Bipolar, Impact of Bipolar, The Price of Publicly Being Bipolar and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to To Hide or Not to Hide Self-Harm Scars

  1. port13 says:

    The warming weather has been causing me a lot of stress lately since my ankles and upper arms have some scars from 20 years ago. Thank you for the reminder that it’s okay. <3

  2. Hi Port13,

    Glad I could remind you you’re not alone out there :)

    - Natasha

  3. mef123 says:

    I also have scars. I have them on the legs and arms. I have to wear long pants in the summer again this year because I heal slowly and they are still red. I just recently started doing it on my forearm and wrist (not suicidal) so I don’t know what I am going to do this summer, wear long sleeves. I don’t think I can do that people will really think I’m crazy. I’m still currently cutting too, I have to really do some therapy on this one.

    Michele

  4. scott says:

    Don’t forget males that self-harm, I’m 41 and 4 years ago I was thrown in the hospital for cutting way too much. I started cutting at age 16. As for hiding scars, I don’t so much any more as of my last hospitalization. I really wanted to get out there though this is not a female based thing. sorry, I’m not good now and I hope this makes sense

  5. Carey says:

    You know, it’s funny. People see scars I have from cats (yes, I am a cat catcher) and asking jokingly if they are from me cutting… yet those who have seen the ones I know of as cuts never ask (they do know about them) and worry more about me getting to that point of stress… I hadn’t cut in over 10 years. I used to cut at my wrists (imagine The Big Chill opening) but nothing major ever showed there. This past October and November, I cut my inner thighs. The man I am with now does not care about the marks, instead he cares about what it attached to why I cut…

  6. Hi Mef123,

    It is totally your right to cover up, but remember you have nothing to be ashamed of.

    And yes, definitely do some therapy on it. You’ll feel better when you know you’re not doing it any more.

    Good luck.

    - Natasha

  7. Hi Scott,

    I completely agree with you – men self-harm too. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. Thank-you for reminding us, you make perfect sense.

    - Natasha

  8. Hi Carey,

    You have a great point – those who care about you will care about _why_ you cut. Yes, they will care about _that_ you cut as well, but people who care about you don’t want you to get to the place where you feel like you have to.

    - Natasha Tracy

  9. Sheila says:

    When I was in rehab, I sat at mealtimes with a woman who had many fresh cuts on her arms and shoulders. I found it difficult to look at the cuts because I understood from her that they represented some serious emotional pain. I don’t think that her cuts and scars were anything for her to be ashamed of. But I did find it upsetting to see her pain writ large on her body, as I am not a therapist and am not trained to handle other’s emotional pain. I felt a great deal of empathy.

  10. nikky44 says:

    Whenever one mention self harm, it’s directly the thought of cutting. What about the other ways of self harm? is it called differently? There are many other ways to hurt oneself?

  11. Hi Nikky44,

    You are correct, there are many ways to self-harm which is why I included the self-injury number above – it includes all forms of self-injury.

    - Natasha

  12. aehathor says:

    You wrote, “That was a bit of an overreaction on my part driven by the shame of self-harming in the first place. I’ve gotten over it.”. It was a little difficult but I got over it, too. I’m 45 now and if anyone asks I’m happy to admit where the scars come from. If I can help someone to understand, help themselves, or help someone else then it’s all good.

  13. Catherine says:

    hey i am in recovery from self harm. my arms are full of scars and i really do hate them i suppose i am still trying to come to terms with the fact that thats what i did in order to cope with life. i work in the healthcare industry and i am made to wear long sleeves it is hard to be honest and i have got questioned but i just try to fob it of and say that it doesnt matter. as to be honest its not really any of there business, your scars are personal to you and whether someone no’s the truth or not you do not need to feel obliged to answer to anyone. its hard enough to live with at times yourself never mind having to answer questions from others.

  14. HalfBeagle says:

    I hadn’t thought about my scars for a while. I’m lucky mine are on my upper thighs and abdomen; sites chosen due to being body parts I didn’t like, but also because they’d be well hidden. As Mental Health Nurse, I’m slowly coming out of the crazy closet professionally. I’m glad this is something I can disclose-or not, on my own terms.

  15. Laurie says:

    Why the ankles, if I may ask?

  16. Whitney Erin says:

    I’m bipolar one, I have cuts on my left wrist. First time I cut was when I was 16 or 17, it was out of emotions and frustration, teen angst. The second time was when I was 22 and it was from emotional frustration. The third time I was still 22 but I did it out of a run in with the actual intention and want of feeling it. I remember my friend was having an argument with her boyfriend and I started cutting myself in front of him, in part I did it to show him that he didn’t scare me but I also got off to the feeling. Not sexually but there was a release, relief type of feeling I got with it…didn’t feel the “pain” of it. I can’t really recall what it felt like other than partly pleasurable. I haven’t had any more cutting since then and that was year or so ago. Mania and run ins with psychosis are a trip! Well depression can be a trip of it’s own because it can get pretty darn bad.

  17. Alexandria says:

    Reading this is somewhat bittersweet. I too have worked through self-harm (at least cutting, still getting over other forms)and at first was completely ashamed of the scars that litter my thighs and my left forearm.

    I actually found that when I stopped caring about what others thought, I started to heal. Instead of taking extreme measures to cover my scars up, I encouraged the curiosity people have and had about them. It gives me a chance to tell my story to them, and to warn them of the perils of my addiction. And for the ignorant people who want to write me off as “devil possessed” or a “lunatic…”

    Hmmmm….nice shoes you got there.

  18. Houston says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about self-hamr. Regards

  19. Callum says:

    What about the wrists? How would you go about explaining to a future partner that at one point life was devalued to the extent of suicide. There is nothing wrong with illness but it still puts an incredible strain on me..

  20. lyttle green says:

    wethere to cover up or not is of course an entirely personaln issue. for the most part i wear whatever i want now & it feels pretty good. i get a lot of stares & the odd comment. i can usually handle that.
    the only thing i take issue in this post is the notion that there are places you have to cover up. your example of the boardroom not being the best place to have scars uncovered annoys me. why ? if we are fighting stigma & asking for acceptance, why are we censoring ourselves ? why should i be ashamed if i’m in a boardroom ?

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