Self-Harm and Labels: Will They Ever Go Away?

July 16, 2013 Jennifer Aline Graham

Recently, I was picking up my client from summer school and as I was standing in the hallway, I noticed how diverse the population walking by me was. My client has a developmental disability as well as a mental illness, so the school where her summer classes took place was mainly for those who needed a little extra support.

I saw individuals who had Autism, Down syndrome, aggressive behaviors, Cerebral Palsy and other different disabilities or disorders that allowed them to take summer classes at BOCES.

As I watched the students walk by, I wondered how difficult it was for outsiders to see these wonderful kids as having “unique abilities” rather than having disabilities.

Self-Harm and The World of Labels

Labels are everywhere and there is no hiding from them. Even as a toddler, we hear of the “Terrible Twos” and into high school you hear “Man-Whores” and “Sluts”. It’s all there and when you’re a self-harmer, you’ll probably be looked at as a “cutter”.

Labels are poisonous and can sometimes stick with someone for the rest of their lives. When diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression, once people know this about you, they start to see you as the label and not as a Sarah or Mike or Jessica. It’s the sad truth about people and no matter what is taught in school these days, it’s hard to push those thoughts away.

When someone says you are a cutter or a burner or a hair-puller, they make it sound like that is all you are. The label makes it seem like we do not have any other interests or abilities and that we are simply on this planet to self-harm.

We know that is definitely not the case.

Start Using “People First Language”

People need to learn the phrase “People First Language”. This means that when discussing someone’s disorder or disability or disease, they say that “this person has” this or that. In the world of Developmental Disabilities (the group I currently work with), we say that so-and-so has Autism or so-and-so has a Traumatic Brain Injury. The word “has” should become an everyday word when it comes to spitting out labels because people are not the disease or disorder, they merely have it.

Even when people say that someone struggles with cutting, it still affects you even if they aren’t calling you a cutter. Somehow, we need to look at them as trying and putting in an effort to see past the struggle and at the person.
Even after five years self-harm free, I still see myself as someone who struggles with self-harm. However, I am at the point in my life where I can face the struggle and see it as a daily challenge. Yes, it can be extremely tough some days and yes, sometimes I really can’t talk about my past when brought up in conversation.

However, I want people to see me as someone who once struggled with cutting. I don’t want the cutting to be the focus because I am more than my past.

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APA Reference
Aline, J. (2013, July 16). Self-Harm and Labels: Will They Ever Go Away?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Jennifer Aline Graham

July, 18 2013 at 11:39 am

Yes, I agree with this. What's even worse than being thought of as "a cutter," though, is the pervasive attitudes and stereotypes surrounding it. The most harmful for me both in the past and present is the attitude that my pain has no worth and I am a self-pitying weakling. Unfortunately these attitudes are everywhere, both in "real life" and especially online, and they can do a lot of damage and lead to FURTHER self-harm or even suicide.

Coleen Uyehara
July, 16 2013 at 6:38 am

I totally agree with you. It is one of my pet peeves. I also work with individuals who are developmentally disabled. As I just wrote, I usually use individual/people who are/has....
Or I use, especially in reports: Mike is a 20 year old male who has been diagnosed with...

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