The workplace can be a stressful and triggering environment for self-harmers. First, we have to make the decision of hiding our scars or not. If we don’t, we face questions, scrutiny, and gossip from our coworkers and bosses. Secondly, we may, and probably will, be triggered to self-harm at some point. We can’t control what others say and do, or what is asked of us while we’re working. Thus, it is essential for us to find ways to minimize stress and stay on the course of recovery from self-harm in a triggering environment like the workplace.
Hiding Self-Harm Scars in a Triggering Workplace Environment
Of course, it is not always easy to hide your self-harm scars when you are at work. You have to abide by your company’s dress code, and long sleeves or pants aren’t always an option. If your scars are clearly visible, they can attract attention and it may not necessarily be positive. It would be great if people didn’t ask questions or, at the very least, showed compassion and understanding when told the truth. However, this isn’t always the case.
I was fortunate enough to have compassionate coworkers and supervisors at my previous job, but with the stigma surrounding self-harm and mental illness I doubt that this is the rule instead of the exception. I, myself, am guilty of asking questions at work when there appeared to be a self-harm scar on a coworker.
The Work Environment Can Be Triggering for Self-Harm
Sometimes what people say or the environment we work in can be triggering for self-harm. Triggers can come in many different forms, from overhearing a conversation, to coworkers asking questions about your scars (or talking negatively about them), to the items we work with on a daily basis. In a typical office setting, there are scissors and staplers, both capable of inflicting pain.
For other jobs, you may be around box cutters or other types of sharp objects. The simple stress of our job may find us triggered enough to feel like using these objects on ourselves, or may send us home to the temptation of self-harming. I vividly remember working in retail, and having to use an X-Acto knife for a custom printing project. To be completely honest, I could not do it. An X-Acto knife had been my weapon of choice for years, and just having one in my hand made me sweat.
So what did I do? I decided to put my mental health before my job (which I understand is not always an easy or available option). I told my manager on duty that I couldn’t do the project and I asked to be assigned to a different project or area of the store, and he obliged me. If you have a manager who is not this easy to work with, I would use your break time to practice some calming techniques, like deep breathing, to ground yourself.
If you cannot get away from the situation, prepare your activities for after work. If you hear your coworkers talking negatively about your scars or about self-harm and mental health in general, see what activities you can do after work to get your mind off of it. Look up lists of alternatives to self-harm. Grab dinner with a good friend. Do anything to keep you from hurting yourself. The trigger of the moment will have subsided after a while, and you will have survived another scare.