What Is Invisible Self-Harm?
How can there be invisible self-harm? Self-harm is assumed to be apparent to the eye — a reasonable assumption given that self-harm is a physical act performed on the physical body and that self-harm is often used as a way of making invisible, psychic pain visible and concrete. But not all self-harm can be seen. Invisible self-harm is just as dangerous as visible self-injuries.
This is the same faulty line of thinking that psychological issues with physical symptoms, such as eating disorders, are often approached with. Psychological issue X tends to cause Y physical symptoms, therefore without Y physical symptoms, there is no X psychological issue. This is a logical fallacy at best and an erasure of people’s very real lived experiences at worst.
What Kind of Self-Harm Is Invisible?
Self-harm is not always the dangerous implement. It is not always bandages, stitches and scars. Sometimes it is these things, but sometimes self-harm is hidden on areas of the body that are, either coincidentally or intentionally, never exposed.
Certain reckless and self-destructive behaviors can be considered a type of self-harm, too. Drug or alcohol abuse, over-spending, unsafe driving, etc. are acts of self-harm that are not always visible on the body. These behaviors may overlap with other “categories” of mental health problems but mental health (and health in general) are holistic concepts that affect the entirety of our being. Self-harm is both itself a problem and a symptom of a wide variety of other problems.
Invisible self-harm can also be an unexpected type of self-harm that doesn’t leave lasting marks. Bruises, for example, can be more easily explained, are not readily associated with self-harm, do not draw as much attention and eventually fade away.
Similarly (and most frustratingly), self-harm can be all the stereotypes we imagine but still not leave a mark. Someone can cut and draw no blood. Someone can draw blood but not enough to scar. This type of self-harm, because it lacks the drama of other types of self-harm, is not regarded with the same weight. It seems that for many, including mental health professionals, self-harm that poses a greater physical risk is the only self-harm that needs to be taken seriously.
The Dangers of Invisible Self-Harm
The dangers of ignoring more physically “risky” types of self-harm are obvious. But other, less apparent types of self-harm pose dangers that too often escape scrutiny.
For one thing, self-harm can escalate at an alarming rate. What starts off as something that does not seem like something warranting immediate intervention can quickly turn into something else. If for no other reason than this, any and all types of self-harm should be taken as seriously as possible, as early on as possible (Cutting Help and Treatment).
The more insidious danger of overlooking invisible self-harm, however, is that doing so de-legitimizes the self-harmer. The self-harmer could be made to feel that his problem is not a problem, that he does not need to seek help, that he is not worthy of care, that he is not sick “enough”, and/or that he is not a true self-harmer and therefore does not need to stop.
Not recognizing and acknowledging self-harm allows it to thrive. Training ourselves to take all cases of self-harm seriously will give us a better understanding of it, promote self-harm awareness, and help people heal.
Chang, K. (2018, May 16). What Is Invisible Self-Harm?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2018/5/self-harm-invisible
Author: Kayla Chang
Thank you, Kayla.
I would like to add that many times invisible self harm can be in how we talk to ourselves and feel we’re not “worthy” because of depression, anxiety C-ptsd,, (in my case), that very easily leads to self harm by not taking care of our basic needs, that I’m guilty of more than not, which also many times lead to physical problems from that lack of self care of our most basic daily needs. It’s a constant battle knowing what I should be doing and the dread of not having the energy and no motivation to do so.
Thank you again.