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Do Self-Harm Scars Ever Go Away?

March 19, 2020 Kim Berkley

Do self-harm scars ever go away? Let's discuss the answers to that question.

Some scars are a source of pride. We show them off; we point to them and say, "Look at what I survived." Some of us remember that iconic scene in Jaws when the boys sing old sea shanties and cheerfully compare their battle scars. But self-inflicted wounds aren't always so easy to share, and there are some scars we would rather not bear. Do these self-harm scars ever truly go away?

How Long Do Self-Harm Scars Take to Go Away?

How long it will take for self-harm scars to go away is different for everyone. Every body heals differently. Whether self-injury will result in scarring depends on the type and severity of the injury. Minor injuries often fade entirely after a handful of days; major ones are more likely to leave a lasting mark. Other factors—such as medical conditions or medications—may also impact the healing process. Some scars can take up to two years to fade completely.

Applying first aid to a fresh wound can promote healing and minimize scarring. But let's say it's been two years, four, perhaps even a decade or more—and the scars are still there. Will those self-harm scars ever go away?

The answer, unfortunately, is "probably not." Scars that don't fade within two years tend to be permanent.1 However, it's important to remember that:

  • You are not your scars. They are part of you, but they do not define you.
  • Scars are a sign of healing; they are your body's way of keeping old wounds closed.
  • You can cover your scars in a safe and healthy way, should you need to. 
  • However, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

It's up to you to decide who gets to see your scars. It's also up to you to decide how you see your own scars—and to do the hard work of healing the invisible ones that lie beneath them.

Living with Self-Harm Scars That Don't Go Away

The scars on my arm are hairline-thin, white and almost invisible against my pale skin—completely unnoticeable to the casual observer. But I see them every time I reach out to turn off my bedside lamp, and they still itch sometimes when life starts to feel overwhelming.

You don't have to love your scars—I certainly don't love mine—but you can learn to live with them, and to cope with the triggers and the urges you associate with them. It isn't easy, though; it takes constant practice and a lot of patience.

I don't wake up every day admiring the body I see in the mirror. But I don't fixate on my scars anymore, either. I see them, but they no longer blind me to the rest of who I am as a person, or who I might yet become.

Scars, after all, are a product of the past. You can't undo the past—but you can put it behind you, one day at a time.

 

 

Sources:

1. Scars, National Health Service. Accessed March 2, 2020.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2020, March 19). Do Self-Harm Scars Ever Go Away?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, May 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2020/3/do-self-harm-scars-ever-go-away



Author: Kim Berkley

Find Kim on Instagram, Facebook and her blog.

anon
May, 24 2022 at 9:29 pm

i used to sh on my left arm and thighs about 9-10 months ago (thats also how long ive been clean) and they are still pretty visible. when i did them i didnt have many friends and spent most of my time alone. now i have a lot more friends and i want to do things like swimming and since its getting hotter out i want to wear shorts and short sleeves. i wear jeans with holes in them where my scars show and most of my friends know about my scars on my thighs and dont care. but im still worried bc they dont know about the scars on my arms. they arent judgemental people but im still scared bc i dont think im ready for anyone to see those scars and i know thats ok. do you think these scars will ever fade?

Francesca
May, 15 2022 at 3:57 pm

hi I have a few scars on my arm and as it’s coming up to summer I won’t be able to hide them but I used a razor and there not really deep it’s only as if you cut your leg whilst shaving but how long do you think they will last and how to make them go away quicker

May, 18 2022 at 1:18 pm

Hi Francesca,
Thank you for your comment. I wish I could give you a concrete answer to your question, but I am not a doctor, and everyone's body is different—I can't give you an exact timeline for when, or even if, your scars will heal and fade completely. If they are recent and shallow, it is likelier that they will heal and fade soon, possibly entirely. The longer you've had them, the lower the chance that they will completely go away on their own. The best thing you can do is to take good care of the skin in the affected area. Keep it clean, maybe use aloe gel or a lotion containing vitamin E, to encourage healing (just be sure you use a product that's safe for your skin type, and don't go overboard). Otherwise, it's somewhat up to nature whether they will fade or not.
You do have options for removing them in the future if you deem it necessary. In the meantime, if they don't fade in time, I've written a few pieces about hiding scars in the summer:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/3/hiding-self-harm-sca…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/9/self-harm-scars-in-t…
I hope those articles help, and I hope you and your scars begin healing soon. Let me know if you have any other questions/concerns/comments/etc. Take care.
Sincerely,
Kim

anon
May, 14 2022 at 9:06 pm

About october-ish I started sh due to problems with my boyfriend. I was 13 at the time, I'm 14 now and told my boyfriend that when we got low I did sh, and we talked about it. After that I didn't feel as guilty about not telling him and forgot about it. My addiction was pretty hard. It was almost like even when we were good I needed those scars, I felt like I needed to sh. I did about 20 scratches per thigh a day. I had an addiction to it until December, and I've thankfully gotten out of it. I wore shorts today and I saw these very faded scars. It's been 4 months and I've overcome the sh but when I saw the scars faded, I felt like I had to make more. The urge is horrible and I just need to not do it again because summer is coming again and I want to be able to wear things I want. What do I do?

May, 19 2022 at 11:01 am

Hello,
Thank you for your comment. Know that it's not unusual to feel this way—I've seen many comments (since I started writing here) about fading scars triggering urges to self-harm again, even long after the recovery period has begun. I'm glad that you're trying to keep from going back to self-harming—and that you decided to reach out for some support in doing so.
Before I suggest anything, a reminder: I am not a therapist or mental health professional. I would strongly urge you to connect with one if you feel able to—I think that kind of dedicated support would help you not only with your current predicament, but any other complications that might arise during the healing process.
That being said, there are two things that I personally think are worth considering:
1) Do you think covering your scars completely would help, or make the urges worse? It's possible that if your eye isn't drawn to them in the first place, they might be less triggering for you. If you're not already doing so, be sure to take good care of the skin in that area and think about whether wearing simple coverup makeup, super-lightweight tights/leggings, or even just slightly longer shorts (depending on where your scars are) might help reduce the effect your scars are having on you. If you try this, keep tabs on how you're feeling—if it makes your urges worse in any way, stop right away.
2) The other, more sustainable option (in fact, I would urge you to consider this even if you also try covering them up) is to work on managing your stress and managing your response to this trigger. Since you can't completely avoid your scars (or the fact that they've faded), the main thing is to work through your feelings about this and find ways to cope when the urges come on. I've written a few articles about this, hopefully you will find something useful in them:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/2/using-self-harm-urge…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/10/emotional-regulatio…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/5/alternatives-to-usin…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/3/self-harm-recovery-c…
I hope that helps. Feel free to reply here or comment elsewhere on the blog if you have more questions, concerns, etc. Take care.
Sincerely,
Kim

Miguel
May, 12 2022 at 9:55 am

When I was at my worst point I’d say I cut myself pretty badly. I didn’t have any intent to kms I just wanted to feel something and pain happened to help. My last cut was my turning point but now I just want any info as to help it fade away any faster. I took a knife to my shoulder and cut myself deep. To the point where the flesh was visible for a second before blood started pouring out. I was too afraid to get help. I held myself together with zip ties and tissues and I didn’t stop bleeding for the next 3 days. That was all around a year ago from now I believe. Now I’m left with this big pink scar that’s very apparent and a couple smaller ones. Im here asking what’s the best process/aids for these to fade away. I intend on tattooing over them once they’ve healed enough and leaving all the thoughts with them behind. Any help is greatly appreciated.

May, 13 2022 at 1:58 pm

Miguel,
Thanks for your comment. I'm so sorry that you hurt yourself so extensively. That must have been stressful, to go through that on your own. I know what it's like to feel like self-harm is the only way you can get through things; I hope you've been able to discover some other, healthier ways to cope soon. Have you tried reaching out to a therapist or anyone like that? It sounds like you could benefit from some extra support, if that option is at all available to you—even if you've been able to stop since that last time. I'll link to our resources page just in case:
https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…
That being said, there's no way to force your body to heal faster than it can. If your scars are over a year old, the good thing is you no longer have to worry about infections or anything like that. The best you can do is to practice good skin care—keep your skin clean, maybe try applying aloe gel or a lotion containing vitamin E to see if it helps the scars fade. They still might, but know that it's also possible they might not. Tattoos are one way I know many people have been able to turn permanent scars into something they like—our other (former) writer, Martyna, had a few.
If you haven't yet, you might also want to reach out to a dermatologist. You don't have to explain your scars, although they certainly might ask about how you got them. But a dermatologist is an expert in skin-care; a good one might be able to give you some answers that I cannot.
I hope this is helpful, and I hope you enjoy your new tattoos once you get them. I wish you the best of luck with your recovery. If you have any more questions or concerns, feel free to reply here or comment elsewhere on the blog. I'll be here.
Sincerely,
Kim

Max
May, 9 2022 at 8:39 pm

Hey im Max!
I’ve been sh for a little over 2 years but ive been doing it on my stomach and thighs because they are easier to hide but recently i had like a really rough time and i didnt think and i just did it on my arms/wrists. The problem now is that i have this party soo and its gonna be like 30 degrees celcius and so i have no excuse to wear long sleave and i cant miss it. The wounds are healed but now there are scars that are probably gonna disappear in a couple of weeks but i really need a way to speed up the process!

May, 13 2022 at 1:49 pm

This is a great idea. Depending on where the scars are, bracelets and wraps and such can sometimes be an easy way to hide scars in situations where it may be best to keep them to yourself.

May, 13 2022 at 1:48 pm

Hi Max,
I'm sorry to hear you've been having a rough time. I hope you'll be able to stop self-harming at some point—there are a variety of resources on the blog and on the site in general whenever you want to use them. I'll link to the main self-injury page for now:
https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/self-injury/self-injury-homepage
That being said, let's talk about your scars. It's definitely true that wearing warm clothes in warm conditions isn't an ideal solution. Would it be possible to not hide your scars? Depending on who will be at the party, would it possibly be a good idea to share your scars (maybe ahead of time) and talk things through?
If not, you do have options for hiding them. I've covered several in these blogs:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/3/hiding-self-harm-sca…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/9/self-harm-scars-in-t…
As for healing them, that's obviously the best thing to do, but keep in mind that you really can't force your body to heal any faster than it's going to. What you CAN do is help the healing process along by taking care of the skin in the affected area—keep it clean, especially the wounds, don't pick scabs, and maybe use aloe gel or an antibacterial ointment (make sure it is safe for your skin first--always patch test new products on a small area of skin first to make sure you don't have a reaction). Some people say products containing vitamin E help scars fade faster, but it's not guaranteed. If you do use any products, try to stick to one—don't apply aloe AND ointment AND lotion all at once. :)
I hope this helps. If you have more questions or concerns, feel free to reply here or comment elsewhere on the blog. I hope your party goes well—and as I said, I hope you can start healing more generally in the near future.
Take care,
Kim

Anonymous
May, 3 2022 at 8:37 pm

I have a question, my scars are about a day old and on my upper thigh. I was just crying and wanted to feel something else other than sadness, well I was wondering how long until the red marks go away and how long until they blend with my skin. They aren’t really deep at all.

May, 9 2022 at 10:54 am

Hi!
I'm sorry you're feeling so low that you needed to hurt yourself just to try and pull yourself out of it. I've been there; please know that this is not the only way to feel better, and that you do have other healthier options whenever you are ready to try them. (Let me know if you'd like me to share a few.)
To answer your question—I'm afraid I can't give you an exact timeline, as I'm not a doctor and (more importantly) every body heals at a different rate. However, shallow wounds do tend to heal faster and more fully—especially if you've been able to keep them clean and are taking good care of the skin in the affected area. Since they are recent, I would guess that there's a good chance they will fade soon. The longer they hang around, the more likely it becomes that they will remain visible for a long time.
Know that your scars are nothing to be ashamed of. However, if they don't go away and you do feel that you need to hide them in certain situations, know that you have options for doing so, including wearing clothes that cover them, using makeup to cover them, and even body art (like henna, temporary tattoos, or even real tattoos if you feel that's a viable option—just be very sure before you do anything permanent to your body!).
I hope you are able to heal soon, and that you find ways to stop hurting yourself and start feeling better. I'll be here on the blog if you have more questions or concerns you'd like to share.
Sincerely,
Kim

ren
May, 2 2022 at 6:41 pm

helloo!! i know this may sound like a stupid question but i’m not very long clean and i’m still kind of mid self-harm addiction but i am trying to make it less of a daily thing than before but im hoping to let my thigh/arm scars heal so i could maybe wear short sleeves/skirts in summer if i’m confident enough but i’m kind of just wondering when are self harm scars actually considered ‘healed’ kind of just because the last thing i would want is to trigger anyone but are they more or less just healed after the scab is gone? (almost all of my scars are a redish-purple)

May, 9 2022 at 10:35 am

Hi Ren,
Thanks for your question—which is actually a very good question, by the way. A doctor would be the best person to answer this (and unfortunately, I am not a medical professional). However, when I write about scars being "healed"—yes, generally I mean that the wound is closed up and the scab, if there was one, is gone. There may still be a scar or mark on the skin (that may or may not fade with time), but there's little to no chance of anything going into the wound and infecting it—and nothing leaking from it.
However, that's not to say that your scars are stuck the way they are the minute the wound closes and the scab is gone. Some scars do fade over time and go away completely. Just know that it's also true that some do not. I've had scars that took almost a year to disappear. I also have scars that are more than 5, even 10, years old.
One more thing—I'm so glad to hear about the steps you're taking toward recovery, and I do hope you feel confident enough this summer to wear what you want to wear and feel comfortable in your own skin.
I hope this helps! If you have more questions or concerns, feel free to reply here or comment elsewhere on the blog. I'll be reading.
Sincerely,
Kim

vivAna
April, 23 2022 at 4:35 pm

i have scars on my left thigh just a couple of inches above my knee , I have a very christian family that do not believe in depression or self harm they believe that is a "evil spirit" that entered my body and i know how ridiculous that sound anyways they would absolutely freak! if they ever see that ,i SH In early January ( first time and i hope last) and it is now late April and i assumed that they would've faded by now but they haven't they are kind of dark brown and kinda red and after the shower they are dark purple the cuts arent that deep i cut with a razor and they barely bleed so i assumed they would've faded im so scared and i have no idea what to do can someone help me please?

April, 26 2022 at 12:41 pm

Hi vivAna,
I'm sorry you're in a situation that makes you so stressed about your scars. I wish your family didn't see self-harm as a sign of evil—it absolutely isn't—and that you felt you could talk to them about this. And I hope, as you said, that your first time self-harming was also the last. In any case, don't panic! Every body is different, and heals at a different rate. If your wounds weren't that deep (and if you've still only done it once--repeatedly wounding the same place also seems to increase the risk of scarring) and if you're taking care of them (keeping them clean, not picking at them, etc.), there's still a chance that they will fade, it may just take more time.
Assuming the wounds are closed up and just scars now, the best thing you can do for them is to take good care of your skin in that area—if you aren't already, try applying aloe gel or a hydrating lotion containing ingredients such as vitamin E or cocoa butter regularly to encourage healing. (If you need to get a new product for this, be sure to try a skin patch test first to make sure you don't have an allergic reaction!) Also be sure to protect that area from the sun—a sunburn can make it harder for scars to heal.
I will say that it's not guaranteed that your scars will fade completely. If that happens, know that there are ways to keep them covered, too. In the future, scar removal may also be possible if you deem it necessary. I've written about this a few times:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/3/hiding-self-harm-sca…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/1/is-self-harm-scar-re…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/7/self-harm-scar-cover…
If you can get in contact with a doctor, particularly a dermatologist, that would be a great idea as well.
I hope all of this helps. If you have more questions or concerns, don't hesitate to let me know. I'll be here.
Sincerely,
Kim

Emilea
April, 20 2022 at 8:08 pm

Hi, I have a question about my scars. They are on my wrist and I have had them for a few months and they are sorta faded, I have recently started to try and better myself and I want to know if they will go away.

April, 21 2022 at 3:20 pm

Hi Emilea,
Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear you're working on healing! Before I answer your question, a reminder—I am not a doctor or licensed medical professional. So the first thing I would urge you to do, if you're worried about your scars, is to ask your doctor (ideally, a dermatologist) for input, as they will know more than I do and will know your specific situation better than I can.
However, if they are fading already, and especially if they seem like they are still in the process of fading, it's possible that they may go away entirely after a while, though it may take some time yet. The best thing you can do to urge the process along is to take very good care of your skin, especially in the area where your scars are, and to take good care of yourself in general. The healthier your body is, the easier a time it has healing.
Keep in mind, though, that the extent to which they will fade depends somewhat on several factors that are now out of your control--things like how deep the wounds originally were and how efficient your body is at healing in general. Every person is different, so it's hard to give a definite answer, and next to impossible to pinpoint a specific timeline. So for now, do what you can to help your body recover and see how it goes.
If, in the end, your scars don't fade entirely, don't panic! There are ways to cover them, should you need to, and even some options for removing them if you feel that is truly necessary. Here are some more posts on this topic that you might want to check out:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/3/hiding-self-harm-sca…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/1/is-self-harm-scar-re…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/7/self-harm-scar-cover…
I hope that helps! If you have more questions/concerns, feel free to voice them here or elsewhere on the blog anytime. I'll be reading. :)
Take care,
Kim

Salem
February, 19 2022 at 8:30 pm

I have had the same scar on my wrist since May 2020. When will it go away?

February, 21 2022 at 4:37 pm

Hi Salem,
First, before I answer, keep in mind that I am not a doctor, and that everybody's body is a little different, so I can't give you an exact estimate. However, if you've had that scar for this long and it hasn't faded much (or at all), I would guess that it is going to be there for a long time. Depending on a variety of factors I don't know, it may fade sooner or later, or it may remain fairly prominent—if you're worried about it, I'd suggest reaching out to a dermatologist if you can, as they would be able to look at your scar in person and make a much better judgment call than I could.
In my case, because I am fair and my skin is sensitive, most of my scars have stayed with me. My self-harm scars are more than a decade old, and very hard to see now, but they are still there. My heart surgery scars, meanwhile, are much more prominent but also a bit more recent—just over seven years old—and are just starting to really fade.
If you're distressed about your scars, you might want to reach out to someone to talk about your options—either your primary care doctor, or perhaps a therapist or counselor. Some people opt to try and remove them, or cover them with tattoos/makeup/etc, while others (like me) have kept them but learned over time to accept them. None of these paths is intrinsically better than the others; it's up to you to decide what's best for you.
If you have more questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to comment again elsewhere on the blog or reply here. I'll be reading!
Sincerely,
Kim

Nicolas
February, 17 2022 at 5:30 am

Ignore my last comment I fixed it

February, 21 2022 at 4:44 pm

Hi Nicolas,
It's a little hard to tell what order your comments are in (and if you deleted any along the way; not sure if that's possible or not), so I want to respond anyway just in case you still need help, although I hope you did figure things out and that your arm is already healing.
If you haven't already, please consider talking with your doctor, as they'll know your body better than I do (everyone's healing process looks a little different) and will be able to give more specific advice. But in general, be sure to keep it clean, don't pick at the scab, and just generally take the best care of the skin there that you can. General self-care is good too—the better you take care of yourself in general, the more easily your body will be able to heal itself. This page may also have some helpful info, if you haven't come across it already:
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-prevent-scarring/
Thank you for reaching out anyway, whether you wound up needing my help or not. It's a good instinct to ask for help if you think you need it, even if you do end up figuring out the answer on your own. I hope you continue to reach out whenever you need to, whether here on the blog or elsewhere.
Take care!
Sincerely,
Kim

Swati
March, 31 2022 at 12:15 am

Plzzzz tell me how coz my scar is still completely visible even after 2 years

April, 12 2022 at 10:11 am

Hi Swati,
I'm not sure, but I think you're asking me how to get your scar to go away? Unfortunately, if you've had it for two years, it's already healed over, so there's not much you can do at this point to further the natural healing process. It may still fade to the point of being unnoticeable over time, and taking very good care of the skin in that area can help it do that, but there's no guarantee when this will happen—or whether it will happen at all.
A good dermatologist would be the best person to talk to about your options, but just know that you DO have options. There are a lot of ways to cover up your scars if you're not comfortable with letting them show; some people use makeup, or accessories, to hide them, for example. Or, if you're open to tattoos, I know one of the previous blog authors, Martyna, turned her scars into art with tattoos. You could also get them removed by a medical professional, if you feel strongly about wanting to be rid of them.
Here are some links to posts you might want to read before making a decision:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/7/self-harm-scar-cover…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2019/1/knowing-when-to-cove…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/9/self-harm-scars-in-t…
I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need more help (or if I've misunderstood your question). Take care!
Sincerely,
Kim
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/3/hiding-self-harm-sca…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/1/is-self-harm-scar-re…

reia
February, 13 2022 at 7:08 am

hi there, i’ve been 7 months clean and my scars still look like they’ve been there for a month, they’re purple and around 3mm deep. is there any way i can make them heal quicker? or should i just leave it and see what happens

February, 21 2022 at 4:21 pm

Hi Reia,
Everybody's body is a little bit different, so I can't give you an exact quote, unfortunately. (Also, keep in mind that I'm not a doctor.) But in my experience, scars can take a pretty long time to heal—and some of mine have never completely gone away. But they do often fade, sometimes to the point where other people won't really notice them.
There are some things you can try that may or may not help, but won't hurt. If you haven't been doing so already, make sure to keep the area clean and avoid damaging the skin there further—do your best not to pick at the scabs. If your wounds are open or raw at all, over-the-counter treatments like Neosporin and the like (anything that says it's for wound care) might help. If it's closed up (and stays that way), aloe gel *might* help the skin heal a bit faster and the scar tissue to fade. Here's some more info from Cleveland Clinic about preventing scarring:
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-prevent-scarring/
Just don't overdo it—if you're constantly worrying it or putting too many medications on it at once, this could hinder, rather than help, the healing process. If you're very worried about scarring, I'd also suggest contacting a dermatologist if you can, as they might know some tips or be able to prescribe something that will help, too.
Hope that helps!
Sincerely,
Kim

Jackie
February, 1 2022 at 3:11 pm

I just reached one month and I want to relapse bc the reason I relapsed before was bc my grandmother died and now I'm having to deal with the pressure of choosing my options for my gcse and I feel ashamed that I'm doing this at the age of 14 starting it at 12 I want to stop and I want to be happy but I can't find a way to keep clean and so at times I find myself doing it with a sharpie pen instead bc I want the scars to fade but once they fade they're gone and a part of me doesn't want then to go and I don't know why it's just that they are always there and a sharpie pen you can see the marks but they just don't hurt any tips on how to help keep myself clean

February, 9 2022 at 2:22 pm

Hi Jackie,
Thanks for your comment. What you're going through sounds incredibly difficult, and I can imagine it's quite tempting to relapse and keep going back to something that may have brought you relief, even if only temporarily, in the past. Know that this is a normal, if terrible, truth about recovery—it's going to be difficult to resist relapse at first. Know that if you do relapse (or if you already have), it is nothing to feel ashamed about, though I know that is easier said than done. While obviously it is best to avoid relapsing, it is not uncommon and more importantly, it does NOT mean you have to give up on ever recovering.
First, I know this might be an obvious suggestion, but it's one that always bear repeating. Please, if you can, reach out to a therapist, counselor, or even your regular doctor if you can. Someone with extensive training and knowledge (far beyond anything I can offer) may be able to help you identify your triggers AND what to do about them in as safe and effective a way as possible. If you don't have someone like that yet and aren't sure who to reach out to, consider calling up a hotline—you don't have to be in an immediate crisis situation to ask for help. See this page for some resources to start with:
https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…
If that absolutely is out of the question right now, do you have anyone you know personally that you can lean on for support? I know talking about this is scary, and if you're not ready to disclose your history of self-harm with anyone in your life right now, you don't have to. But speaking from personal experience, recovery is a hard road to walk alone. It CAN be done, at least for a time, but that doesn't mean you HAVE to do it alone. If you don't know someone you can talk to, maybe try a support group? You don't even have to go in person—there are online ones nowadays that can help.
As for what you can do on your own... I'm not a medical professional, so I'm afraid I can't prescribe a particular course of action, but what helped me the most when I was going through it alone included the following:
- Journaling my feelings, both to get them out and to put them into perspective by challenging whether my negative thoughts were really based in reality
(see here: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/8/how-a-self-harm-reco…)
- Listening to music that made me feel good, or at least better
- Really thinking about WHY I wanted to get better, and holding onto that thought whenever I felt tempted to relapse
- Urge surfing (see here: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/2/using-self-harm-urge…)
- Exercise, even just light stretching or yoga
- Improving my diet -- it's not like I don't still eat junk food, but even just making sure to include fruits/veggies and adequate protein every day makes a HUGE difference
There's probably more; that's just off the top of my head. If you feel up to it, you could even try a workbook like I eventually did, or just reading some books that will offer some tips and help you stay motivated: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/9/finding-self-harm-he…
I hope that helps. If you have any questions, comments, or just want to keep talking, feel free to reply here and I'll respond as soon as I can.
Sincerely,
Kim

Megan
November, 1 2021 at 9:22 am

I have just reached 7 and a half months clean of self harm and been having the urge to relapse due to being overwhemled with uni work and scars starting to fade as the slightly raised nature of them had become a comfort to feel. Do you have any tips with dealing with scars and the urge to relapse?

November, 17 2021 at 8:21 am

Hi Megan,
Apologies for the delayed response. It is wonderful that you are working to keep clean of self-harm, but it's also completely understandable to still have to wrestle with these urges from time to time, especially during periods of increased stress. We've got a few posts here on the blog that you might find helpful with regards to coping with urges and preventing relapse. Here are a few about some specific coping techniques you can try:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/10/emotional-regulatio…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/8/tips-for-creating-a-…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/5/using-cbt-for-self-h…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/2/using-self-harm-urge…
And here are a few about scars, specifically:
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/9/self-harm-scars-in-t…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/7/addressing-self-harm…
In your case, since it sounds like the tactile experience of feeling your scars felt soothing to you, I would also suggest looking into physical distractions—for example, I know a lot of people have found fidget toys very helpful in coping with urges like the ones you're describing. And if you feel overwhelmed, if you can, please try to reach out to a therapist or counselor (if you haven't already). That additional support can be SO helpful in navigating difficult moments in the road of recovery like the one you're experiencing now.
I hope that helps! Please feel free to reply here or comment elsewhere on the blog if you have more questions or need more clarity on any particular point.
Sincerely,
Kim

Katrell
September, 2 2021 at 8:20 am

Hello,
do you have any tips for when fading scars are a trigger?
I look at my scars as old friends that helped me through a hard time and watching them fade is like watching a friend walk way.

September, 6 2021 at 9:33 am

Hi Katrell,
Thank you for your question! I can understand how that might be triggering; it's perfectly normal to grieve over losing something, especially if that something is a part of you. I can think of a few things that might be worth a try―but keep in mind that I am not a therapist, myself, and it might be worth talking to one about this if these options don't work for you, or if you have any other triggers that might be exacerbating the issue.
Anywho... my first thought is that you might try and keep a photo diary for yourself? Maybe take some pictures of your scars; you can even print and paste them into a journal, where you can write about why they're important to you and other things that will help you with the healing process. (Or, you can draw them or make other art based on your scars and your journey.)
This is a bigger decision, not one to take lightly, but I also know that tattoos have been helpful for many people. Often, they're used to hide old scars, but in your case maybe a tattoo that pays homage to your past (as well as hope for your future) can act as a stand-in for your scars as they fade; the tattoo won't (or at least shouldn't!) fade anytime soon. However, definitely give this one plenty of thought before you go through with it, for obvious reasons.
I think the most helpful thing, though, might be to find a way to let go. I know that isn't easy, and may not be what you wanted to hear, but it's natural for your scars to fade--it's all a part of the healing process. You can treat it as you would any other loss--you can create a "farewell" ritual, similar to a funeral, to cope with the loss of your scars, and/or use other long-term coping mechanisms (such as writing or creating art to work through your feelings, or using mindfulness exercises to get through moments when the loss of your scars begins to trigger you).
I hope these suggestions help; if you have any questions or other concerns you'd like to discuss, don't hesitate to reply here or comment elsewhere on the blog. I'll be reading. :)
Sincerely,
Kim

Otis
August, 23 2021 at 10:31 am

i look at my scars and wanna re-lapse. ive been self harm free for 2 years now. anyone have any tips on how to help with that?

August, 25 2021 at 5:17 pm

Hi Otis,
It's definitely challenging when your own scars may be triggering you. The first thing I want to suggest, at the risk of being obvious, is to try and work with a therapist to resolve this issue. I cannot overstate the value of finding a mental health professional who can help you find healthy ways to cope that work specifically for you and your situation.
Another idea that springs to mind is to consider whether you might want to have your scars removed (by medical professionals) or perhaps cover them with tattoos. This might help reduce the impact of looking at them, although ultimately I think it will also be important that you find some more coping techniques to add to your repertoire as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can help address the thought patterns that may be leading you to want to relapse, while mindfulness techniques might help reduce the impact of seeing your scars (along with other triggers that may be at work here).
On a more personal note, as someone who still has to fend off certain thoughts and emotions related to self-harm from time to time, I find it helpful to also stop and really think about how far I've come—focusing on how many years it's been since I self-harmed, and how proud I am of my progress, can help me maintain control. Some serious stress-relieving self-care (long baths, going for a walk, exercising, reading your favorite book—whatever works for you) can also have more an impact than you might think.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions or need more ideas, feel free to ask.
Sincerely,
Kim

Chloe
July, 7 2021 at 1:08 am

wow, thank you, the nice note saying 'you are not your scars' made me cry. that was nice to hear <:,)

July, 7 2021 at 8:55 pm

Hi Chloe,
A lot of my inspiration comes from thinking about what things I wish someone had said to ME, back when I was actively self-harming. Which means I shed a few tears myself, writing posts like this. But they're good tears; they're healing tears. :)
So thank you so much for your comment! It helps me to know that I can help, even in a small way.
Sincerely,
Kim

Grace
June, 28 2021 at 12:38 am

A friend of mine is having problems with her scars, they're putting her in a dark place, and I don't know what to say to help her feel better about it.

Anonymous
June, 30 2021 at 8:29 am

Do the scars make her want to relapse, or remind her of the situation when she made them originally? Either way, it would be important to empathize with her, and she's lucky in this case that she has a friend who cares about how she's feeling. You may have already unintentionally, and it can be tough in this situation especially if you don't/haven't self harmed (use caution - if you haven't self harmed, saying something like "it's okay, everyone has scars" probably won't be helpful) First and foremost, it's important to listen, reflect her emotions, paraphrase a little, before offering suggestions. She may not even wish for suggestions, just for someone to listen and understand.
If she does ask for suggestions and she's thinking of relapsing, encourage her to talk to a therapist, ask if she has reasons she may not want to (dizziness, her parents or future partner), and encourage her that she is strong and brave for going through this battle. People also self harm for different reasons. Some do it out of anger, sadness, I personally do it as a means to escape my situation (which may be more universal, I'm not sure). Beating up a pillow isn't really a good alternative for me, then. You can probably find alternatives to self harm online, but keep in mind the emotion behind it - for someone who wants to escape emotions that seem unescapable, finding activities can seem impossible, but perhaps something that she can quickly and intensely focus on - like watching an engaging movie or drawing a detailed drawing. Even just talking or being with her could really help. My therapist keeps talking about "stimulating the vagus nerve" and I'm still not really sure what that means, but maybe it would help her.
If it's the original situation that she's reminded of... again, just listen. Show you've heard her, that she's not a monster for having gone through these things, and that she didn't deserve it. With this instance particularly (and all the others), you're not her therapist, you're her friend. And yes, they do overlap a little. You want to be there for your friend, and to help her. But if you feel lost, if she only comes to you for help, or if you're getting worn out, there's NO shame in suggesting she talk to a therapist, and be honest that you care about her but you don't know how to help. I make all of these suggestions because I've both self harmed myself and I'm studying to be a therapist. And playing the role of therapist to a friend can be draining - be there for her and talk to her, but if it gets to be too much, reach out to someone.
Anyway, there's also the question of if she is upset about seeing them just from her perspective, or worried about other people seeing them/what they would say? (or maybe both?) If the scars are old, it may be easier to let others see them by explaining that she's not going to self harm anymore. If not, it can be harder. I haven't personally experienced letting those I'm close to see my scars, because I know their heart would break. Frankly, though, if I did, I wouldn't have to worry about hiding them constantly, and it would probably be a good motivation not to relapse. Also, you know about her scars and talks to you about it, which means that she trusts you a lot. Good for you :). People can have a range of reactions to other people's scars, from fear, anger, sadness, confusion, and patronization. If she's really concerned about others seeing them, maybe she can use makeup, bandaids, or clothing. They will fade with time.
If you have any more specific questions or want to talk more about it, I hopefully should get some sort of notification.

July, 7 2021 at 9:05 pm

Hi Grace--and Anonymous :)
This is an excellent answer to a difficult question. It's definitely hard to know what to say to someone you care about when they're going through a dark time--especially when you may not have experienced a similar situation for yourself. I think the most important thing here, that we can't stress enough, is to LISTEN. Try not to jump directly into offering solutions--this can make her feel like you are trying to "fix" her, instead of helping her. Instead, try asking her what she would like you to do--you can literally ask something like, "Do you want some suggestions, or do you just need to vent right now?" If she wants advice, then by all means, point her to therapy, to self-care, and to anything else that can help her. (Although try not to throw too many ideas her way at once.) If she does not, however, just be with her (either in person, or on the phone, or however you can communicate) and be ready to be patient. Sometimes, it's enough just to sit in silence together--although you might feel like you're not doing enough, what you're doing is reminding her that she is not alone and that she has someone who cares and wants to help in any way they can.
And as has already been mentioned here as well, take care of yourself, too. Set boundaries if you need to. And consider whether it might help you BOTH to find someone else to talk to, whether that's a therapist, a support group, or even just someone on a hotline who can talk you through a particularly bad night. (Hotlines can also help you find long-term help, if you're open to that.) Here are some resources, if you're interested:
https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…
Please do respond, or comment again, if you have more questions or concerns. You are not alone in this struggle--either of you. Don't forget that.
Sincerely,
Kim

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