To Hide or Not to Hide Self-Harm Scars

March 26, 2012 Natasha Tracy

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 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.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, March 26). To Hide or Not to Hide Self-Harm Scars, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

May, 14 2022 at 11:18 am

i don't frequently sh but a week ago i relapsed, and i do it on my left thigh. i live in michigan so i figured that warm weather wasn't going to come any time soon but sure enough it's in the 80s, and it's not going to change. the weather has almost been too nice, and the worst part is currently at our house the air conditioning isn't working, which is hell as it is but my parents keep asking me why i'm not wearing shorts around the house and why i'm not wearing shorts at school. i just told them i didn't have any that fit, and that only put me in deeper shit because now my mom wants to go short shopping with me. i feel like i can't say anything now, and i can't get out of short shopping. i'll tell her not to go in the dressing room with me, but she's going to make me walk out with every single different pair and show her. and i also want to wear shorts!! i couldn't care less if my friends and ppl at my school saw my cuts but if my parents did i think they'd send me to a hospital. idk what to do, makeup doesn't work.

May, 16 2022 at 1:54 pm

Hi Charlotte,
I'm sorry you self-harmed. I know the kind of pain that drives a person to do that. I've been there. I used to self-harm (especially as a teen).
You are in a difficult situation and I don't think you're going to like my answer, but you need to tell your parents. Telling your parents on your own terms is much better than them finding out in any other way (like when you're shopping). Sit one or both of them down and just tell them what is happening for you. It may not be easy, but it is worth doing. They care for you. They can help you.
I know there is a big fear around going to a hospital but that's not typically the first step for people. The first step for people who self-harm is usually therapy. There are therapists who can help you with that behavior so you understand why you do it and so you don't do it again.
What I suggest is that right now, you call a helpline and talk to them. They will listen to you and provide support. They may even be able to support you with talking to your parents. A school counselor might also be able to help.
The short story, though, is this: self-harm is not a helpful coping skill in the long run and it's something you need to get help with to stop. Telling your parents can start that process.
You can do this.
- Natasha Tracy

March, 9 2021 at 12:08 am

I recently saw a video saying that any video where you might accidentally/purposely show your self harm marks or scars should have a trigger warning. I don't know if i agree with this but now I'm worried I'm going to trigger people when I'm out in public.

March, 10 2021 at 9:22 am

Hi Caiti,
It's great that you don't want to trigger people inadvertently while out in public, but I think you need to understand that you need to live your life and other people need to take responsibility for their lives. You cannot be responsible for someone else's life or reactions to your life. It's impossible and it's not your job.
So go about your life in the way you are comfortable. Unless you're trying to harm others, I think that will be just fine.
- Natasha Tracy

May, 2 2019 at 8:13 pm

This makes me feel so much better about my scars and myself. Recently my mother saw some of the old scars on my thighs and arms and said that they make me ugly and that I should hide them. Usually I don't mind showing them because they are apart of me but that made me feel really bad and that I should hide them. Now I realize it doesn't matter and that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

December, 28 2016 at 4:42 pm

I self harm. I don't cut, but rather use sharp objects and saw away at my skin until it breaks. This is becoming a frequent thing, and I don't want to have to put makeup on my fresh scratches because then it just feels more noticeable. What can I do to hide them?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 12 2019 at 3:37 pm

Try wearing long sleeves ( if the scratches are on your forearms) if they are around your wrist area then wear a watch or bracelets or something thats your style, but at the same time not something thtt you dont usually wear, if their on your thighs then id recommend basketball shorts or pants (sorry i listed what i do to hide my cuts and it works really well for me)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 22 2022 at 6:39 am

Sebastian's comment listed all the usual ones long gloves also work for a lot on the arm even fishnet type ones

July, 12 2015 at 11:18 am

This made me feel a lot better about my scars. Thank you.

lyttle green
February, 8 2014 at 1:04 pm

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 ?

November, 10 2013 at 5:34 am

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..

April, 9 2013 at 6:13 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about self-hamr. Regards

July, 25 2012 at 3:09 am

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.

Whitney Erin
May, 28 2012 at 12:39 pm

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.

May, 18 2012 at 12:06 pm

Why the ankles, if I may ask?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 12 2019 at 10:16 pm

Easy to hide with socks, can still wear shorts in the summer.

May, 6 2012 at 6:03 am

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.

April, 20 2012 at 8:25 am

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.

April, 12 2012 at 2:02 pm

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.

Natasha Tracy
April, 4 2012 at 5:24 am

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

April, 3 2012 at 7:52 pm

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?

April, 2 2012 at 5:36 am

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.

Natasha Tracy
March, 31 2012 at 5:45 am

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

Natasha Tracy
March, 31 2012 at 5:42 am

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

Natasha Tracy
March, 31 2012 at 5:41 am

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

March, 27 2012 at 3:25 pm

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...

March, 27 2012 at 2:45 am

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

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 27 2019 at 8:04 am

i compleatley agree with you. its not all females that self harm, and more pepole need to realise that too <3

March, 27 2012 at 12:05 am

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.

Natasha Tracy
March, 26 2012 at 6:41 pm

Hi Port13,
Glad I could remind you you're not alone out there :)
- Natasha

March, 26 2012 at 1:00 pm

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

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