Do Self-Harm Scars Ever Go Away?
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.
1. Scars, National Health Service. Accessed March 2, 2020.
Kim Berkley (2020, March 19). Do Self-Harm Scars Ever Go Away?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2020/3/do-self-harm-scars-ever-go-away
Author: Kim Berkley
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:
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.
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?
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:
And here are a few about scars, specifically:
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.
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.
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. :)
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?
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.
wow, thank you, the nice note saying 'you are not your scars' made me cry. that was nice to hear <:,)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.