What Makes You So Uncomfortable?
One thing Alex and I have received commentary on is the image we use for our Understanding Self-Harm page. We’ve had a few people comment that they fear it will be triggering, that the sight of someone’s arms with healed scars will encourage them to cut. The interesting thing is these comments have not come solely from sufferers, they have predominantly come from people with little to no experience of mental health. The sufferers I have spoken to both on social media and the real world have said that an image like that was NOT triggering at all. It didn’t encourage the need to cut. If anything, it showed that you can get to a point where the cuts will heal. Cutting can stop. So the dirty little secret seems to be that it’s not because of a fear of triggering. People don’t like the image because it makes them uncomfortable.
The Dirty Little Secret
I have self-harm scars. There, I’ve said it. I have scars on my stomach, arms and legs that I inflicted upon myself when my mental health was in a pretty poor state. My recovery is happening day by day, with the help of medication despite a woeful lack of contact from my therapist. (I haven’t had a session with her since November due to her cancelling) In that time I’ve had two instances of self-harm and whilst that sounds bad, neither relapse was as serious as previously. I’ve been able to get past them with the support of Alex and my family. But my scars are very visible if I’m not vigilant in keeping them covered.
And I do. I hide them from everyone if I can, even from the man I love and who loves me. It’s not from a fear of triggering someone (my partner has had issues with self-harm too), but from the stigma and judgement that arises when people encounter self-harm scarring. Self harm is now a dirty little secret. I hide how my depression has manifested because of the reactions from others. My previous partner would make me feel guilty, shout at me and generally make me humiliated that I’d harmed myself. When I should have been treated with understanding and care, I was treated with anger and disgust.
Why Do People Judge?
As a society people are not good with difference. There is an ingrained aversion to anything that does not conform as what we think of as ‘normal’. There is a prevalent (and worrying) trend for a certain type of body image. Whether it’s ripped abs or being a size 6 with DD breasts, there is increasing pressure from media of all forms to appear a certain way. And scars do not fit in with that.
I’ll give you an example; look at the picture below. It was circulated on Facebook as the woman featured had chosen rather than undergo painful reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy, to have a beautiful tattoo celebrating that she survived breast cancer. This picture of her breast-less, tattooed body was posted and very quickly there was a backlash. People complained that it was obscene, gross, wrong and Facebook responded by getting the picture removed.
There is an almost daily stream of semi-nudity (in some cases full nudity) of numerous celebrities. That’s ok, but someones survival of breast cancer is not? The truth of this dirty little secret is society doesn’t like to be reminded of illness. Whether it’s cause is mental, disease based or genetic, there are people who cannot bear to see the physical manifestations of illness.
In the same way some cancer sufferers wear a wig to hide their hair loss, self-harmers cover their scars because of the judgement and embarrassment they face from the world. We are ill. Self harm is a physical symptom of mental health problems. I have never come across a true sufferer of depression where the need to hurt themselves was instigated by an image of someone else’s scars. What drives you to pick up a blade, or scratch or any other method is within you. It can be a need for self destruction, self-hatred, a release from anxiety or from numbness. It is NOT because you’ve seen some scars.
So maybe we need to look at it this way. An image is not triggering. It’s just making you uncomfortable to see something that you’d prefer didn’t exist. But depression, anxiety, self-harm; they all exist and pretending they don’t is just as harmful to sufferers as if you’d handed them the blade yourself.
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