illustration of young woman sitting alone in woods hugging knees

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I’ve been struggling with self-harm off-and-on for 16 years, and many people have tried to help me. They meant well, but often they did more harm than good. I thought I would list responses that are helpful and unhelpful.

First:

1. Don’t panic.

When you panic my anxiety skyrockets and I want to run from you and hide this problem. I’m personally not suicidal. I’m just hurting.

2. Encourage me to talk to a counselor about what’s going on.

The self-harm is a sign there are some complex emotional things going on, and a professional counselor can help me work through these. I am currently seeing a counselor, but I’ve been in counseling off and on for years. If I struggling with self-harm, check in to make sure I am talking to a counselor or other professional about it.

3. See if I am physically OK or need medical attention. 

Try to ask me in a non-invasive way, out of care, concern and respect for my privacy. If I do need help, maybe you could take me to the doctor or ER and be my advocate if medical professionals are not respectful.

4. Don’t lecture me on how bad this is.

 I know it is risky. When you judge me and lecture me I feel worse about myself, so I feel more tempted to injure myself. When you lecture me about how self-injury is wrong, I feel ashamed and terrible and may start hiding it as the problem gets worse.

5. Don’t threaten me.

Don’t say things like, “If you keep injuring yourself, then….” Or, “If you injure yourself one more time, then…” I’ve had people say threatening things like this to me. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on me and the stress makes my temptation worse.

Instead:

1. Listen without judgment.

I know self-injury doesn’t make sense, but this is a real addiction I struggle with. I usually want to injure myself due to overwhelming emotions and anxiety. Sometimes my emotions are so intense I am completely overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. Be that person I can call or talk to when my emotions and anxiety are out of control. Just listen. Listening is often the best thing.

2. Accountability.

This has to be done in a careful way with an agreement between me and the friend. For example, I’ll make an agreement with someone that each time I injure myself, I have to let them know. Then we might talk about what happened if I feel up to it. It helps to get this out in the open. Just no threatening or lectures if I mess up. Accountability only works if I am completely on board.

3. Positive affirmations.

When I am struggling with self-injury, I am feeling really low about myself. These are the times I feel like I’m not worth anything, that I’m “crazy,” that I deserve to be hurt. Tell me specific things about myself that are positive. Remind me I am valuable, and that I don’t deserve self-injury. If I have already injured myself, tell me I am still worth something, and that tomorrow is a new day.

4. Give me ideas of distractions.

In the moment, when dealing with thoughts of self-injury, I sometimes forget all my coping skills. There are lists online of distractions or alternatives to self-injury. Remind me of some of those ideas. One is to hold an ice cube in your hand until it melts.

5. Change the topic.

Listen and let me talk it out, but if my thoughts start getting really circular and obsessive, gently try changing the topic. Sometimes I keep obsessing over these thoughts, and it’s not healthy. Maybe you can find something else to get my mind off those obsessive thoughts. Sometimes I have dealt with thoughts about self-harm just by distracting myself — by turning on the TV and becoming absorbed in a movie or joking about something with a friend.

6. Volunteer to come sit with me or take me out somewhere.

It’s often not good for me to be alone when I’m in this state, especially if my thoughts are obsessive. Volunteer to come over and sit with me or suggest somewhere we can go. Maybe I can share all my emotions with you, and cry it out, or we can find something to do that gets my mind off self-harm. If we are together, I’m safe from myself. It helps to know I’m not alone.

7. Ask me how you can help.

Often I will think of something in the moment that would help.

8. Tell me that you don’t think any worse of me now that you know.

After I confess to someone that I struggle with self-harm, I panic my friend will judge me and think I’m “crazy.”  When a friend tells me, “I still see you the same, I don’t think any less of you,” that gives me an incredible amount of comfort. Self-injury is my deepest secret. My struggle with self-harm brings me embarrassment and shame. When a friend tells me, “I still love you. I don’t think any less of you. I still think you’re a great person. I still want you in my life.” When a friend speaks to me that way, I am often moved to tears. For a moment I see myself through their kind eyes, and I think maybe I don’t have to harm myself after all.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration

RELATED VIDEOS


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I can feel the cold liquid spread onto my forearm and the stencil is placed on it. I can hear the buzzing sound of the needle start up beside me, and I clench my teeth. This is going to hurt. The buzzing gets closer to my body, and I start to shake. I sense the familiar feeling of the needle on the surface of my skin. Instant pain. I gasp and flex my forearm muscle, but it’s no match for his strong hands keeping me from moving. After a few moments, I calm down, letting the pain of the needle continue its path to creation.

And then numbness creeps up and overcomes me. It consumes my entire being and shows me a light at the end of the dark tunnel my life has turned into. The sensation of releasing myself into the hands of the tattoo artist gives me the rush of adrenaline like no other. I don’t want to feel, I don’t want to be. Whisk me away and do everything you can to keep me from drowning in my own sorrows and tears.

The pain of the needle becomes one with my body and it feels as if it is a part of me — a part of my being. The consistent hum finally settles my nerves and gives me a sense of place in the world — a sense of belonging to the earth. I can almost taste it.

The feeling of that needle keeps me from screaming. The etch of the design on my skin is my way of coping, my way of not self-harming, but still getting the feeling of self-harm in some way. It’s a soothing feeling. Maybe from myself, from my own demons that fester inside of me. These demons bury me in their infestation of despair and loneliness, but I am able to breathe fresh air again through the injection of the ink.

If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, you may know what I’m talking about. You may even agree with me when I say it’s a coping mechanism. For me, it’s also a way of expressing to others in a creative way what means the most to me and what I have struggled through during my lifetime. Recently, or rather extremely recently, I got another tattoo. It’s a peony flower with the roman numerals “XVI.” That’s the number 16. It represents and serves as a reminder to me of the 16 days I spent in the psych ward.

When I look down at my skin, it brings back vivid memories of things I will forever remember, but it also helps me live through tough times. To look at my tattoos and know I will survive is freeing for me. They give me strength to face whatever bullshit is being thrown at me that day, that week, that month or even that year. They are my security blanket, and I am not ashamed to admit that.

Over the past three years, I have gotten quite a few tattoos and piercings. For some people, they are rebellious and unacceptable. For others, they are ugly and a waste of money. For me, they are my story. My tattoos are what have saved me from self-harm. My tattoos have made me feel human and real. My tattoos have made me feel like me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via dimid_86.


As the weather gets warmer and summertime nears, many of us have started daydreaming about beach vacations, time off school and more chances to be outside. But with sunshine comes something that might be stressful for people who have self-harm scars — pressure to wear more revealing clothes, both for comfort and to “fit in.” It can feel like a lose-lose situation when you’re trying to decide what to wear. Will people ask questions if you wear long sleeves? Will they stare if you don’t? It’s a tough spot to be in, especially if you feel like you’re in this alone.

To empower people with self-harm scars who are nervous for this summer, we went straight to people who get it — people in The Mighty community who have self-harm scars themselves — and asked them what they would tell someone in their shoes. Whether you decide to bare it all or keep yourself covered this summer, there’s no shame in your choice, and always remember you’re not in this alone.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “As someone who has scars from self-harming, I would tell them it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our scars — some just wear them differently — and that doesn’t make us any less strong or beautiful. It shows that we’ve fought a fight and that is absolutely not something to be ashamed of or afraid to show.” — Kristina K.

2. “People will stare, but not necessarily for the reasons you may be thinking. They may be thinking, ‘They must have gone through a lot,’ and you may even pass someone who has scars from self-harm and sees you embracing yours — that may give them the strength to do the same.” — Megan E.

3. “Wear whatever you want! If you’d like to keep them private, however, I can show you exactly how to cover them with makeup. Whether you want them on display or not is totally your choice and both are valid but never, *ever* be ashamed of your body.” — Shoshanna J.

4. “I had this problem for many years. Both my arms are scarred from cigarette burns and cut marks. These are over 20 years old. I’m 45 now and spent many years wearing long sleeves only, including in the summer… As time went by, I slowly talked myself into wearing short sleeves, in short bursts, until I became more comfortable and confident… Baby steps.” — Nicola D.

5. “I remember the day I wore a tank top for the first time, my healing scars still raised and red. I felt like they were screaming my secrets. But I did it, I wore it anyway. And guess what — the sunshine and saying no to feeling ashamed healed my scars and my soul more than I knew was possible. I don’t want to say that people didn’t notice but the ones who I cared about — they loved me anyway.” — Marielle E.

6. “Nine out of 10 people won’t even notice, to be honest. They’re all wrapped up in their own lives. Or they won’t know what they are. Wear whatever you want.” — Naoko P.

7. “It’s an unfortunate balancing act, weighing up your trust in people to be understanding (or at least accepting), against your ability to accept them potentially treating you awkwardly in the future (or at worst, removing themselves from your life). The stakes become a little higher in a professional rather than social situation. But the risk can have its rewards — often people may pleasantly surprise you.” — Dan H.

8. “People are probably going to look at you — some children might ask their parents what happened to you. Some people will judge you, but you’ve already proven you’re stronger than all of that by still being here today. You’ll be nervous, but you’ll realize that in the end nobody will care. People will look and people might know what happened, but you may be able to help someone else who is about to pass out from the heat who is covering the same scars you had the courage to show. They are a part of your story as a person. Do not be ashamed of what helped you cope for so long. I know you’ve heard that these are battle scars hundreds of times but every time you’ve heard it those people were telling you the truth. Do not avoid the sun because you know that will make them stand out more. You are strong. You are powerful. You are courageous and you can do this.” — Morgan S.

9. “‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.’ I would tell [others] that I love them and care for them and that their scars don’t define them, that there is so much more beauty around them, and that their scars are proof that they have survived and are winning the battle.” — Conor L.

10. “Everyone has scars, but not everyone’s scars are visible. You are stronger and have battled through the unbearable suffering so be proud of your scars…. you have physical proof that you are a warrior.” — Laura B.

11. “You do you, boo. It’s nobody’s business why or when those scars were put there. Be proud of your body, no matter how scarred you might think it is. — Laura C.

12. “Every scar is a reminder of how far you’ve come and how strong you’ve grown to be. I wear my self-harm scars with pride because every day I go without a new one is a small victory.” — Lindsey Marie G.

13. “Do whatever makes you comfortable. You have nothing to be ashamed of and should feel free to wear anything you like. However, there can be the odd occasion where you don’t want to or are too tired to deal with rude questions that might arise, and shouldn’t feel bad about wearing something that’ll conceal the scars if it will make you feel better.” — Caz G.

14. “Each scar tells a personal story… don’t be ashamed. It’s proof that you’ve made it through your hardest challenges and overcame it. You’re beautiful/handsome no matter what.” — Cherish I.

15. “Your scars are a part of your story, but they don’t define you. There is no shame in your coping mechanisms — they show that you did cope! Also, your scars are an opportunity for you to educate other people, if you’re comfortable with that. You’ll get stares, some shaken heads, but you’ll also find compassion.” — Christina S.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Thinkstock photo via GaudiLab


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

By its nature, self-harm is a secretive and isolating behavior that can make it feel like you’re the only person on the planet who struggles with this issue. In reality, 17.2 percent of adolescents, 13.4 percent of young adults and 5.5 percent of adults self-injure, so none of us are alone. It can just feel that way.

This is where the power of a self-injury support group can make a huge difference in recovery. However, despite potential positive benefits, there are few self-injury dedicated support groups in existence, and this largely comes down to continued stigma.

Many practitioners still mistakenly believe self-injury is primarily an attention-seeking behavior. Therefore in a group setting, those who self-injure will need to increase the behavior in order to “gain attention.”

This is simply false.

Self-injury serves as a maladaptive coping skill to deal with difficult emotions, often arising from co-occurring mental illness, trauma or other issues. Many who self-injure want to recover, and support groups for self-injury can focus on dealing with the difficult emotions causing self-injury, treating self-injury as the symptom it is rather than piling on stigma by framing it as a personality defect.

This being said, self-injury contagion is possible in a group setting. Strict language guidelines — using terms such as “self-injury” or “self-harm instead of specific behaviors — ensure group members are not encouraging or triggering other members. With these guidelines in place, those who self-harm can build a healthy support system and share resources for recovery in a group setting, a powerful tool for making positive changes.

If you’re looking for self-injury-specific support groups, Psychology Today’s group directory can help you find resources in your area, as well as To Write Love on Her Arms’ local resource guide. S.A.F.E. Alternatives runs a clinic out of St. Louis and has a handful of S.A.F.E. Focus groups throughout the United States. And if you can’t find a group in your area, start your own!

If you’re struggling with self-injury, know you’re not alone. There’s no better way to discover this than safely engaging with peers who are walking the same path to recovery from self-injury in a group setting.

Follow this journey on Self-Injury Foundation

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

My left arm is often covered in visible carvings of chaos. The scars leave a resurrected reminder of satisfying shame. Sometimes after a self-beating or binge, I take to the shower as if I can wash off the marks of “madness.” But, no amount of soap can drown the proof down the drain. The documented evidence, like perfectly organized files, now permanently in my skin.

If this all sounds too familiar, then I am deeply sorry. I do not write this to trigger you, or to encourage this emotional intervention. However, I do feel self-injury is something we must discuss, share and learn more about in healthy and helpful ways. I also speak out because I was 25 when I made my very first cut. I was an adult; I did not know anyone else who self-injured at the time and I never engaged in self-harm as a child. This was a whole new world, and a universe I was so easily drawn to. The spinning out of control happened quickly, and my life began to revolve around self-harm and secrets.

My self-harm “career” began out of anger and frustration. As the method laid within my reach, it seems like it just happened. With one time, the storm settled, my mind calmed and just for a moment the suffering of my soul was outwardly omnipotent. Months have turned to years of an employment to anything that could potentially harm me.

The broken skin eventually heals, creating a cycle of reopening the wounds emotionally and physically, sometimes interfering with the healing process altogether. This cyclical spiral leaves you feeling confused and confined. Self-injury is absolutely an addiction, and because of its taboo nature, it often goes untreated for longer periods of time.

I would like to tell you it is easy to quit, that it’s easy to simply put down, but it’s not. However, I can tell you there is light in your crevasses. You won’t see this light overnight (nights are always the hardest), but moving momentarily away from the urge can make moments turn to minutes. Then, whole days without inflicted harm on your luminous body and soul. Imagine sitting outside on a warm, sunny afternoon wearing shorts and a tank top, not having to hide your battle wounds — embracing your body and loving the way the light feels on your skin.

To anyone else who finds a way to destroy the light which lives underneath your bruised and broken skin, you are not your labels. Your name is light-bearer. Healing can begin the moment you recognize the light that lives within you.

Try to see the light that breaks through your cracked canvas, and use its radiating energy to get up, to reach out and to ask for what you need. You need light and you are light. Take this moment to scrap the self-harm and shine.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Christopher Windus


For a millisecond it escaped my thoughts to keep my sleeves down. It was a ridiculously hot day in a lecture theater as we waited for the lecturer to begin the presentation on “professionalism within the workplace.” I briefly rolled up my sleeves to try cool down, but as I did I caught a friend looking at my left arm. I could feel myself filling with shame, a flush of embarrassment slowly creeping from inside me, all the way up my neck, my cheeks and my forehead, making me feel even hotter.

I quickly pulled down my sleeves and used them to try and cover the nervous sweat that began to perspire on my face.

For the whole of that lecture I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think was, “What if she doesn’t want to know someone as ‘messed up’ as me?” “What if she tells everyone else?” “Is this going to change her opinion of me?” “What if she goes to the university and tells them I shouldn’t be here?”

Similar questions went around and around in my head all morning, thinking up different scenarios of how it could all pan out. I could barely hold a conversation because I was so distracted.

It came to our lunch break and as my friends walked ahead I was still in a daze and didn’t realize  the friend who had been on my mind all day wasn’t with them. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and as I turned around I was met by a huge embrace. She held for a moment and then very quietly she asked, “Can I ask you something?” I hesitated but nodded into her shoulder as the embrace continued. “Are you being safe?” I nodded. “Are you keeping them clean?” I nodded. “You know I’m here if you need to talk?” I nodded again.

The embrace tightened.

We released, smiled at each other, and continued walking to catch up with the others.
I had to hold back tears when rejoining the group, as this was the first time I had ever spoken about my self-harm, albeit just three simple questions, followed by three nods. I’d spent my day worrying about how a friend would treat me because of the way I cope. She’d spent the day waiting for the right moment to catch me in private and show her support and understanding.

She did not make a huge fuss. She did not make me feel bad. She did not dramatize the situation. She simply made sure she knewI was safe and that I knew that she was there for me. She has not brought it up since. I get the occasional, “Are you OK?” with a tone of voice showing there’s more meaning behind the question than when used as a conversation starter, but she knows I will approach her if needs be.

That support, love and understanding will stay with me. I am thankful for her kindness, more thankful than she will ever know.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by eugenesergeev

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.