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Why We Shouldn't Shame Adults Who Self-Harm

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 went out for dinner yesterday with one of my oldest and dearest friends. We have been friends since we were 12 and she has supported me through 10 years of depression, anxiety and horrific self-harm.

As friends often do, she asked me how I am doing. I currently own my own business and things haven’t been easy.

I responded truthfully that I haven’t been doing great; my mental health has been suffering hugely and as a result I have relapsed into self-harming.

It has taken me years to admit to friends that I have self-harmed for the past 10 years. It used to embarrass me a lot. My friends, my family and my fiancé are not stupid people. Of course they don’t believe me when I say that the huge gaping scars across my arms and legs are ordinary accidental injuries. But that’s what I’ve always said: “I caught my arm on a nail, a cat scratched me, I fell over.” They don’t push for more, but I see the concern, and often judgment.

I still ask, why is there such a stigma around self-harm?

At 13, I was branded “attention seeking.” At 17, I was branded “stupid.” I spent years in school with teachers ignoring the blood on my blouse from that evenings session. I spent years wearing long sleeves in summer. I had a counselor tell me that I was childish at 14. My own father told me I was disgusting and my body was ruined. All of these things pushed me to self-harm more. All because they did not understand.

I don’t want to die. I have never wanted to die. But I do want to cut myself. It releases the pain I am feeling. It is my coping mechanism and it probably always will be. It is the only thing that helps.

So as we sit talking about this, my friend listens intently. She tells me, “If you need to do it, do it.”

I have had nearly 10 years of counselors telling me to avoid doing this. “Go for a walk, read a book, draw something.” OK, I will do that, then I will finish that and still want to cut myself. Why delay the inevitable?

Recently, a new doctor came to my surgery. I have never told a doctor the stem of my self-harm, but within five minutes I had told him everything. He helped me more than any counselor ever has. He told me that if I want to self-harm, then do it. I think I am obviously in control of it because I am sitting here talking to him. Suddenly, the shame that hangs over my scars disappeared. Here was a grown, professional man telling me that I am OK; not only that, but he also told me it was no wonder that I feel the way I do.

I haven’t cut myself since.

I know I will again. I realize this is something I will be doing when I am 50. More people need to be educated on self-harm. It is not always a cry for help, it is not for attention. This is a real thing. The adult women and men that self-harm — we know what we are doing. As long as the stigma exists, the more taboo it becomes and the more we are judged. I have learned to embrace my scars. I let my arms and legs out during the summer. I attempt to educate those who ask about my scars. This is not a cry for help — this is me. These are my scars and I am proud have them.

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.

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 Unsplash photo via Clem Onojeghuo