Why We Shouldn't Judge Someone Struggling With Self-Harm

An issue surrounding the misconceptions of self-harm and has recently come to my attention.

I work at a restaurant where the uniform consists of a short-sleeve button up shirt. The short sleeves are completely fine for all of my coworkers. But for me, it’s a bit more difficult.

I don’t make a conscious effort to hide my scars at work from my coworkers and customers. I don’t see it as something that should be hidden. I occasionally catch people staring at my scars, but that’s fine. They’re out in the open, so I don’t expect them not to look.

Some customers ask me what happened to my arms. I never come clean about the real reason I have them because it’s too controversial and misunderstood. I don’t have time to explain my life story and keep them from becoming sad for me. I figure that my job isn’t to make them worry or pity me. My job is to be kind and serve them.

On the other hand, I don’t have a problem explaining my scars to coworkers. One of my coworkers has responded negatively to them, but the rest have either not asked or have understood and accepted them.

Recently, I opened up to a newer coworker about my scars. I had put it off for a while because quite frankly, I wanted him to like me, so I didn’t want him to freak out or see me differently. When I felt the time was right, however, I told him the story of my arms. He wasn’t surprised. He had assumed that self-harm was the cause, he just asked to make sure and to hear my my story.

I appreciated his maturity. He did ask some somewhat “inappropriate” questions, but I answered them because he wasn’t being rude in any way. He was just curious. A couple of his questions were:

“How deep did you cut?”

“Did it hurt?”

“Did they bleed a lot?”

“Why did you like it?”

I answered all of his questions honestly. I’ll take any chance I can get to inform others about self-harm, even if some of the questions are hard to answer. In fact, I was glad that I could answer his questions. I didn’t feel like I was withholding the truth, which is good because I like to be an open book.

A week or so later, he approached me in the back and said he had a story to tell me.

“The other day, someone came up to me and showed me their arm and said they cut, but they were only a couple of scratches.”

I was confused as to where he was going with this, so I asked him what he said back.

“Well, I told them that I know someone who actually cuts — which is you. Their cuts were nothing compared to yours.”

I was shocked. I asked him if that’s what he said, word for word. He explained that’s not exactly what he said, but that he thinks they’re faking it.

I explained to him that you can’t judge or compare self-harm. Cutting is cutting, no matter how deep the wound. If someone is bringing a sharp object anywhere near themselves with the intention of hurting themselves, they are struggling and need help.

I understand that there might be some people out there who hurt themselves for attention. Even if they’re just “doing it for attention,” there’s something going on in their life that’s causing them to strive for that negative attention, which is cause for worry. Despite the situation, you don’t get to be the judge of whether their self-harm is “real” or not.

Self-harm is a serious problem. Someone with 13 cuts can be struggling just as much as someone with 30. Someone with cuts that are less deep than someone else isn’t necessarily in a less serious situation than the other person.

You’re not allowed to look at someone’s cuts, burns, bruises, etc. and decide how bad they’re struggling. Your job is to simply be there and to listen. You don’t even have to understand what they’re going through. All they need from you is your presence and love.

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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