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When Self-Harm Is Invisible

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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.

Article updated July 22, 2019.

When many people hear the term “self-harm,” they may instantly think of cutting. They likely think of scars and bruises covering the body, signs that would unmistakably mark a person as a “self-harmer.”

But self-harm can come in all kinds of forms, and not nearly all of them are visible. It can mean starving yourself, refusing to give your body the nutrition it needs. Or exercising excessively until your whole body aches without giving it a much-needed break. It can also mean getting yourself in dangerous situations on purpose.

For me, it often means taking a walk through the beautiful, snow-covered neighborhood in deepest winter — without a jacket. And maybe pressing my skin against the snow until I can’t feel my fingers anymore and my whole body goes numb from the cold. Or sitting in the shower with icy cold water pouring down on me causing the same effect.

It can even be more subtle, not targeting your body but your mind, and eventually your soul. Sometimes it means cutting contact from your family and friends, not allowing yourself the company of your loved ones. Or backing out of things you looked forward to just to sit at home instead and tell yourself how worthless you are and that you don’t deserve to have fun.

The scars on my wrists only show an insignificantly small amount of the harm I have done to myself over years and years. I stopped cutting myself four years ago. And that is when people think I stopped self-harming. But I never did.

Just because someone doesn’t have scars, bruises or burns all over their body doesn’t mean they’re OK. And not everyone who harms him or herself may even know they’re doing it, because they may not be aware what they do is considered “self-harm.”

The truth is, everything you do that harms yourself, body or soul, no matter how subtle, is self-harm. Knowing and identifying that might be the first step in learning to stop.

Image via Contributor.

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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Originally published: January 11, 2017
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