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12 'Harmless' Comments That Actually Hurt People Who Self-Harm

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Opening up about self-harm to a loved one can be a difficult thing to do. It’s especially difficult when someone responds in a well-intentioned, but ignorant way that can leave you feeling unheard, judged and invalidated.

Sometimes these “harmless” comments come in the form of an incredulous question. (“Why would you do that to yourself?”) Sometimes they come with a word of cringe-worthy “advice.” (“If you just put your mind to it, I know you could quit that nasty habit!”) Most often, they come from a place of misunderstanding mental health struggles. And even though these “harmless” comments may come from a good place, they can often invalidate the struggles of someone struggling with self-harm.

Whatever you’ve heard, we guarantee you’re not alone. We wanted to know what hurtful responses members of our community have received about self-harm, so we asked them to share their own experiences.

Remember, no matter who said what, your experiences are valid and you deserve compassion. 

Here’s what our community told us:

1. “Why would you do that to yourself?”

“’Why would you deliberately do that to yourself?’ ‘Are you doing it for attention?’ I wore long sleeve shirts in summer and my parents found out almost two years after I started at age 13. It’s a behavior I’ve lived with my whole life. I’ve been ‘self-harm free’ for three years now. I’m 38.” — Nicole L.

2. “What happened to you?”

“I hate it when people ask about my scars on my arms. I usually just say they’re from my cats. When my boyfriend and I were on our first date, he asked about my scars. I said it was from my cats as usual. He didn’t press the issue, and conversation moved on. Later I happened to catch a glimpse of his wrist and saw his scars. I gasped and said, ‘You have them too!’ He told me gently, ‘I know they’re not from cats. It’s OK.’ I knew at that moment he was the one. We’ve been together almost five years now.” — Chelsea O.

3. “You aren’t really serious about it unless you self-harm on your arms.”

“’They’re on your thighs so you obviously aren’t that depressed. If you were really suicidal, you’d cut your arms.’ I cut on my thighs because I was terrified of anyone ever finding out I was depressed. I worked so hard to put on this fake happy bubbly persona but I was literally dying on the inside. I cut on my thighs because I was so ashamed of myself so I hid it for years.” — Katelyn G.

4. “Those are just scratches…”

“’Those are just scratches.’ I make it a point to not cut deep, but someone told me this and I wanted to cut deeper because of it.” — Zoe S.

“’It’s not self-harm if there’s no blood.’ No, my panicked fits of scratching my arms raw and pulling my hair out while bawling because it is taking everything in me not to find a blade of sorts is not self-harm. That doesn’t hurt at all. I was just itchy…” — Alysha P.

5. “What do you have to be sad about?”

“No one will really understand what a certain individual is struggling with. When someone says that to me, I feel even more ‘worthless’ than I already do.” — Candice A.

“’You don’t even have a reason for doing it.’ This was after I’d just opened up to a ‘friend’ about it. I hadn’t even gotten to the reasons why I was doing it. Made me feel really guilty, as if I was doing it for nothing even though I knew in my head the reasons.” — Amy W.

6. “You could stop if you just put your mind to it.”

“’You can stop that if you just put your mind to it.’ When your mind is the cause of your self-harm, it’s hard to see that a change in mindset may suddenly make things better. It made me feel like I wasn’t in control of myself, that I was ‘stupid,’ and that I was being ‘childish.’” — Megan G.

7. “People who self-harm are attention seekers…”

“’You’re just attention-seeking, only people who do that are seeking desperate attention.’ I never wanted anyone to find out. If my mother didn’t tell the whole world, it would have been easier, but after she told everyone to try and embarrass me to stop, it made me attempt suicide. I’m glad now it didn’t work, but I still struggle with the battle in my mind to stop.” — Lelani A.

8. “You shouldn’t be so destructive. There are better ways to cope.”

“When people tell me, ‘There are better coping methods than being destructive like that.’ I know they’re trying to be helpful but sometimes it’s more difficult than just stopping a habit right away. It takes time to work on new coping mechanisms and slip ups are always possible. The only thing that others can do is show support and be understanding.” — Lisbet F.

9. “You know that’s a sin, right?”

“’You know it’s a sin. Just look at the positive side of everything and you will be fine.’ I know they mean well, but it doesn’t help me at all. First… I know it is bad to self-harm, but you can’t control it because everything that you have to endure makes you feel numb and dead you just need an outlet for all of it. Second, if it’s as easy as ‘Think positive,’ I would’ve done that a long time ago because having a mental illness is very, very exhausting. As much as I want to think positive, it’s just doesn’t work like that.” — Avi T.

“When my mom first found my cuts/scars she said, ‘How could you do that to yourself?’ ‘God doesn’t love girls who hurt themselves.’ Our relationship is a heck of a lot better now, but I can still remember that day so vividly and it was five to six years ago. People don’t seem to think before they speak when it comes to something so difficult to discuss.” — Morgan M.

10. “Stop doing that. The scars will make you look ugly.”

“I’ve had people tell me I’m gonna ‘scar up my body and make myself look ugly.’ I’ve been told I did it for attention, even though I pretty much hid the fact I was self-harming until I was hospitalized for it. I’ve also been told I was too young to be depressed/self-harming. The list goes on. It just sucks that people can be so ignorant, insensitive and judgmental towards mental illness.” — Natalie V.

11. “You’re too smart for that!”

“You really think self-destructive behaviors have to do with intelligence? If I was really ‘too smart’ to do that why did it take years for anyone to catch on? … This isn’t an issue of smarts, it’s an issue of pain.” — Marie V.

12. “At least your scars aren’t noticeable.”

“’At least they aren’t noticeable,’ is pretty common (talking about scars).” — Cheyenne L.

If you’re struggling with self-harm you’re not alone. We are so grateful you’re here and in our community. If you need support, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question about it on the site to connect with people in our community who get it.

Unsplash photo via William Krause

Originally published: October 1, 2018
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