There are a lot of misunderstandings regarding self-harm, many of which have lead to ostracising behaviour and unkind prejudices. I try not to write too often about anything personal on this blog, but I was confronted with a reminder of this topic at work today, when a young girl came and spoke to me, and I could see the old, familiar white lines across her wrists and forearms.
Initially, I felt sad. I looked at her and felt bad about all the insecurities that I thought she must have faced, all the pressures and the self-loathing, the potential abuse, the past tragedies that she must have endured. I looked at her, and I wanted to say something; to tell her that I understood, and that I hoped that it was all in the past, but of course, I didn’t say anything like that. All I did was try to put an extra warm smile on my face when we said goodbye.
I started thinking about it though, and it wasn’t long before I started critiquing my own assumptions. You don’t have to be under pressure to want to hurt yourself, you don’t have to be insecure to judge yourself, and you certainly don’t have to be depressed to cut yourself. I’ve heard of people being made to cover up their scars if they don’t want to lose their jobs, or not being hired because of them in the first place. I assume it has little to do with the aesthetic of the scars, or even the awkward ‘Should I say something?’ interaction that may eventually take place. No, I assume it’s more because they believe it to be a sign of emotional instability, of psychological fragility, of an unreliable personal life, or other issues of that nature.
In terms of the actual reasons, there are too many to list in full, but a fairly common one stems from a desire to be in control. People who feel like they don’t have much control in their personal lives or career may like the thought of being able to make a lasting, significant impression on something, even if it’s on their own skin. Some people do it as a reminder of their own reality and humanity in the face of one of many forms of disassociation. Some do it because they like the pain, some because it excites them, either sexually or because they know it’s a taboo. Many may do it for attention, possibly because the scars can ask for help louder than they can themselves. For some, it’s a morbid curiosity or a fascination with things like blood or pain. Some people use it to mark a passage of time or as a barometer of progress, by making the cuts and then watching them heal. Of course, some people will be perfectly ‘normal’, and yet feel a desire to do it without knowing any reason beyond wanting to, no different than someone wanting to play video games or watch television. There are a plethora of other reasons too, but it’s such a personal matter, that no one would know besides the person in question.
So here is the heart of the matter. I am a self-harmer. I don’t do it too often, and I don’t do it too severely, but I do do it. I can say in all honesty, that if it weren’t for the concern of upsetting my girlfriend, who regularly gets the honour of seeing my unclothed body, upon which it is rather hard to hide any fresh scars, I would do it far more often. I did it as a child, with scars dating back to when I was twelve, and there was a time when it was associated with depression and feelings of weakness or a lack of control; but now, it’s a totally different experience for totally different reasons. I won’t go into it all now, but I will say this:
I have two jobs, neither of which I ever let down in terms of unexpected absenteeism, poor performance, unprofessional outbursts, or poor inter-colleague relations. I have lived in a healthy relationship for many, many years with my girlfriend. We share a home, a car, a cat, and a bank account. I am polite to everyone I meet. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t do drugs. I have hobbies, acquaintances, and a good relationship with most of my family.
Were you to see my few scars (which is unlikely, as they are better hidden than the ones belonging to the young girl I met today), you would probably make a slew of assumptions about me, many of which would be completely erroneous. There are a myriad of reasons a person may feel the need, or just the desire, to self-harm. I implore you never to meet someone with scars, and guess what their reasons are; chances are, you’ll be wrong. Everyone deals with everything differently, everyone sees everything differently, and everyone handles everything differently. If you can’t understand that, then you’re in far greater need of psychological improvement than someone who slides a razor across their thigh to help them get through a difficult day.