3 Misconceptions about Self-Harm

This post has been on my mind and heart for a long time, and it’s definitely one that has made me nervous to hit the “publish” button. I’ve talked pretty openly about emotional struggles and mental health issues. One aspect I’ve never mentioned until today is that I am recovering from self-harm. I’m so grateful now to be able to put the word “recovering” in that sentence, and I have an incredible counsellor to thank for that – though it can still certainly be a struggle for me now.

 

I started self-harming when I was 14 and didn’t seek help until I was 24, thus it became a deeply ingrained coping mechanism after 10 years. Self-harm (or some call it self-injury) can literally become an addiction. People generally look down on those who self-harm, and there is a lot of resulting stigma and shame attached to it. Because I’ve been through it, I want to clear up three common misconceptions about self-harm.

 

3 Misconceptions about Self-Harm + My Personal Experience With It

3 Misconceptions About Self-Harm

 

1. People just use self-harm to get attention.

The majority of people who self-harm go to great lengths to hide the evidence. Often they are ashamed of their behaviour and would be mortified for others to find out. However, there are some people also who do seemingly “show off” their injuries. If they are going to that length to get attention, then they need help just as badly as those who hide it. It is not the norm to intentionally inflict pain on oneself.

 

This also goes with the idea that only teenage girls self-harm. It’s difficult to get accurate statistics because it is so hidden, but the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates 1-4% of the population is affected. The rates are higher in teens and females, but self-harm can affect anyone.

 

2. Self-harm is cutting.

While cutting is one method of self-harm, there are many other forms. Some of these include burning, hitting, scratching, or pulling out hair (which is called trichotillomania). There is no one form of self-harm, and it may not appear the way you expect it to.

 

Along these lines, it is important to note that it is unhelpful to try to determine a “severity” of the injuries or to compare anyone’s individual experiences. Self-harm is self-harm, and it is always an unhealthy behaviour.

 

3. People who self-harm are suicidal.

Sometimes a person who self-harms does go on to commit suicide, but the two are completely separate acts. Self-harm itself is not done with the intention of ending one’s life, and that is the most important difference. It is usually an attempt at managing stress and coping with overwhelming emotions.

 

Most people who self-harm do not want to die; they are just trying to deal with life. Unfortunately they’ve learned an unhealthy method of coping. Sometimes, though it seems counterintuitive, it’s even a means of avoiding suicide.

 

For my own story, in recent years I’ve also been working through body confidence issues and have started wearing a regular bathing suit (instead of shorts). At first I was terrified of people seeing my scars. While I’ve got them in different places on my body, the most dense area is my upper thigh.

 

I decided to get a tattoo over top to transform my scars into something beautiful. It was an incredible part of the healing process for me and has marked a new part of my life too – choosing to love myself instead of hate and being able to deal with life in a healthier manner.

Self Harm Scar Cover Up Thigh Tattoo

Self-harm can become an addictive behaviour which makes it extremely difficult to stop once the cycle has begun. If you struggle with self-harm, I encourage you to confide in someone you trust and seek professional help. You can learn better, healthy coping skills that will eventually take the place of the self-harming behaviours. It will be difficult, take a lot of time, and there will likely be relapses, but I can say from my own experience, that it is so worth it.

 

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35 Comment

  1. Reply
    Brenda
    July 23, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    You are a very courageous woman Grace. I have been enjoying getting to know you better and at a deeper level.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      July 23, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks so much!

  2. Reply
    Ashutosh
    July 28, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Yes you are right sometimes we do harm ourselves just to seek attention but in many cases it turns out to be evil.
    You really complied things nicely over here grace.

  3. Reply
    Modern Mom
    July 28, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    The tattoo is very beautiful. Congrats on taking the path towards recovery. Wish you all the best.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      July 29, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks so much!

  4. Reply
    Theresa
    July 29, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for writing this, self-harm is such a multifaceted addiction. It can come in all sorts of ways like you stated and it’s not healthy. I know for me I always looked at it as better than hurting someone else or being mean to them. The recovery part is so hard, such a long journey….one day at a time.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      July 29, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Exactly. I wish you all the best on your journey with recovery as well.

  5. Reply
    agirl
    August 23, 2015 at 4:11 am

    oh my god. thankyou for writting this post (found it through google images) i too have most of my scaring on my upper thighs and wanted to be able to wear a bikini one day so i have wanted to get it tattoo for ages (bc no on knows about them and i dont want anyone too) and i wanted to get flowers too!!! i don’t know if its weird that i cried when i read the part about you bc it was soo much like me and i haven’t come across that, i was searching tattoos over self harm scars and it all came up on wrists, and yours was the only thigh one. anywayssss thought i had to comment to let you know that i appreciate this post! xxxxxxxxx

    1. Reply
      Grace
      August 24, 2015 at 12:16 am

      Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and let me know about your experience. It’s always wonderful to hear someone else say, “Me too!” and know you’re not alone, especially with these kinds of difficult experiences. I am so happy to hear that this post resonated with you and was helpful. Good luck getting your tattoo!

  6. Reply
    Debbie Thompson
    September 30, 2015 at 11:14 am

    I came to your blog through the commentathon and the title of this post caught my eye because my son has self-harmed. I feel so helpless about it and he refuses counseling. You are so brave to share your story because it will help so many others. Interesting about your tattoo – I was wondering if someday my son will get a tattoo over the cuts on his upper arm. I’m so glad you’ve found help and wish you all the best in your continued healing inside & out!

    1. Reply
      Grace
      September 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

      Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about your son. Self harming becomes so addictive. Thank you for your kinds words. I hope your son will find the desire to get help soon, and I wish you all the best as well.

  7. Reply
    CherylAnn
    February 5, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for your courage, Grace! What a beautiful tattoo…a powerful symbol of self-love for that part of your body that carried your pain.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 6, 2016 at 1:07 am

      Thank you so much! That’s a beautiful way to put it. 🙂

  8. Reply
    Dee
    February 5, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this Grace, you have definitely helped me understand this more. I am sorry that you went through this but am so happy that you are recovering. I love your tattoo, it’s beautiful 🙂

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 6, 2016 at 1:08 am

      Thank you. 🙂 I’m glad to spread awareness and understanding.

  9. Reply
    Kendra
    February 6, 2016 at 11:40 am

    What a beautiful tattoo! And I’m sure it is a great reminder to you about how important it is to stay on the road to recovery. And what a courageous woman you are to put this out there for the world to see. But if you can help even just one person…well how beautiful would that be?

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 6, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. 🙂 It was definitely scary when I posted this, but the response I’ve had has been so worth it.

  10. Reply
    Niamh
    February 8, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Great article – Very brave to hit the publish button on something so personal. Also love your tatt!

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 9, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Thank you so much. 🙂

  11. Reply
    Ashleigh
    February 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    That tat is gorgeous!

    I had have major depression in high school and I was suicidal. Your first point is also true about attempting suicide. I did everything I could to hide that I was hurting. I didn’t want any attention. I didn’t tell a soul about it until over a year later when I started therapy (at college, so my parents wouldn’t know about it). I don’t think I ever self-harmed, at least I didn’t in any physical way (unless lack of sleep counts?). But I definitely inflicted emotional self-harm on myself. I didn’t need anyone to put me down; I took care of that myself. The best part was no one could tell.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 9, 2016 at 9:34 am

      Thank you! You’re right about suicide not being for attention either, no mental health issues are. I can relate to beating myself up in my head. I’m glad to hear that you’ve seen went to therapy. I hope you’re doing better now.

  12. Reply
    Deb
    February 9, 2016 at 1:39 am

    Posts that you’re nervous about publishing are always so important for people to hear so THANKYOU for sharing your story! You’ve certainly helped me understand this addiction more. I love your tattoo and I hope it gives you a lifetime of pleasure and healing ☺️

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 9, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Aw, thanks so much for your reassurance. I’m glad the post was helpful and informative.

  13. Reply
    Kei
    February 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you for bolding sharing your story, Grace. I love how you’ve embraced it to make a difference for others. You never know who it might help heal along the way, and it’s certainly helped me to better understand as well. Your courage is very inspiring!

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 9, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  14. Reply
    Jane
    February 10, 2016 at 12:16 am

    Grace, thanks for being brave and vulnerable to write about your self harm journey, I could feel the fear in the writing but you did it anyway. What you share about the misconceptions of self harm will help many who find your writing. What a great way to cover up your scars with a beautiful tattoo, a creative way to celebrate your body. I hope this piece of writing is broadcast out to a bigger audience so you help more people as it deserves to be seen by everyone suffering from self-harm.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 10, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Thank you!

  15. Reply
    Lehua
    February 11, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you for having the courage to post something so personal and close to you. I used to be a high school counselor, and it was heart-wrenching to meet with students (often females) who were suicidal, engaging in self-harm, and/or in abusive relationships. I was new to the field at that time, and didn’t know how to do much else aside from listen and be there for them. Also, I love the idea of transforming your scars into something beautiful. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Semicolon Project but I just thought of it– it’s a supportive place for people who self harm, are suicidal, etc.

    This is such a powerful post that needs to be shared more, because these myths often make it harder for people who self-harm to get the right help. Parents, friends, and other loved ones who don’t understand may react in a negative way and will only make it worse. Becoming educated on what’s going on inside and how they can react in a supportive way instead will be the best course of intervention. Thank you again.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 12, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Aw, thank you so much for your kind words. Wow, I can hardly imagine being a high school counselor, that would certainly be heart wrenching. I think you were right in listening and being there for them for sure. It’s true that the stigma and misunderstandings create worse reactions. Combating those is the intention behind this post, so I am glad it is meeting its purpose. I love that you mentioned the Semicolon Project! It’s so great, and that might just be my next tattoo.

  16. Reply
    Al
    February 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    These issues are happening all around us and we just don’t know sometimes. I lost a friend to suicide nearly 10 years ago. Saw him one night, and the next day he was gone. The sad thing is that we, his friends, thought that he had all the support and love in the world, but he had an internal struggle that none of us was aware of. Thank you for this brave post.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 12, 2016 at 3:07 pm

      Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, due to stigma, shame, and misunderstandings, most people do suffer in silence which prevents them from getting the help they need. That’s why I hope this post will help expand awareness and compassion.

  17. Reply
    Michael Knouse
    February 15, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Grace, thank you for sharing so honestly. I believe that healing comes through love and transparency and you are displaying both so beautifully. My heart grew stronger just by reading these words “choosing to love myself instead of hate and being able to deal with life in a healthier manner.” Wow. I can’t begin to tell you how powerful this hit me. For some reason, when I read these words, I felt a strong sense of peace and calm – almost as if you are letting me know that it’s okay to chose love instead of hate and that there’s always a choice to pursue a new and healthier path in life. Thank you for this powerful gift.

    1. Reply
      Grace
      February 15, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Wow, I really appreciate your heartfelt comment. Feedback like this is wonderful to hear. 🙂 I’m glad that my post impacted you so positively.

  18. Reply
    Linnéa
    October 20, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story Grace! Luckily I’ve been blessed to be alive after harming myself when I was a teenager. I’m 23 now, healthy as can be but I’m still ashamed of my scars. I thought about tattooing over them so I wouldn’t need to be ashamed anymore, but I realized these scars are a reminder that today I am alive, that I made it out of that deep black hole, that there is hope after all. So I’ve tattoed on the other side of my arm “Give me strength when I’m standing and faith when I fall”, so I can look at my tattoo, look at my scars and think there’s no shame in being alive and deciding I’m doing my best for never getting back there again.
    You are strong and brave, always remember that. You have the power to influence and maybe help someone else who is in that dark place now.
    Thank you!

    1. Reply
      Grace
      October 20, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      Aww, thank you so much for sharing your story as well! I love hearing other people’s stories of strength and triumph and healing, and I’m honored that you felt like you could tell me yours. I am so happy to hear that you are still here and have recovered from self-harm. I think it’s incredible that you chose not to cover up your scars and instead allow them me inspire you. It’s so beautiful! As Glennon Doyle Melton would say, Carry on Warrior!

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