We are well aware of the places our suffering can bring us. It can bring us to denying ourselves food, or to using alcohol or drugs in a way we would never have gotten close to before. For others, suffering traps us in our beds or apartments for days. And for many, it can lead us to physically hurting ourselves. Unlike the other moments or seasons that can be hidden or denied, the scars from self-harm live on, even after we have recovered from those dark places.
We can conceal or cover up them up, but the scars from self-harming cannot be erased, and sooner or later, they might be seen by someone new.
Whether we have recovered or are still struggling with engaging in self-harm, how can we overcome the stigma we experience from these very visible, tangible scars? After all, they represent, externally, the brokenness we have endured, internally.
The word “stigma” means “a mark of disgrace, associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person” with the synonyms listed as “shame,” “disgrace,” or “dishonor.”
Wow, just reading those words feels so heavy, like a weight thrown on an already-fragile frame. Not only are we enduring our emotional pains, but we also physically feel the scars and are reminded, and then we have to endure an outward weight of judgment on top of it all?
But, who decides who gets disgraced, who is called dishonorable? Those who can more easily conceal their scars? There is no “particular person” who only deals with suffering, who receives scars both emotionally and physically.
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We are all human: delicate, breakable, vulnerable.
No one is immune to pain, some are just better at concealing or avoiding it than others.
Breaking stigma requires tremendous courage, which you have, whether you believe it or not. Your strength can be found in the open and free light of truth.
What remains shoved in the dark will continue to be disgraceful. until it is brought to light. In the light, we prove its inability to master us.
Stigma has us believe we should feel bad about ourselves for what we have done.
Overcoming stigma starts with the work of telling ourselves, and others, our worth is not tied to what we have done. We show our honor and grace through our honesty and humility. We simply acknowledge who we are and our story, no more, no less.
As for our friends and family, when their eyes hover over your scars, and there is the familiar cocktail of dread, panic, and embarrassment in the pit of your stomach, think to yourself how most of them truly care about you. Even in silences or quick changes-of-subject, they are reacting out of fear of hurting you further or causing you more pain. Their hesitancy should not be read as avoiding something disgraceful, but as an uncertainty of how to help.
Again, this is where we can end the stigma through acknowledging the reality (not to mention high prevalence) of self-harming, and talking through our actual stories and experiences.
If you are uncomfortable sharing your story, you can still acknowledge the other person, and engage in their compassion and support. A simple “look, I know you are concerned or unsure of what to say right now and it’s okay. I am honestly not ready to talk about it right now either, but your support really means a lot to me” can still convey to the other person the subject is not off limits or taboo, and can help us feel more confident in ourselves and our ability to speak up.
Everyone has scars, and whether yours are more hidden or more visible, we all can overcome the stigma associated with our pain.
Through acknowledging the presence of scars, and creating for ourselves a new definition, not of what makes us shameful, disgraceful, or dishonorable, but of what makes us worthy and courageous, we can overcome the stigma.
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