At one point or another we feel shame for some stupid thing we did or said. Shame is a natural human feeling, but it’s an awful feeling that makes us want to hide from the world. Self-injury brings on feelings of shame. These feelings are sometimes due to the stigma attached to self-injury. They are also brought on by past trauma. We sometimes think the abuse we suffered in the past was our own fault and the injuring is, in a way, a punishment we believe we deserve. Our own wounds and scars produce feelings of shame for what we have done to ourselves and shame from questions from curious observers.
When I self-injured, I would rip into my skin, and once the high was gone, I was left with a wound. How would I explain my injury to others? People always ask questions when they see a cut, a bandage, or some kind of injury. I couldn’t just tell them I did it to myself. They would judge me. They would think I was crazy or even dangerous.
I was judged throughout my childhood. Not too many understood what a learning disability was. I was marked as a retard who would never amount to anything. I struggled with the labels and stigma that were attached to my disability throughout grade school and into high school. I didn’t want to face judgment again as a young adult, this time related to my self-injury. I had worked hard to rise above the prejudice I faced in school and I didn’t want to fight a similar battle again.
When I injured, I wore long sleeves to hide my injuries, or I cut in places where I could cover them up easily. I never cut myself deep enough to cause scars. Scars raised too many questions that I did not want to answer or lie about. I also didn’t want the constant reminder of my own stupidity. The shame of my wounds was hard enough to deal with.
After every time I hurt myself, anguish, guilt, and shame tore at my insides. My thoughts raced as my stomach twisted. What if my mom walks in while I’m in the shower or changing shirts? What would she say? What would she think? What if a friend noticed a bandage peeking out from under my shirt? What excuse could I give him or her? I couldn’t let them see what I had done. Would my self-injuring prove I was a loser? I couldn’t be judged again. I wouldn’t allow myself to face my school years all over again.
I hated myself for injuring, but I didn’t know any other way to deal with my internal pain. With each cut came shame, secrets, and lies. One day my mom saw cuts on my arm. I lied to her and told her I had fallen into some thorn bushes. I was too ashamed to tell her, “I did it to myself because I hurt so bad inside and I need help.” If I would have stood above my shame and told the truth, my mother could have found me help sooner.
By educating people about self-injury through our own stories, we are taking the steps to reduce the stigma surrounding self-injury. With less stigma, maybe injurers will be more comfortable telling others what they are doing and that they need help.
Don’t let shame keep you from getting the help you need to stop hurting yourself. Find a therapist, a good friend, or a family member to confide in. When I finally turned to my mother and told her what I was doing, she went out of her way to find me a therapist who could help me. She never judged me the way I feared she would. Instead, she embraced me with love.
Facing my shame and reaching out for help is what led me to the light and allows me to dance within the light.
I found my information about shame from self-injury in the book, The Scarred Soul: Understanding and Ending Self-inflicted Violence By Tracy Alderman, Ph.D.