Before treatment and beginning recovery, some of us might have used self-injury as a maladaptive coping skill. While we have learned to move beyond our past and found better ways of coping with stressors and powerful emotions, we might still have retained scars from our past. We might feel embarrassed when people notice these scars from cutting, burning, or other self-injurious behaviors (SIBs). We might worry that our scars will impact us in the future when seeking employment, entering romantic relationships, or pursuing other ventures.
Whether or not a person hides their SIB scars is a personal choice. Some people might have scars that do not attract much attention, looking as though they could have other explanations. Others have cut marks up and down their arms, which might have no other apparent cause than SIB. While we might not want to feel ashamed of our past behaviors, we might also not want to explain our scars to everyone we encounter.
Overcoming Shame in Recovery
Dealing with shame in recovery is one of the most significant obstacles to growth. Everyone in recovery has some form of “scarring,” whether mental, physical, or social. We have felt some pain in our lives, whether a person felt rejected by others due to social anxiety or a person felt stigmatized due to episodic psychosis with schizo-affective disorder. However, for those recovering from SIBs due to body image issues, borderline personality disorder, suicide attempts, or other intense anxieties, we do not have the chance to hide our past. Our scars might fade, yet they will likely be with us for life.
One crucial aspect of recovery is overcoming shame and accepting ourselves. Our past does not need to define us for our lives, and as our scars fade, we can note the progress we’ve made in our recovery. We can accept our past for what it is, recognizing that when wounds heal, they are stronger than they were before. Like our scar tissue, we are stronger after facing our issues, admitting that we struggled, and challenging ourselves in treatment.
Taking Our Time to Feel Comfortable
Whether or not we should feel comfortable showing our scars depends on us. We might need more time than others to feel comfortable discussing our past with others. Recovery is a lifelong journey, meaning that we have time to consider how we will face our obstacles as we build healthy skills. We also need to consider being comfortable with not feeling the need to explain ourselves to others. Not everyone needs to know about our past. When we feel comfortable enough to choose whether or not to discuss our past without an overwhelming need to explain ourselves, then we know that we’ve developed a great deal of confidence in recovery.
Context Might Be Crucial
We might want to consider the context of hiding our scars from others. Will we be comfortable potentially feeling vulnerable in the situation? For example, if we are nervous about an upcoming job interview, feeling vulnerable about our scars might only compound our anxieties. If we are going on a first date, we might not feel comfortable enough to dive deeply into our past until we build a level of security within the relationship.
Everyone takes their time to expose their vulnerabilities, whether they have visible scars or not. We all take our time feeling secure with others or in different situations before feeling comfortable enough to be vulnerable. On a first date, most people are reserved as they gradually build comfort. During a job interview, few people act like their true selves. Within each situation, the context can dictate how we act and what we are willing to divulge about ourselves.
What Can I Do in the Meantime?
In early recovery and treatment, we might feel comfortable expressing ourselves only to others within supportive environments. When we get out into other social settings, like at school or work, we might not be ready yet. In the meantime, we might want to consider some of the following strategies until we feel comfortable enough to openly show our scars:
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts
- Bracelets, watches, or other jewelry that can cover scars
- Concealing and make-up can help cover up scars
- Band-aids can also hide scars
- Preparing a “story,” such as, “my cat scratched me” or “I burned myself cooking”
Unfortunately, some people might judge us without knowing us, and within specific contexts, hiding our scars might be necessary to just get through a situation without feeling exposed. However, as we grow in our recovery and feel more comfortable, we can decide whether we want to openly display our scars. As we learn healthy ways of coping with our emotions, we can start to feel more confident about ourselves, our pasts, and the bright future ahead in recovery.
Self-injurious behaviors (SIBs) can be a maladaptive means of coping with extreme distress and powerful emotions. As individuals recover during treatment, the scars of their SIBs might remain for the rest of their lives. Each person will develop comfort and confidence in their own time in recovery. They might not want to show their scars for fear of needing to explain themselves or being rejected for dates or jobs. Cutting, burning, and other SIBs can be a sign that something is going wrong on the inside. While these acts might provide temporary relief, SIBs will not solve the deep-seated issues beneath the surface. If you have a child struggling with trauma, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, or other problems leading to self-injury, there is hope for recovery. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here for those needing additional support for their emotional and behavioral concerns. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.