Silencing Self-Harm

shhhAn email I received after yesterday’s post, (quoted with permission):

“I just read your post from yesterday and I just wanted to say I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I go to a private school and self-harm is not spoken about enough.  I’ve recently been isolating myself a lot more after I was told I had to wear a cardigan under my blazer because I have scars on my wrist. I also have a friend at another school who got removed from boarding because she self-harms, making her feel more isolated and picked on.

I understand that it’s not good for other people to see it but I spend many hours worrying about people seeing it and that has just made me even more worried. I also got told that I wasn’t allowed to talk to my friends about it, hence why I isolate myself.  Only 3 of my friends know and (in the past) they would ask me if I’m okay and stuff and now that doesn’t happen. I understand that my friends shouldn’t be burdened with my issues but I now feel really alone and isolated.

I have teachers I can talk to but they’re not the same as friends. Schools need to start talking more. There are many girls I know who have issues and aren’t getting help because they are scared to talk about it.”


There are many reasons why people self-harm. It can be a cry for help or a way of managing severe emotional distress; such as dealing with sexual abuse. In this situation the person may already have been silenced for many years.  You already feel ashamed and guilty and isolated.

Here’s the thing: you’re not silencing the self-harm.  You’re silencing the harmer. Self-harm is writing on their body the things they can’t say. And when they’re told to hide that too – well, there’s nothing left.

18 thoughts on “Silencing Self-Harm

  1. Ooooh, I’m angry. I think I can identify that I’m angry with the parents for not cherishing the dignity of their daughter by leaving her in a school that is sacrificing her soul on the alter of their reputation, and that’s why I’m pissed at the school too. Most of all I’m angry at the Evil One who is devouring the souls of our sons and daughters in his war against the beauty of God found in every living soul. They need weapons in a battle that they are out gunned in, and the weakest and most vulnerable don’t need to ‘grow up’ they need our care and protection.
    And I’m sad. Sad that we still sacrifice children to idols, sad that we’re more interested in our own comfort than the eternal souls of our neighbours and sad that we don’t believe half of the gospel that we say we do, or we would fight the battle in the confidence that our Brother has already accomplished the victory and I have to include myself in that.

  2. The thing about schools and self-harm in our experience is that you do everything in your power to hide it from all teachers and adults there, and any other student who might start rumours or let something slip to a member of staff. Your life is generally made many times worse if the school know anything about your mental health as they have a total incapability to deal with issues competently and sensitively.

  3. I went to two schools that both dealt very badly with the problem. One tried to pretend it didn’t exist. I was called in to see the Headmistress and told that “if I couldn’t even look after myself, I would never be able to be responsible for anyone else.” The counsellor/psychologist I saw for a bit abetted the problems by making my home life impossible – he told my mother everything I had said. I wasn’t given any space to tell anyone about the abuse which had happened, and it was many years before I could trust anyone again.
    The second school was better in some ways, but much worse in others. The staff worked on rotation in the sick bay area, and one of the nurses was helpful but encouraged me never to say anything that I had done to myself, because she would have to act on it, and it would just cause more problems. The other was nice to begin with, but could not understand why it wasn’t a case of just “stopping” hurting myself. I always felt guilty about lying, and so I would eventually give in and own up, only to be told that they would ring my parents, which, again, made everything far worse. They took away all my scissors and other blades – I was allowed to shave my legs once a week – I could have my razor for an hour, and I got into trouble if it was late back. In the end I was told that I would have to leave the school if I cut myself again. Counselling had been arranged externally, but the process of setting it up took so long that I got worse in the meantime, when I was supposed to be getting better. They eventually left me alone when I said that I had “disclosed” some abuse to the counsellor – again, they didn’t want to know anything more, because the safeguarding processes involved would have been too complicated and I guess the chances of a conviction would have been near to impossible. I wasn’t allowed to talk to friends about what was happening, and they were encouraged to tell tales on me, which stretched and damaged those friendships. I pushed everything down and down further, and it’s only been in the last few years that I have been able to deal with all that happened, and learn what it means to be a real person and a beloved child of God…it’s been a long process!

  4. Lorraine and Ash – I hear you. V.hard not to feel angry.

    Jess and Sarah – thanks for sharing from your experiences. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this – but hearing how it’s affected you helps us understand; and learn from our mistakes.

  5. Thank you Sarah. I feel honoured and I am in awe of what God is doing in you and for you, to redeem you from the harm that has inflicted such deep wounds. By His stripes we are healed. But yes, a long process.

  6. This discussion is so interesting to me because when I practiced self-harm I never told, showed, or asked anyone about it. This was the very early 90’s in the US, and I had never heard of “cutting” or seen marks or scars on anyone else, much less knew any other girls who engaged in this (to me) bizarre cutting/scratching behavior I could not even explain.

    It surfaced during a time where I wanted to go away…not suicidal or a potential runaway, just a desire to not live. I was being sexually abused by an adult (related by marriage), getting involved sexually with boys I didn’t even like, under high pressure to perform academically , experiencing mean-girl bullying, and developing bulimia all at the same time. Now I hear it’s epidemic and open discussion is being suspected for it’s spread? Interesting.

    I know for sure my own behavior was not copycat or used to get attention. Though I am still digging to the bottom of my own “why’s”, I know I was in terrible shame over it, and took great pains to hide it. I had no real friends, so looking back I think (think) it would have really helped me for an older woman to come along and say “Look, everybody has crazy thoughts race through their minds for many reasons, please don’t act on them, but take it as a sign that something might be out of order and lets talk.”

    I am also know the fear of being exposed/labeled did encourage my self imposed silence.

    The one time I did talk to a school counselor about the bulimia I got terrible advice: “Get addicted to exercise!” Out of fear of exposing someone else, I could barely discuss my worse problem of sexual involvement with an adult boyfriend. Her advice here: “Lets get you on the pill…secretly.” The sexual abuse (which I did not even understand to be “abuse” until sometime later) never even entered the conversation. By this time the actual “cutting” had gone away with a change of school environment, so this too had become a non issue. But really, I had just found a deeper and more effective way to destroy myself.

    We create a hostile world, offer zero refuge, and we wonder why kids have trouble.

  7. I self harm, and I find that sometimes by being told not to talk about it, makes
    the harmer feel worse, As self harm is a cry for help. and how are people supposed to
    get the help and support they need, I will pray for this person

  8. Thank you Caroline. Yes, it’s hard to point the finger at copycatting when SH etc feels like a private secret you’ve discovered. And so often EDs and SH go hand-in-hand, along with other issues like OCD and depression; not because this is someone with a bigger level of ‘craziness’ than anyone else, but because they do the same things – helping deal with dangerous feelings. From the outside it can look like this is a higher level of ‘problem’, but actually it’s just the same issues coming out in different ways.
    This is spot on:
    “I think it would have really helped me for an older woman to come along and say “Look, everybody has crazy thoughts race through their minds for many reasons, please don’t act on them, but take it as a sign that something might be out of order and lets talk.”

  9. This is so interesting for me. I also went to boarding school and was discovered to be self harming. I also was given inadequate care and was awful advise from people in ‘authority’. Caroline’s idea of having an older woman’s experience would have been invaluable to me.
    Schools need a drastic overview of how to deal with SH otherwise the spiral of depression, shame and isolation etc will continue to destroy teenage years which are already full of inadequacies!

  10. Oh I’m so angry right now.

    I went to a “good” school – 300+ years old, all girls, steeped in tradition and very intentional about what a good “xx school” girl should look like She was sporty and clever and worked hard and probably played at least 86 different instruments as well. And the thing is – she looked nothing like me. She was probably what I could have been, had I not been struggling with serious sexual abuse – and actually, that made it worse, because all I ever got was “you’re a bright girl. Why aren’t you doing x,y,z?” I constantly felt like a failure – but I didn’t have the words to explain exactly what was going on and self harm, and eventually bulimia, was a way of coping with all those emotions. And when it finally was found out, I was threatened with demotion from being a prefect, told I was irresponsible and selfish. I’m so grateful for the one teacher who reached out in the middle of it, but it still makes me so angry today. We’re failing our young people, and it’s just not on.

  11. !!! I’m so sorry Lizzi. Thank God for that one teacher (and others like her) who have the courage and compassion to reach out.

  12. Thank you for this really helpful article. A friend of my daughter’s is self harming. This will help me to try to help my daughter to understand some of the reasons why people do this. Compassion, compassion, compassion.

  13. Thanks Emma – yes, compassion goes a long way; and it’s so much more powerful than pity.

  14. After years of on-and-off self-harming (getting gradually worse), I finally plucked up the courage to go to the GP. It was unhelpful, to say the least. After finding out that I was a medical student (to which her response was “Oh.”), the best comment was “well don’t do it on your arms because people will see on clinical placements when you’re ‘bare below the elbow’ and will know what you’ve done”.
    Praise God for amazing (and much more helpful and understanding) friends who tell me that I’m still beautiful and God still loves me unconditionally.

  15. Rebecca

    WELL DONE for going to your GP: that’s very brave. I’m sorry she handled it badly: but your friends are right – you are beautiful and unconditionally loved. Praying this will be the first of many steps that help you to know this for yourself. Don’t give up on seeking help: not every GP is like the one you saw and there are ways of getting support. x

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