The Hardest Thing About Self-Harm Recovery

March 9, 2018 Kayla Chang

Self-harm recovery is difficult for many reasons, but one reason stands out above the rest. Learn about using self-harm to make mental illness visible at HealthyPlace, and how doing that sabotages self-harm recovery now.Recovering from self-harm is hard for reasons too numerous to list. The process of self-harm recovery is often lonely, confusing, messy, and dark. Feelings of hopelessness, feeling trapped, and feeling flooded with whatever emotions led us to self-harm in the first place are not uncommon, nor are the urges that cloud our thoughts and tempt us toward relapse in our self-harm recovery.

But of the many, many hard things about self-harm recovery, the absolute hardest thing, for me, was this: the need for validation.

Self-Harm Recovery Doesn't Let You Make Your Pain Visible

Self-harm often stems from pain -- emotional, psychological, or even spiritual pain. This type of pain is not visible to the eye. Mental illness is not visible to the eye. Mental illness, unlike physical illness or injury, is not validated by virtue of being readily seen. Physical markers of pain signal where people must concentrate their attention and compassion.

Mental illness is different. There are no physical markers to indicate the pain one feels from mental illness. To make matters worse, mental illness cannot be quantified. Where physical illness is not visible, at the very least it is still measurable. There are x-rays, scans, and blood tests that can attest to the legitimacy -- the realness -- of one's physical suffering. There are usually papers and records one can hold up and point to and say, "See? My pain is real, it exists, and you are therefore justified in treating me with care."

Even if mental illness is diagnosed by a medical professional, it does not carry the same weight because there is no objective "proof" of illness.

This is where self-harm comes in. This is what self-harm does: it makes the pain visible and, therefore, real. It makes our pain legible.

Self-Harm Recovery and the Need for Validation

This sense of legitimacy that self-harm provides was the hardest thing for me to let go of in self-harm recovery. By externalizing my internal pain, I felt that I was proving both to others and to myself that my suffering "counted." Self-harm kept me wrapped up in a safety blanket of knowing that I could communicate my pain without having to say a word and without having to bare my vulnerabilities. Without self-harm, I felt I could never use my mental illness as an excuse for anything because it registered in my mind as a lie (Signs of Self-Stigma: Do You Stigmatize Yourself?).

In self-harm recovery, when it can no longer be used as a crutch or as a tool of expression, it is important that you become your own source of validation. You know your own story and relying on self-harm as proof of your sickness to justify starting your recovery is a trap. It will never feel like enough and you will always feel like a fraud. It is only by learning how to be our own sources of validation that we can learn to treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion as we would an ill friend.

APA Reference
Chang, K. (2018, March 9). The Hardest Thing About Self-Harm Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Kayla Chang

You can find Kayla on Google+.

Rene Bertoša
March, 12 2018 at 3:57 pm

Thank you Kayla for sharing your knowledge on self-harm recovery. Every piece of information counts for the people who need help. Best wishes☀?

March, 10 2018 at 4:38 pm

Thank you for writing this. I'm the author of the More than Borderline blog and I so relate and appreciate this. Thank you for sharing ❤️

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