Do Self-Harm Scars Ever Go Away?
Do self-harm scars ever go away? Let's discuss the answers to that question.
Some scars are a source of pride. We show them off; we point to them and say, "Look at what I survived." Some of us remember that iconic scene in Jaws when the boys sing old sea shanties and cheerfully compare their battle scars. But self-inflicted wounds aren't always so easy to share, and there are some scars we would rather not bear. Do these self-harm scars ever truly go away?
How Long Do Self-Harm Scars Take to Go Away?
How long it will take for self-harm scars to go away is different for everyone. Every body heals differently. Whether self-injury will result in scarring depends on the type and severity of the injury. Minor injuries often fade entirely after a handful of days; major ones are more likely to leave a lasting mark. Other factors—such as medical conditions or medications—may also impact the healing process. Some scars can take up to two years to fade completely.
Applying first aid to a fresh wound can promote healing and minimize scarring. But let's say it's been two years, four, perhaps even a decade or more—and the scars are still there. Will those self-harm scars ever go away?
The answer, unfortunately, is "probably not." Scars that don't fade within two years tend to be permanent.1 However, it's important to remember that:
- You are not your scars. They are part of you, but they do not define you.
- Scars are a sign of healing; they are your body's way of keeping old wounds closed.
- You can cover your scars in a safe and healthy way, should you need to.
- However, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
It's up to you to decide who gets to see your scars. It's also up to you to decide how you see your own scars—and to do the hard work of healing the invisible ones that lie beneath them.
Living with Self-Harm Scars That Don't Go Away
The scars on my arm are hairline-thin, white and almost invisible against my pale skin—completely unnoticeable to the casual observer. But I see them every time I reach out to turn off my bedside lamp, and they still itch sometimes when life starts to feel overwhelming.
You don't have to love your scars—I certainly don't love mine—but you can learn to live with them, and to cope with the triggers and the urges you associate with them. It isn't easy, though; it takes constant practice and a lot of patience.
I don't wake up every day admiring the body I see in the mirror. But I don't fixate on my scars anymore, either. I see them, but they no longer blind me to the rest of who I am as a person, or who I might yet become.
Scars, after all, are a product of the past. You can't undo the past—but you can put it behind you, one day at a time.
1. Scars, National Health Service. Accessed March 2, 2020.
Kim Berkley (2020, March 19). Do Self-Harm Scars Ever Go Away?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, August 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2020/3/do-self-harm-scars-ever-go-away
Author: Kim Berkley
wow, thank you, the nice note saying 'you are not your scars' made me cry. that was nice to hear <:,)
A lot of my inspiration comes from thinking about what things I wish someone had said to ME, back when I was actively self-harming. Which means I shed a few tears myself, writing posts like this. But they're good tears; they're healing tears. :)
So thank you so much for your comment! It helps me to know that I can help, even in a small way.
A friend of mine is having problems with her scars, they're putting her in a dark place, and I don't know what to say to help her feel better about it.
Do the scars make her want to relapse, or remind her of the situation when she made them originally? Either way, it would be important to empathize with her, and she's lucky in this case that she has a friend who cares about how she's feeling. You may have already unintentionally, and it can be tough in this situation especially if you don't/haven't self harmed (use caution - if you haven't self harmed, saying something like "it's okay, everyone has scars" probably won't be helpful) First and foremost, it's important to listen, reflect her emotions, paraphrase a little, before offering suggestions. She may not even wish for suggestions, just for someone to listen and understand.
If she does ask for suggestions and she's thinking of relapsing, encourage her to talk to a therapist, ask if she has reasons she may not want to (dizziness, her parents or future partner), and encourage her that she is strong and brave for going through this battle. People also self harm for different reasons. Some do it out of anger, sadness, I personally do it as a means to escape my situation (which may be more universal, I'm not sure). Beating up a pillow isn't really a good alternative for me, then. You can probably find alternatives to self harm online, but keep in mind the emotion behind it - for someone who wants to escape emotions that seem unescapable, finding activities can seem impossible, but perhaps something that she can quickly and intensely focus on - like watching an engaging movie or drawing a detailed drawing. Even just talking or being with her could really help. My therapist keeps talking about "stimulating the vagus nerve" and I'm still not really sure what that means, but maybe it would help her.
If it's the original situation that she's reminded of... again, just listen. Show you've heard her, that she's not a monster for having gone through these things, and that she didn't deserve it. With this instance particularly (and all the others), you're not her therapist, you're her friend. And yes, they do overlap a little. You want to be there for your friend, and to help her. But if you feel lost, if she only comes to you for help, or if you're getting worn out, there's NO shame in suggesting she talk to a therapist, and be honest that you care about her but you don't know how to help. I make all of these suggestions because I've both self harmed myself and I'm studying to be a therapist. And playing the role of therapist to a friend can be draining - be there for her and talk to her, but if it gets to be too much, reach out to someone.
Anyway, there's also the question of if she is upset about seeing them just from her perspective, or worried about other people seeing them/what they would say? (or maybe both?) If the scars are old, it may be easier to let others see them by explaining that she's not going to self harm anymore. If not, it can be harder. I haven't personally experienced letting those I'm close to see my scars, because I know their heart would break. Frankly, though, if I did, I wouldn't have to worry about hiding them constantly, and it would probably be a good motivation not to relapse. Also, you know about her scars and talks to you about it, which means that she trusts you a lot. Good for you :). People can have a range of reactions to other people's scars, from fear, anger, sadness, confusion, and patronization. If she's really concerned about others seeing them, maybe she can use makeup, bandaids, or clothing. They will fade with time.
If you have any more specific questions or want to talk more about it, I hopefully should get some sort of notification.
Hi Grace--and Anonymous :)
This is an excellent answer to a difficult question. It's definitely hard to know what to say to someone you care about when they're going through a dark time--especially when you may not have experienced a similar situation for yourself. I think the most important thing here, that we can't stress enough, is to LISTEN. Try not to jump directly into offering solutions--this can make her feel like you are trying to "fix" her, instead of helping her. Instead, try asking her what she would like you to do--you can literally ask something like, "Do you want some suggestions, or do you just need to vent right now?" If she wants advice, then by all means, point her to therapy, to self-care, and to anything else that can help her. (Although try not to throw too many ideas her way at once.) If she does not, however, just be with her (either in person, or on the phone, or however you can communicate) and be ready to be patient. Sometimes, it's enough just to sit in silence together--although you might feel like you're not doing enough, what you're doing is reminding her that she is not alone and that she has someone who cares and wants to help in any way they can.
And as has already been mentioned here as well, take care of yourself, too. Set boundaries if you need to. And consider whether it might help you BOTH to find someone else to talk to, whether that's a therapist, a support group, or even just someone on a hotline who can talk you through a particularly bad night. (Hotlines can also help you find long-term help, if you're open to that.) Here are some resources, if you're interested:
Please do respond, or comment again, if you have more questions or concerns. You are not alone in this struggle--either of you. Don't forget that.