Last week the hospital psychologist I’m seeing, D, asked me to list the reasons/benefits of self harming. Besides the usual reasons; it distracts me from my emotions, it’s a way of punishing myself, it’s a way of releasing anger and frustration, etc. etc., I also said that it’s a way to “prove that I’m struggling.” He briefly brought that up during our session today. He told us that the people who have treated us badly or abused us rarely feel guilt and the need to make it up to us. If years later we’re struggling, they’re not going to see it as they’re the ones to blame. Instead, they’re going to see it as we’re the ones who don’t have the willpower to get ourselves out of this. D told me a story about a Vietnam war veteran who spent thirty years on his porch drinking, telling people that the government had done him over. He also told me of a previous self harmer who was the victim of a paedophile ring and is now a counsellor, one of the things she said is that the best revenge is to make a success of yourself.
Objectively I can see his point. Looking in from the outside at these situations, I can see that destroying yourself to spite those who’ve wronged you is pointless. It doesn’t affect them and it’s letting them win. But when it’s you in that situation, it’s harder to have this insight. And when we’re engaging in these self-destructive behaviours, we’re not exactly thinking, “This’ll teach them!”
It’s also more than that. “We know you’re struggling,” D said to me. But do they really? I feel like if there’s no physical proof, people won’t believe me. I struggle with verbalizing how I feel. The closest I get to admitting I’m struggling is responding with “Umm, not that great…” when a mental health professional asks how I am. In a way, self harming acts as a voice, ‘proof’ I’m struggling. Then there’s the reaction to my scars by the few who have seen them; the first GP I saw, doctors and nurses in the emergency department, a doctor and nurse in the psych ward. Yes some of them have reacted with shock and revulsion. But there’s a part of me that feels satisfied I’ve done a proper job of it when what they do or say makes me suspect they’re thinking, “This girl really does have issues.”
Last week D also brought up that if I’ve stopped self harming, I could get the plastics people to have a look at my scars. Immediately my anxiety went up. I realised the absence of scars is another one of the barriers stopping me from ceasing to cut myself. As much as I dislike not being able to wear certain shorts, skirts, dresses and bathers, it scares me a whole lot more not to have something to show for my struggles.