If you’ve struggled with self-harm in the past, especially with cutting, you probably have a few scars, blemishes, or marks on your body that remind you of your darkest moments. Sometimes those scars are also a reminder to friends and family of what we’ve been through, or they spark questions from strangers when we’d rather not think about the past. Maybe you’re in the habit of covering up your cuts or scars with long sleeves, pants, or another piece of clothing so that nobody can see what you’ve done. The act of covering up your body, or the fear of showing it freely, is tied to self-hate or negative body image. How are you supposed to love the living, breathing memorial of the nights you spent hurting yourself on purpose? It can be difficult to know how to love your body when the very sight of it triggers memories of bad times, but it is possible.
Examine What’s at the Root of Your Self-harm
Start figuring out how to learn to love your body by confronting the deeply rooted issues that led to your self-harm in the first place. If you haven’t already, seek professional help and guidance as you try to stop cutting and recover. One of the many reasons someone might choose cutting as their form of self-harm is that it triggers a pain response in your brain that can distract from the emotional distress you’ve been feeling. Eventually, you can become dependent or even addicted to the rush or high you get from cutting. To truly recover and learn to love your body (including scars), you need to ask yourself why you’re harming yourself. Work with your friends, family, counselor or therapist, and a doctor to find a better solution for your mental health.
There’s No Shame in Healing
If your scars from past self-harm are bothering you, you’re not alone. Maybe you don’t like them because you think they’re ugly or because you think people judge you when they see them. Maybe you don’t like them because they remind you of cutting, and you hate remembering times when you were hurting. Maybe you feel embarrassed that your mental health ever reached a point where you felt self-harm was the answer. Whatever the reason that you hate your scars, at the root of this self-hate is shame.
What is shame? Shame is when you believe that past mistakes make you a lesser person. According to shame expert Brene Brown, shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Instead of shaming yourself for having scars, let’s try putting your scars in context: a scar is visible proof that you and your body are capable of closing up wounds and growing new, healthy skin where there was once an injury. A scar is evidence of healing. A scar is a surefire sign that what was once painful and bloody is now strong and whole. What’s so shameful about that?
When you look at your scars without shame, your scars can become a record of your strength and resilience, instead of something to be hidden or covered up.
6 Practical Ways to Learn to Love Your Body
Now that you’ve considered your scars in a new light, you can start trying to see your body positively. It’ll be a process, but try starting with a few simple tactics:
1. Intentionally set aside time to do so. You probably won’t just wake up one morning loving your body when you’ve spent years hating it. You have to spend time retraining your brain to see things differently, and training takes time. Try choosing one day a week where you work on body positivity. That could look like taking yourself shopping for a new shirt, choosing short sleeves instead of long, or just taking fifteen minutes to look at yourself in the mirror while you recite positive affirmations.
2. Catch yourself when you’re having a shame-driven thought. Learn to identify when you’re feeling ashamed and shut down that thought pattern as soon as you notice it. Prepare some statements to replace the shame, like “my scars show that I’m healing,” “there’s nothing wrong with scars,” or “I’m just as beautiful with scars as without.”
3. Give your body what you think a “lovable” body deserves. Sometimes pretending is a powerful tool. Imagine how you think a person with a “beautiful body” would treat themselves, and make a decision to treat YOUR body that way for an hour, week, or even month. Showing your body and your mind that you deserve good food, exercise, rest, fun, and generally positive things can help you see yourself in a different light until eventually you realize that you are actually the one with the beautiful body.
4. Create something new to look at. If, after some time and practice with body-positive exercises, you still aren’t comfortable with your scars, consider reclaiming your body by adding something new and beautiful. There are many tattoo artists who specialize in art that covers scarring. This is a big decision, so make sure you consider it carefully and over the course of some time. It’s usually recommended that you wait a year before you get a tattoo to see if you still want it before you get it permanently added to your body, and if you’re under 18, you’ll need your parent’s support and permission as well. Make sure you choose this as a self-affirming act of love, rather than another way of hiding what you’ve been through.
5. Ask for support. Loving our bodies is hard no matter what we’ve been through because we live in a society that sells us the lie that we’re not good enough unless we buy certain products, join certain gyms, or try certain diets. Even if they don’t understand self-harm, those who love you almost certainly understand the battle of learning to love your body as is. Don’t be afraid to talk to them, seek professional help, or reach out to a Hope Coach if you’re struggling.
6. Practice. Nothing will turn you into a person who loves their body after you do it once. You have to practice. Over time, you may find that you see yourself and your scars differently.
Guess Who Else Has Scars
Jesus is an expert on scars. Though His scars weren’t self-inflicted, He did choose them when He chose to be a martyr of the Roman Empire. He knows what it is to look at His body and see permanent marks that remind Him of great pain. If you feel alone in your struggle with cutting scars, call out to Him. Know that He hears you and understands your feelings in an intimate way. He is no stranger to having a body that bears the marks of the past, and He doesn’t see you as ruined or dirty because of your scars. His is a message of healing and love, so don’t be afraid to turn to him as you heal and learn to love yourself too.
If you want to talk to someone about how to recover from self-harm, reach out to one of our Hope Coaches today! We listen without judgment, so you don’t have to be ashamed of your scars with us. We want to support and see you learn to love the beautiful, wonderful creation that you are.
If you're still struggling with self-harm issues, learn how to manage your mental health with these resources.