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I have a slight situation arising and would like some opinions/thoughts on how to proceed.

Some Backstory

  • I am male, in my early 20s.
  • I have self-harmed for a number of years, and am currently a few weeks 'clean' (read: no open wounds).
  • I have scars on my upper-left arm and over my chest and torso. The scars are easily noticeable but not too large/deep (I have never cut deep enough to require professional medical attention). For a visual reference, think 'Aftermath of a somewhat vicious cat attack' rather than 'Geralt of Rivia'. :)
  • Currently, exactly 0 people know that I have self-harmed and 0 people have seen my scars.
  • The general reason for my self-harm is bouts of depression.

The Situation

In a few days I will be going on a short holiday with a group of close friends. Most of the (~8) people attending have known me for a few years. This holiday will involve some swimming, which will result in me removing my shirt and revealing my scars.

In an effort to be more honest with people I care about, I would not like to try and hide my scars or attempt to explain them away using a lie (although I doubt this would be possible since they are quite obviously self-harm).

So I have come to accept the fact that my friends will find out about my history of self-harm. However, I would like to make the 'reveal' as easy as possible for all parties involved (where 'easy' translates to 'least awkward')

Since I have no experience with people discovering this somewhat embarrassing fact about me, I am unsure on how to approach the situation. I am a very laid back person and I think most people would be genuinely surprised by the scars, even though they may not vocalise that fact.

My aim is to portray that I am okay with questions/comments about my scars and nothing anyone can say will 'trigger' me or anything like that. If they want to ask me questions about it, fine. If they want to say nothing and ignore the whole thing, fine also. I would hate to be treated differently and have people censor themselves around me after they find out but I can see this might be inevitable.

My first thought was to approach the situation head on and make a comment/joke about my scars as to show that I am not sensitive about the topic, but maybe that would cause some unnecessary awkwardness. But I also feel waiting until I am questioned about it by someone else would be less than ideal.

I also have a secondary concern of 'triggering' someone else while talking about my self-harm. Since they have no idea that I do this, it is not out of the question that someone else in the friendship group may have a history with this themselves (or someone they love) and may not be as laid back about it as me.

So I would love some input and thoughts about the situation I am in. This is my first question on any SE site, so apologies if anything is off. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and have a great day.

11

This situation is probably a lot more common than most people would think. I'm having trouble pulling up solid stats, looks like most of the studies are looking at hospitalization figures or self reporting in rather small sample pools. Anecdotally I've known more than a few people who have cut, and I had a small period of burning myself many many years ago...

I applaud your willingness to be honest with your friends about it. Coming out of the self harm closet is probably a positive sign of moving forward with your recovery. Letting others in adds a little accountability and may help you to stay "clean".

Anywho, on to what you were actually asking about...

If your scars are more noticeable you can expect some questions from folks who aren't familiar with the subject. People who haven't seen these kinds of scars may not recognize that they're self inflicted, so it's reasonable to expect a:

Wow, what happened to you?

Are you ok?

This is where your answers will likely prompt follow up questions. If you go through with being honest you can expect some questions about why you self harm from more tone deaf folks. More mature friends may just leave it there, but don't be surprised if people are curious or concerned.

The best answer and hopefully the honest answer will be:

I went through some pretty hard times, but I'm getting help and I don't self harm anymore.

Of course for this to be an honest answer, you'll need to seek help from a licensed therapist if you aren't already. And you'll need to try to stay clean. I know that's easier said than done, but it's a whole lot easier to explain past self harm than it is to explain ongoing self harm.

You may find that you have friends who've been there too. Talking about it with people who've been there and done that can be really cathartic. If you have friends who are still self harming, your courage in talking about it may even encourage them to do the same.

Your friends are your friends because they care about you. If they see that you're hurting yourself they're going to be inclined to worry. If it's all in the past, they'll worry less.

So... Get some help, stay clean, be honest about your past, and try to take steps to ensure that the past remains in the past.

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Don't think that I'm an expert and take my advice with a grain of salt.

Since you don't want any special attention, I don't think you need to attract attention by talking about anything beforehand.

If you just go on as normal, some people probably won't even ask what happened - personally, I wouldn't pay much attention, people lead different lives and anything can happen to them. I have a friend that did some self-harm a long time ago (a lot for me, but that's because for me "none" is the norm), but he kinda wore it proudly. Wrote "Kill me please" on his chest with a razor and showed it to everyone via social networks with a smile. I don't think anyone payed it any special attention, besides thinking he just wants to cause an uproar in his social circle. These days I'm a lot more aware of mental health, and retroactively understand that things like that were a sign of problems, and not just his way of getting even more "fame", but everything is fine in the end, and that's all that matters. Still, I'm living in Russia, there's little awareness of mental health here, so your mileage will probably wary.

Then some people will be simply curious, with an approach like "Lol, whatever happened? Did you meet a vicious raccoon or something?". I don't think answering a question like that would be very awkward - along the lines of "Nah, did that myself, thouht that would be a good idea at the time. Not really". After they understand that you actually did this yourself they might drift to any of the other categories.

Some people would be genuinely concerned - them you want to assure, that it's in the past and you get the help you need - provided that it's the truth, of course - if it's not their concern is well founded, after all, and they will be right to try and help, even if you don't personally believe you need it.

I can also imagine some people will be horrified and alienated somewhat, and will require you to actively assure them that it's fine, live goes on, etc, but I can't give much advice in this case - my answer comes from thinking how I could react, and I wouldn't react like that.

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