This blog is part of my recovery, and I would like it to remain a safe place for me to share parts of myself and my life that people close to me may or may not know. As a result, while I'm not going crazy with privacy settings, I do ask that if you find this on your own and suspect you may know me, please respect my privacy by checking with us before reading any further. This obviously doesn't apply if one of us has given you the link!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Children & Self Harm/Scars

I know that some people feel that self harm needs to be hidden, that those who don't hide their scars merely harm for attention; and I know others that believe self harm should be hidden from children even if there's no shame attached to it. I don't believe that. I think it's important to protect children but I don't think that hiding the dirty parts of reality is the best way to do that.

My family are halfway between those. I know they're ashamed of my scars, and they don't believe I should wear clothing that makes them visible. I know also that my family cares deeply about my nieces and my nephew, that we all want to protect them and give them the best start we can. Unfortunately, those two things together mean that I don't have permission to be honest with my nieces and nephew.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not at all proposing that it would be appropriate or acceptable to tell a toddler that "aunty cuts herself to feel better" or anything of the sort. These things need to be explained in an age appropriate manner, and there are a lot of considerations involved. However, at some point, you have to recognise that a child isn't going to be satisfied with "it was an accident" or an outright lie, and at 10 and 7, the miracle was that my nieces hadn't yet been unsatisified with the answers they were receiving.

I worried, I researched. I told my brother he needed to talk to his (now ex) wife and tell me how much they were comfortable with me sharing. I'm still waiting for the okay, my nieces are still being fobbed off with "I got hurt", and they want more.

I wear an arm sleeve, a leg sleeve, a pair of bike pants and a stomach patch (when I can find it) -- if I want to go, for example swimming, I can't wear any of these. If I want to wash the dishes, I have to take my arm sleeve off... and this is the situation I found myself facing a week ago at my brother's house.

My niece asked a few questions, I answered as best I can given the limitation of sticking to what my brother and his (ex) wife have decreed is acceptable, and my beautiful girl wasn't satisfied. She asked more and more and instead of accepting that his daughter is showing a healthy level of curiosity, my brother sent her to her room because he and I had run out of lies to fob her off with.

I have a response that I am far more comfortable with, I just need permission to use it. In a world where I could get my family to accept that my scars aren't going to disappear, that I don't do this because I like the attention or that I'm out to show the world what a terrible home life I have because I'm a vindictive bitch, I would tell my niece something much closer to the truth. In a world where I have permission to be honest, this is what I would tell my nieces (and maybe my nephew as well):

Remember last time you got sick, and the doctor looked at your throat and listened to your heart to see what was wrong? Sometimes people get sick inside their brain and you can't see it on their bodies. Aunty is sick like that and I have been for a long time. Sometimes it's like I'm not sick at all but sometimes I get very sick and I do things that mean my body gets hurt.

It's age appropriate. It's easy to understand. They can ask questions that I can actually answer in age appropriate ways. Instead of shame and blame, they learn understanding. It opens the door for me to reassure them, and it opens the door for the future when they may deal with mental illness themselves. And above all, it's honest. It means I'm not lying to a child who's going to one day realise and wonder why and what else everyone's lied to her about.

What about you? What are your thoughts on children and SI scars/injuries? What will or have you said to the children in your life about your self harm/scars - or what have you said about someone else's? Does it (or would it) change if you were having to explain new injuries or old scars?

Take care of yourselves until next time, and may we all find our own small fences along the way.


  1. I really like your way of explaining to the kids. I faced this situation with my kids - the youngest only recently, at a similar age to when I talked to her brother and sister about my self-harm. I don't think it's ever an easy discussion to have but I think it's a very, very important one. And potentially protective, in fact: if a child/young person feels okay with openly discussing hard topics, they are less likely to bottle things up and act in these destructive ways themselves. Of course, one of my children does herself self-harm - I didn't manage to protect her well enough. But maybe that's also partly about her,her personality, her communication patterns etc. We are working together on teaching her better ways to express her feelings.

    I encourage you to keep that discussion open with your brother. One day the kids will find out the truth, and I do feel that it's always, always better to speak the truth in love than to lie. Truth can be hurtful and confronting, but the way it's handled is key to understanding.

    The more we tell the truth, the more the stigma will lessen.

  2. I wouldn't let me nieces see my arms if there were a good chance I would get new ones. Regardless of the reason I got hurt, it would hurt them to know I was getting hurt. It would make them sad, and they have enough sources of sadness in the world.

    That said, I'm perfectly fine with them seeing my scars. I told Destiny, the older one, the truth when she was about 8, I think, and when her younger sister started asking Destiny told her the truth. Neither of them thought about it too much after they knew. The most they have said since then is when they came to the beach the older one said "You have a lot of scars from your past, huh?" I said yes, and we continued playing in the sand.

    Children can understand. They know what it is like to get angry, to be hurt, to throw fits, to punch things, to cry. If anything, they understand better than adults.
    "You know when you get really upset, and you hit the wall? Well, I used to get upset and hurt myself to feel better instead. It wasn't very smart of me, huh?" "Nope! That was silly! You should just holler at your sister or ride your bike next time!" *goes back to playing*

    Children understand much more than people give them credit for. The explanation needs to change from child to child, but it should always be honest.

  3. I love the way you want to explain the scars to your niece and nephew, I think that is totally appropriate for their age.

    I am so glad you brought this all up as it is is something to ponder and think about how to approach.

  4. i think we've discussed this a lot already, but if you have any other questions or thoughts, feel free to ask and share!
    i'm sorry this is tough for you.

  5. I think your way of explaining it is just excellent. I hope your family can come to support you in it.