Self-Harm Stigma: Feeling Embarrassed About Self-Harm

July 13, 2018 Kayla Chang

Self-harm stigma affects every self-harmer at some point. The effects of embarrassment over self-harming can be serious. Read more on HealthyPlace.

Self-harm stigma is a bit different than the stigma surrounding, say, something like schizophrenia. Whereas there is no overarching societal perception of schizophrenia as an embarrassing condition to have, there is certainly an element of embarrassment created by self-harm stigma.

The Stigma of Self-Harm in Multiple Forms

Self-harm stigma takes on many forms. For one thing, there is this idea that self-harm is a behavior that affects only the young — specifically, teenage girls (Self Injury, Self Harm Statistics and Facts). The reality is that self-harm is not that selective in who it chooses to victimize. Many adult women self-harm, as do many men of all ages. Revealing oneself as an adult woman who suffers from self-harm or a man who suffers from self-harm runs the risk of projecting a sort of arrested development in his or her own personality when, in actuality, mental illness has little if anything to do with the sufferer’s maturity. 

Along similar lines, cultural and media representations of self-harm communicate the existence of a niche “demographic” of self-harmers at the exclusion of everyone who falls outside of these narrow demographic parameters. Contrary to popular representation, young, middle-to-upper-middle-class white women are not any more likely to self-harm than anybody else. This is not to say that this group does not exist — just that they are roughly about as representative of the population of those of self-harm as they are of the general population. 

Self-harm is also often associated with melodrama and attention-seeking. It is painted as an overblown response to everyday stressors that those with less of a dramatic flair, those who are not quite as desperate for attention, handle on a regular basis without turning to self-harm. Because self-harm is so visually striking and so counter to our animal instinct of pain-avoidance, it is presumed that the compulsion comes from a deeply ingrained character flaw as opposed to emotional anguish and/or mental illness. 

The Effects of Self-Harm Stigma on Sufferers of Self-Harm

All of these self-harm stigmas are excuses a self-harmer can and often do use to keep their self-harm a secret. We are conditioned to believe that, on some level, self-harm is something to be embarrassed by. Shame is the feeling that there is inherently something wrong with us — a feeling also common among self-harmers. It is a fear of self. But embarrassment is the fear of other people. It is the fear that others will judge us as being wrong or deficient or less than in some way. It is also a fear generated almost entirely by external messages that we then internalize. 

Embarrassment can plague a self-harmer even long after recovery. In many cases it is embarrassment, however mild, that compels long-recovered self-harmers to actively cover up their scars. But for someone currently suffering, embarrassment can be toxic to his or her recovery and drive the person into deeper isolation. 

While no one can be shielded from embarrassment, it is important to empower self-harmers to rise above it. Reaching out to even just one person who makes you feel understood and accepted will lessen the fear. Start with one person, then another, and then another. With people behind you, you will feel more empowered to face the fear and self-harm stigma. 

APA Reference
Chang, K. (2018, July 13). Self-Harm Stigma: Feeling Embarrassed About Self-Harm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Kayla Chang

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