Physical scars and emotional pain

It can be tempting to compare your scars with another person’s. Some people, maybe especially those who don’t hurt themselves, might even ‘rate’ scars and judge how much emotional distress they represent. This isn’t helpful to anyone; it misses the truth.

Physical scars cannot and do not show how much pain or suffering a person has experienced. Yes, self-injury is a clear indicator of distress, but frequency (and even severity) of self-harm does not directly express the depth of distress. Some people who self-harm don’t leave permanent marks on their body every time, and this doesn’t mean they’re not distressed and suffering.

Physical scars come in many different shapes and forms. Some scars could be short, or repeated, some are pale and shiny, some are red, some rise above the skin. Some people scratch themselves, pick at themselves, or bruise themselves. We cannot judge a person’s inner world of pain by the outward evidence of damage.

I have known many people over the years who have struggled with self-injury, and so I know that even though their physical scars don’t look all ‘too’ bad, that in reality they have ridden a roller coaster of different emotions and gone through so much pain and hardship. It’s important to acknowledge that just as physical scars do not perfectly represent emotional or mental distress, you also cannot and should not compare your own personal experiences with another’s.

People self-injure for many different reasons. Everyone is different and you’ll find in life that some people are better able to cope with some things and not so capable with other things. Someone can be at rock bottom, turn to self-injury but not self-injure in the same way as another person. People are different, and experience ‘similar’ situations differently.

I was at a concert, and the singer songwriter explained it perfectly. She said to look at the person sitting either side of you, up in front and behind, and realise you don’t know their life story, nor do you know what they have overcome and faced in their life. Unless you actually converse with that person, it’s always best to assume nothing, because in truth you know nothing. This is why talking is so important.

So next time you come across someone with physical scars, try to remember that they cannot truly represent what that person has endured. Keep an open mind and try not to compare them to your own or someone else’s scars. This is easier said than done I know, but the time and energy you spend on assumptions would be much better spent on compassion for them and for your own well-being.

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