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Self-injury labels: what do you want to be called?

clothing labelWhen I read the papers and magazines, I’m split over how I feel about seeing self-injury in the media. On the one hand, I’m pleased that self-injury is becoming less of a taboo subject, and that we can talk about it, and I’m thrilled when I see LifeSIGNS in the papers. On the other hand, I’m aghast and dismayed at some of the words used to describe self-injury and the people who self-injure.

Trigger warning for words some people use to label and describe self-injury.

I am against the term ‘self-mutilation’ – ugh, how sensational, how inappropriate to describe something we use as a way of coping.

I am also annoyed by sloppy journalists, and people who should know better, referring to people who self-injure as ‘self-harmers’, as if this label covers everything there is about us!

We are not self-harmers! We are people who self-injure, we are police officers, crafters, teachers, nurses, students, fire fighters, pupils, gardeners, estate agents, poets, check-out clerks, managers, husbands, wives, daughters and sons – we are much more than ‘self-harmers’.

I don’t care if I get accused of ‘political correctness’, I cannot stand these easy labels that get written and said without thought or care. There is no such thing as a ‘self-harmer’ – there are ‘people who self-harm’, and ‘people who hurt themselves’.

When I read self-injury related websites, I cringe to see the authors and web publishers start sentences like “Self-harmers aren’t seeking attention…” and charities that speak of their audience being ‘self-harmers’ as if we’re a single demographic.

We are people who self-injure, but we are much more than this, and any short-hand label is disempowering and disrespectful – don’t let organisations label you!

On the other hand…

How you label yourself is your concern, not mine or anyone else’s!

If, when talking to other people who self-injure, you refer to yourself as ‘a self-harmer’ or ‘a self-injurer’ then that’s entirely different to my argument above.

How we talk about ourselves is up to us, it’s empowering to use whatever words fit, even if you want to say “I’m a cutter” that’s absolutely fine, just don’t let me call you ‘a cutter’!

The difference is that when you’re inside self-injury, you know the score, and you have every right to call yourself whatever you feel comfortable with. Other people, outside of your friendship group, outside of self-injury, should maintain respect and decorum.

If you have any comments regarding the language used regarding self-injury, please share your thoughts below.

Photo credit: Stefan Bauckmeier

1 Comment

  • Kaveeta

    I think I come from the point of view that no one aspect of my life is a defining trait or characteristic. I am not simply a poet, a writer or a survivor of self injury. I am all of these things stitched together, and I guess that’s impossible to define or to label adequately.

    If I had to go for a label? Well, I think ‘Kaveeta’ suits me just fine. Human works just as well, as we can all be that. Human. With human problems, human hopes and great human possibilities.


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