What Are Self-Harm Scars?

Alicia Sparks
Alicia Sparks
Scar tissue.
Scar tissue.

Self-harm scars are the physical scars left behind after an instance, or multiple instances, of self-mutilation. Self-mutilation, which is often referred to as self-harm, self-injury, and self-abuse, includes any action that causes direct harm to the body’s tissue. Perhaps the two most common types of self-mutilation are cutting and burning. Since self-injury often involves other issues, like mental and emotional problems, recovery from self-harm is a much more involved process than simply treating the self-inflicted injuries. Generally, there comes a point when each patient must respond to questions about his self-harm scars, but often therapists help their patients develop plans for such confrontations in advance.

Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm.
Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm.

Medical doctors and mental health professionals recognize that there are various methods of self-harm. For instance, on varying levels, abusing drugs and alcohol is an example of self-harm, as is smoking cigarettes and purposely ingesting poison. Yet, the kind of self-harm referred to in the term “self-harm scars” generally refers to the kind of physical injuries a person inflicts upon himself. Typically, these injuries occur on the skin. Thus, cutting and burning probably are the two most common examples of self-harm, especially the kind that leaves scars.

Typically, treating self-harm cases involves treating mental, emotional, and physical problems. Of course, the self-injuries themselves must be treated, and some are deep or severe enough to require stitches or even surgery. Yet, there usually is a connection between self-harm and depression, or some other mental health or emotional issue. Often, people who engage in self-harm are looking for a way to release some sort of mental or emotional pain. Sometimes, the pain associated with self-harm helps the person focus, or disassociate himself from what’s going on in his mind or around him.

Note that despite the injurious nature to self-mutilation, suicide and self-harm don’t always go hand-in-hand. It’s true that some reports have suggested anywhere from 55% to 85% of people who self-harm have also attempted to commit suicide at least once. Yet, many experts recognize the final outcome of both suicide and self-harm is a type of pain relief, but also point out that the common motivations for suicide and self-harm differ.

Once they’re in recovery and no longer self-mutilating, some people worry about how to cover up and explain their old self-harm scars. Some patients worry about the stigma that surrounds mental health problems and self-mutilation, and others simply don’t want people to think they’re still unwell. Since each patient’s situation is different, generally these are issues each patient discusses with his doctor. Often, patients choose to keep their scars covered until they have a plan regarding how they’ll reply when someone asks them how they obtained the scars. Other considerations include how the sight of the remaining self-harm scars will affect the patient’s progress, and whether scar removal would be beneficial for the patient’s recovery.

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Discussion Comments


I have a friend who engages in self-harm. She denies it but I have seen scars and marks on her arms and legs, so I have no doubt about it. There is no way that she could get so many scars by accident. Plus, there are fresh ones appearing regularly. I know her family so I don't think that anyone is harming her either.

I want to help her so I have decided to speak to her parents about it. I can't watch her doing this to herself and not do anything about it. I'm also worried that her scars are going to get infected. She obviously wouldn't go to a doctor if that happened because she doesn't want anyone to know.


@turquoise-- That's a good question. I'm not an expert but I think the difference between self-harm and scarification is motive, or reasoning. People engage in self-harm for various reasons. For example, an individual might feel that self-harm takes his mind off of his problems. So it's a method that some individuals use for psychological relief. But scarification is for beautification. Although scarification uses methods like cutting, burning or branding, it is done as a design to beautify the body. Some people use scarification instead of tattooing. And in some cultures, like some African cultures, scarification is required to initiate membership in a tribe.

As I said though, I'm not an expert, so I could be wrong. I could see how one could qualify as the other. For example, someone with psychological problems who wants to engage in self harm may have scarification designs applied to his body to feel pain.


What is the difference between self-harm scars and scarification?

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    • Scar tissue.
      Scar tissue.
    • Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm.
      Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm.