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  • Eve Coker, PhD, LCMHC

Recognizing Our Scars

I recently came across an image of a woman named Marzieh who'd survived an acid attack; despite the obvious scarring on her face, she radiated strength and dignity. Her suffering had inspired her to raise awareness regarding the conditions which caused the attack. Many have been inspired by the power she holds in her resolution, and the comment section of the particular social media posting that I found was full of responses which recognized her as a complete person, in which her physical appearance had been transformed in the social consciousness as something to respect, admire, and love. If you'd like more information about Marzieh, you can click here.


It made me think about the other times I've talked to people about their physical scars. Many scars are from medical procedures, from which sometimes the bearer expresses feeling that it's a reminder of being "defective." Other times, the scars can be from something outside of our control, such as a car accident, workplace hazard, or even from combat, and these can remind us that we sometimes have a lack of control in this world. And then there's that guy I knew who told me his scars came from the time his alcohol/drug consumption lead him to hallucinate that a rose bush was a beautiful woman (thus inspiring him to leap into it).


Other scars may be self-inflicted, such as when a person self-harms for various reasons. Even though self-harm is something we want to learn how to stop, there's frequently a valid reason that a person engages in self-harm. (In other words: self-harm is not okay, but there are real reasons that people do it. We just have to switch out the harmful behaviors and replace them with better ones which meet the same needs that self-harm fulfills.)


And then there are the emotional scars we bear. Maybe they cause us to struggle and have bad days. Maybe we try to cover them up with distractions, so we don't have to think about them or we can dull the pain. They can cause us to self-destruct or break down from time to time.


Those are the negative things that scars can represent, but let's shift the paradigm: Scars are representations of how far we've come. Whether we've changed drastically or subtly (or both), something came into our lives to make us more complicated and to challenge us to change. When we change, we can ask ourselves - who do I want to change into?


Are your scars a platform for growth? Something to be proud of and to spring forth from?


I've got my scars. I love them. They make me who I am, and I've learned over time how to like who I am because I don't give up and I've made choices that allow me to find meaning in my life.


If you feel differently, as if you want to feel sad and angry about what caused your scars, that's okay. You have every right to grieve this change and these challenges that have been thrust upon you. In the end, however, you can also ask yourself how this experience is going to shape you - and what beliefs and actions you will take as a result of it.


I once met a woman with this amazing tattoo; she was sitting at a bar in the summer, so she was wearing shorts and there was this beautiful tattoo on her thigh. I asked her about it, and she explained to me that it was intended to cover her self-harm scars. Not only that, but the imagery was symbolic of her wellness journey, which included the growth and transformation that she's undergone as a person. She came from a traumatizing upbringing and worked hard to be a good mother, maintain positive relationships, and to attain an amazing career. She was able to point out her scars as symbols of very painful past experiences and say, "Look how far I've come."


Look how far you've come.





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