Note: This post actually only applies to the German language. However, I want to translate it as well as possible for the sake of completeness. In German, we use a word that could be translated as either “scratching” or “carving” for cutting oneself and this post is about me getting angry over the term.
When at some point in my time as a student the subculture “emos” came up, the term “carving” did so as well. I associate the word with depressing music, black clothes and hair that falls into the face.
It is a fact that self-harm is a common symptom of the borderline disorder, quite a lot of people know only that “borderliners are the people with scars on their forearms”, which obviously can’t be said in general. “Scratching” and borderline seem to be inseperable for most people.
For me, the term is not useful at all. I don’t use it because scratching or carving is something on the surface, like scratching stones to see how hard they are. I don’t carve. I cut. Or I hit myself. Or I bite my cheeks. I have written a lot about why I do so, there is even a whole category for that and I think it’s quite obvious that it is something very deep down. In English, the word “cutting” says what I want to say. You cut with a razorblade. I have never heard about anyone who scratches their food.
I don’t know why I think it’s so important for me to rant about a mere word, it’s probably quibbling. But my impression is that there is no differentiated discussion about self-harm or how many forms of it there are. Some people might actually scratch themselves but what about those who inflict bruises on themselves or bite wounds or burns?
Most of us have first heard about self-harm some time in the 2000s when people actually thought that something like that could be a fad (to all who did cut because it was hip – sorry if I offend you but I don’t get it). Self-harm was around long before that and will be for a lot of time. And we have to talk about it without giving it the image of a teenager who has a weird style and “seeks attention”. Because that is what people think about “carving”. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the pressure, desparation and fear of those who are affected. It only inhibits people who would like to talk about it because they know they would be pigeonholed. It also inhibits me because even in my close surroundings I am scared of the common reactions:
“Only emos do that.”
“Stop that bullshit.”
“That doesn’t help you either.”
“I don’t want to see/hear that.”
Often enough, I hear people whom I’d like to confess to how I feel speak about the “abnormal people who scratch” and then I can’t stand up. I become small and still. Usually, I voice my opinions but in this case I can’t because I know what my impression of self-harm was a long time ago. And it was this image of “scratching” that stopped me from asking affected persons what they felt…until I was one of them.
This is why I want people to say what it is: Self-harm as an umbrella term. Cutting, burning, scraping, biting or whatever applies. Because words can be powerful. And just like it makes a difference whether I say somebody is abnormal or whether I say somebody’s mentally ill, there is a difference between “scratching” and “self-harm”.