I am just wondering what the stance is on wearing sleeveless shirts in the summer with the youth around when you have old self-harm scars?
Is that a BIG no no? Or is it okay? If they were to ask about them do you remain honest?
For me, my response always depends on the youth. In some cases, it can really help and youth may relate to you better. On the other hand, there are youth that will use this against you or are not mature enough to handle/process the information. I say use your judgement.
I would be honest with them. We have all made mistakes in our lives it is how you learn from them, learn to cope with them and live every day.
This is a great question and I think it really does affect a fair few of us, so good for you for asking.
There are a lot of variable factors here so (just going from my personal experience) I would suggest you tackle this question in steps to figure out what the best answer is for you.
First, speak to the agency you're working with. They may have specific rules and policies regarding staff and scars as it does happen, not necessarily often, but often enough that most places will have encountered the question before and have an answer.
Once you find out their policies you have to take into account the current situations of the youth- are they active self-harmers? Would seeing your scars have the potential to trigger them? Are you comfortable enough with it yourself for them to see? Will it be safe for you as well?
If you decide the above factors are supportive of you going sleeveless then comes the question of disclosure. The main thing I would say here is that if they ask, do not lie. Relationships are built on trust and even if they never find out, lying is usually not the way to go. That being said, that also doesn't mean you have to tell them the full story- or any of it. You are by all means free to say "that's not a story that I'm comfortable sharing" and leave it at that. You're setting a boundary which is always a good lesson, but they also know that you're not going to lie to them about it. If they ask and you do choose to share, as with any self-disclosure, make sure that you're sharing for the sake of the youth, and not your own. If it will make them feel less alone, if you think you can share some of you strategies to help them, things along those lines then sharing some of your experience can be beneficial. Be very careful that you're not over-sharing, or disclosing in order to help yourself though. And that's the same with any personal information being shared with the youth.
Also, in talking to your agency, maybe ask your supervisor and co-workers how they handle self-disclosure. It doesn't have to be self-harm specific, but any form of self-disclosure can have an impact and could be positive or negative. Getting experience from the people you work with directly, specific to your environment may help you in deciding how to approach this for your specific situation more than general advice will.
I hope this helped! Good luck.
That is a really good question. As always, the answer must be “it depends”. One the one hand, it may be a trigger for youth currently struggling with self-harm issues, but on the other hand it can be an opportunity for connection and healing. I think it depends most on you and how ready you feel to answer questions about those scars if they come up. I don’t think it would be fair to expect anyone to “hide” their scars – after all, they are reminders that you have survived and overcome challenging times. I would just recommend that you be sensitive about how you deal with it and use good common sense – if that makes any sense at all.... I don’t think old scars are as important to youth as the person you are when you are around them. Most of the time I don’t think it will be a big deal at all, but know that for some youth it might be.
That is a really great question. I’m glad that you are asking about it :-)
So, to give you some context, I am a CYC who has also self-harmed in the past, and when I was talking about responding to your question I also ran my answer by a bunch of my colleagues to make sure that my response wasn’t clouded by my own experiences.
Personally, I don’t see an issue with wearing clothing that shows your self-harm scars, provided that the clothing is otherwise appropriate for your setting. However, that is with the caveat that before you do so, you need to be prepared for how the young people in your setting might respond to noticing the scars, and think about how you might respond to questions from colleagues or youth about them. This means being mindful about what your own boundaries around self-disclosure are, and what self-disclosures may or may not be helpful for the young people who you are working with. For example, when I am asked about my scars some of the answers that I’m comfortable giving are things like “When I was younger I went through a really tough time and cutting was one of the ways that I dealt with it” or “I used to self-harm when I was younger”. If the young person wanted more details than that, then I would at the very least quickly reflect on what they were really asking, and my relationship with the young person before I responded further, as that then moves into a different realm of self-disclosure.
I think that sometimes when we talk about boundaries, and about being young people centered we sometimes don’t have conversations about how appropriate self-disclosure can be really beneficial to a relationship with a young person. In this case, by wearing clothing that shows your scars you are communicating lots of things to a young person. You’re communicating that it’s possible to really struggle, but be able to get past struggles and into a more settled place in your life. You’re communicating that life isn’t perfect even for those in helping professions. You’re communicating that it’s possible to get past needing self-harm behaviours to cope with overwhelming things, and that past use of self-harm behaviours can just be a part of life that isn’t something that you have to be ashamed of and keep secret for the rest of your life. It can just be a part of you and your story. Which I think can be a really important message for young people who might be struggling with self-harm currently to hear.
However, all of this is said with the caveat that it applies to old and fully healed self-harm scars. I think if you as a CYC or CYC student are actively self-harming, or have scars that are identifiably recent that is a really different conversation that would need to be handled differently and with a different kind of thought put into it. But we bring our histories and our current selves with us into our work, and when they are written on our bodies the way that self-harm scars are, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong that they are there, just that we have to be thoughtful about how we bring them into our relationships with young people, and make sure that we are keeping their interests in mind as we address it with them.
I hope this is helpful!