The Invisible Becomes Visible

I finally understood why Sandy cut herself.

I was confused as well as repulsed; Sandy, a pretty young woman cut herself. It seemed completely inexplicable to me. Of course I recoiled from her. Interestingly soon after this encounter, one of my daughters broke her foot. Suddenly she attracted people who were eager to help her. I was struck by the contrasting reactions. Two women, both hurting, yet only one garnered sympathy.

Picture these two separate scenes.

In the first vignette, a smiling young woman with a cumbersome backpack, leans with both hands on a walker as she edges towards heavy doors leading to a lecture hall. Before she can even touch the handle, two young men sprint up, open the door and solicitously offer to carry her bag till she is sitting comfortably at her desk. She is an accepted part of the young men’s social group. Her disability, although permanent, does not repulse the other students but elicits empathy.

A diametrically opposed scene focuses on another young, pretty woman but she slouches with her head down. As she struggles weakly with the same heavy doors, an impatient young man sighs, shakes his head at her and roughly yanks the door open . He steps quickly past her after glancing at her sideways because her hands are trembling. She refuses eye contact because she is ill at ease and self-conscious.

The first woman’s physical disability is clearly understood by the male students; they confidently offer the kind of help that she needs. The second woman makes the young guy uncomfortable because it is obvious that she is emotionally or mentally ill but he really does not exactly know why she is ill or how to help her.

Ironically physical illness often has the power to bring people together by calling forth virtues from both the one in pain and those around them. On the other hand, mental pain is harder to bear, even more difficult to help.

I finally understood why a pretty woman like Sandy, in tremendous emotional pain,

cut her arms because those visible wounds

took her mind off her mental pain.

A cut became the visible symbol

not only to herself but to society

of her inner illness that until then

had been invisible.



16 thoughts on “The Invisible Becomes Visible

  1. A very hard subject but an important one to address nonetheless. One of my children suffers with this kind of illness and it is an incredible challenge to watch her bear this burden. Thank you.


  2. Why only girls? Why are we so hard on ourselves? I watched the Pink youtube for the song Perfect again recently, and it breaks my heart every time. I hope we can share love, rather than judgment. I hope my daughter knows she’s perfect to me.


    1. it is complicated- societal pressure but also traumatic, childhood events burden young people. This might sound weird but we also carry not only generational physical and personality traits but also passed on burdens that are difficult to work through.


      1. You are completely right. Some problems even come through in the genes. One theory on today’s weight issues is that so many people lived through hunger — in the depression and in famines, and their bodies passed on to children the changes that hunger created. But I know the losses I’ve suffered in my life affect my children. I can’t help that. I can only try to help them cope, same as I do. Coping is not the least of what we can teach. 🙂


  3. Well said. I know some women who struggle with cutting. It grieves my heart.

    Perhaps the external wounds will garner more sympathy than the internal ones. They certainly make the person’s internal pain more obvious. 😕

    God help us to not recoil from the mentally and emotionally damaged, but to reach out and comfort them with the same comfort by which we have been comforted.



  4. I have 2 adult girls, both suffer anxiety to different levels, both suffer mild depression. One has mild OCD. They are ‘normal’ to the outside world unless they have a panic attack, and the change in people’s reactions is enormous. I was reading what Brenda wrote about the weight issues. My father escaped from the Czech Republic and the only food in the forests in winter that they could get their hands on were water and a potato to make a soup of sorts. He will not see food left on his plate – never has – never will. Thankfully I can leave food when I have had sufficient, so I don’t know about the gene thing, though it may of course have changed over the years. I could not bear the thought of either of my girls causing themselves physical pain because they are in so much inner turmoil. Excellent post MO9.


  5. Hey … Some things come up for me in this post and I don’t have the words (that I am looking for) to respond with. This post connects deep. Over the years (they are stacked up like boxes) I have worked at different times with adult and adolescent females who have cut on themselves. Fortunately, I learned a little (not a lot) about why individuals cut on themselves. Your contrast between the two females (and how people reacted to them) was pretty intense; maybe more so because the dynamics in all of that resonate.
    Visible, invisible … and paradox plays a part. Keep writing. T


  6. Physical abuse can be seen and, as you say, often elicits offers of help and sympathy. Emotional abuse flows deeply and invisibly, leaves deeper scars and takes longer to heal. It bears witness to silent suffering. In men, although it is arguable, tattooing might be seen as a form of self-harm, but is more socially acceptable.


  7. Melanie your post has reminded me of a clever advertisement I saw a few years ago. A young man walks down the street mumbling to himself, people avoiding him like the plague. The same people breathing a sigh of relief when they see he has an earphone in his ear and realise that he is actually talking on his mobile.


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