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Self-Injuring for Attention and 'Real' vs 'Fake'

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This is a rant/opinion piece on something that’s been bothering me for ages and since I saw ‘attention cutting’ was tackled in a way I vehemently disagreed with I thought, hey, I’ll do a bit of a counter-point. 

I’ve been discussing self-injury online in some way since early 1999. Back then I was fifteen and communities as they exist now weren’t even a dream. There was StrongER and Secret Shame (and the BUS mailing list) and other scattered websites.

Something I’ve heard since then and I’ve seen tackled in many a self-injury ‘myths’ section is that ‘real’ self-injurers don’t self-injure for attention. It apparently doesn’t exist as a reason for self-injurers and people who do self-injure for attention do a disservice to self-injurers since apparently by self-injuring we’re doing it for reasons that contribute to the greater good.

I’d emphatically say that the majority of self-injurers do not self-injure for attention but that self-injuring for attention does exist and is an entirely legitimate reason. Some would even say it points to some underlying issues. Yes, unfortunately, these tend to be the most visible self-injurers, giving the idea to people who aren’t clued in that attention is the main reason for self-injury. However, I don’t think any self-injurer is obligated to self-injure for community approved reasons.

I’ve seen the real vs fake self-injurers issue discussed ad nauseum. I know it’s affected me personally and that I feel hesitant to reach out when I do plan to self-injure so I won’t be seen as looking for attention. I personally don’t discuss self-injury with friends and people outside my immediate family but there’s still those thoughts of ‘if I tell somebody they’ll think I’m looking for attention’.

Often the severity and amount of wounds is brought up when discussing those ‘fake’ attention seeking self-injurers with a hint of how many the ‘real’ self-injurer has and the legitimacy of their wounds. Personally, one of my breasts is one big scar and I left off cutting my arms nearly completely by 2003 since it attracts unwanted attention but the fact that I feel the need to mention that? It bothers me. It bothers me when people compare their wounds to a person who does ‘baby cuts’ for attention or whatever the severity and needs to show that they are more legitimate and that the attention seeker is doing a public disservice and, by the way, they don’t exist because ‘real’ self-injurers never, ever self-injure for attention.

Also, there is apparently a hierarchy in terms of people’s issues when it comes to the attention seekers. I’ve generally seen the mental health issues of attention seekers minimized and, of course, past abuse issues. Some people have real reasons for self-injuring and some don’t or so some people say. I’ll freely admit I was one of those girls in high school who fumed when my classmates would complain when their parents were so horrible and mean and grounded them when I was ashamed to bring any of my friends home because of my father and not because he was goofy or embarrassing in cutesy way. The first talk I had with my father after he found out I was self-injuring he self-injured in front of me (punched himself in the face and started bleeding). Yes, I was one of those who bought into the hierarchy and I was very bitter about it. However, I’ve learned over the years that people are individuals with problems that are very real to them and it’s not up to me or you to decide which one of us has more rights to talk, who has more right to decide that they want to cut their arm or burn their leg.

So back to the attention seeking. Yes, a small, visible minority of self-injurers self-injure for attention. Yes, people latch onto that being a reason for everybody else. However, do they deserve to be thrown out of the self-injury community and seen as people who don’t exist or have no real issues? No.


By the way, I don’t self-injure for attention. (;


edit: Something Kiba addressed that I think is legitimate. There is a lot of misinformation about attention seeking and self-injury, especially (in my opinion) when it concerns younger people. I know when I was in the youth system my acts of self-injury and even overdoses were outright met with statements like ‘that was for attention, right?’ from mental health professionals who were supposed to be helping me. In groups parents would discuss their children’s ‘attention seeking’ and the people running the groups wouldn’t say otherwise.

It wasn’t until I graduated to the adult system that the talk of attention seeking disappeared. Not just faded out but flat out was gone. I was thinking about that on the drive home and perhaps that is why with some younger self-injurers the attention seeker vs not issue comes up more often. If the people who are supposed to be helping you and are supposedly educated turn to the idea of the behavior being attention seeking and manipulative (which is flat out wrong in most cases, I think) then I’d think the young people being directly affected by this thinking would focus more on attention seeking not being a legitimate reason for self-injuring, since the ‘visible’ and attention-seeking self-injurer (as rare as they may be compared to people with other reasons) is giving bad publicity.

If supposedly educated adults and people in the news media offer attention-seeking as the main reason for self-injury instead of just the much rarer but highly visible thing it is, well, it’s easy to see why a lot of people are misled to believe self-injurers are attention-seekers.


OddStatistic's picture
OddStatistic (not verified)

Growing up, I was always wrong. To this day, I’m always wrong. As a kid, if I were angry, sad, or otherwise upset, I had no right to be. I got smacked around pretty badly this one day. I didn’t fight back. I had no right, and in the middle of it, she stopped and asked me - completely serious - what I looked so mad about with my fist balled at my sides. Most recently, I’ve been told it never happened. Maybe it didn’t. I remember it, but I’m always wrong. As recently as last night, I had a conversation with a relative about how incapable and weak I am. Then, there’s self-injury. If I’m wrong, they’re right, and I have nothing to be so disturbed by. So, am I a faker, I wonder all on my own.

I go long periods without cutting and feel so bad about my scars. What was I thinking? Everything is and was fine. They were right. I have no right. Then, the real Vs fake issue comes up and I don’t just feel bad about having cut because I have no legitimate reasons to cut, but because I’ve disrespected people with real problems who are real self-injurers by cutting.

Without running on and on, my point is that we all have damage of one kind or another that brought us here. Checking each other at the door may validate some but hurts others even more. Am I a faker? I, and many others, don’t need the question asked. We ask it ourselves.

As for attention seeking, no. I’ve never done that. Some of you know that I’ve cut my face, but that’s not attention seeking. It’s pretty impossible to hide - not that I have to bother - but it’s not attention seeking. What it is is too involved to get into in this post.


After reading your thoughts on the situation Gabrielle I must agree with you 100%. As a fellow self-injurer I grew up hiding all my cuts, scars, burns, and so on from everyone. To this day only the people on this site know and now my therapist knows about it. I’ll admit it’s a work in progress but I honestly believe it’s just something I’ll have to live with. I guess that’s a pretty bold statement since I’m only 22 but you figure I’ve been doing this for 18 years now. A few of the members that I have grown to trust know my story but I don’t like getting much into it because I never did it for attention. My past is pitch black, my present is pretty dark, and as of right now my future doesn’t look much better. I’m ashamed and hateful towards myself when I think or tell anyone about all the scars, cuts, burns, and now nails that I have damaged my body with. Yes, I said nails because I self-embed which I will never suggest anyone try.

As for the topic of this discussion, when I was in school you had those that cut for personal reasons but you also had those that cut for attention. I think when I first found out about that I was a little upset but instead of being mad or upset I tried to understand why they did it and what they were hoping to gain by doing it. After a while and getting to know most of them that did it for attention you, you found out there was a underlying issue that caused them to turn to self-injury. Still I did find a few that did it only for the attention but that didn’t surprise me. I guess the main thing is you have a vast majority that self-injure and try to hide it, you have a small group that do it for attention but have a underlying issue for why they do it, and you have a hand full that do it for attention. Each person has there own path and make there own choices but when it comes to self-injury at the end of the day no matter what you do or what path you take, it’s still self-injury. So remember at the end of the day, anyone around you could be a self-injurer and those that do it for attention have there own story to so don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

I will admit there is one point of this topic that we didn’t cover that really bothers me. It bothers me that since self-injury hit main stream media that it was labeled as something done for attention. Because of that those that never knew about self-injury now have the mind set the those that do self-injure do it for attention. And with the advances in technology you’ll find mental health reports, blogs, peoples negative opinions, videos, etc. which label all self-injurers at attention seekers. There really needs to be something put into place which corrects that false image of why a person self-injurers and also raises awareness to those that self-injure, those that know someone that does self-injures, those that know nothing or the wrong information on what self-injury is, and to prevent future generations from making the same mistake of starting to self-injure. Education is the key but without a voice to spread the word that information goes to waste.

As for me, I’m going to stand down from my soap box and let the next person give there 2 cents but before I go, no I don’t self-injure for attention. If that was the case then I’d be really stupid for doing it for 18 years.


Some people do SI for attention,Doesnt that mean that there is something emotional wrong with them? But,others,so SI for reasons.For me,attention is the last thing i want from anyone.I hide my scars the best i can,and dont talk to people. I self-injure to deal with emotions,and to forget problems.I hate attention,but i do know a girl who has cut herself to get sympathy from others. I bellieve real SI’s dont want sympathy,just release.Every cut on me is there becuase i’ve been so angry,or so depressed,that i didnt care about how i looked. My self injury was to make my problems go away,it did for a while.My skin is burned all over becuase of s tramatic past. i’ve been called a monster before,and i havnt even talked to anyone.on the note i was on,there may be SI‘ers who only cut for attention,or to go with a group,But,most cut for reasons


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I personally started SHing about a month or two ago, because I/my parents have very high expectations for grades, sports, and music. I’m 13.

I came here to learn more about it. I regard my self some what as a pussy as I make baby cuts as well.  I mean, some are baby cuts, and some are scars that will be there for the next 10 years (using a knife instead of a razor). I quickly realized cutting my arm wasn’t going to fly, as I’m a very active person who would be questioned if I wore long sleeve shirts all the time. So, I stopped on my arm, blamed it on my cat if anyone asked, and tryed to wear long sleeves as much as possible. I have since been just cutting my right thigh. I was just wondering if anyone knows if my pediatrician would check my thighs? Thanks. 


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