Self-Harm and Safe Places

By Mallory Ellington

This piece is part of our Mental Health Month blog series, where we highlight and explore eight different mental health struggles. Here’s Mallory’s experience with and perspective on self-harm and vulnerability.

We all want, and we all need, a safe place to land. We all deserve to have a safe space to exist in. Finding and cultivating this safe space is incredibly difficult for some of us. Having a safe place means that you are fully known whilst still fully loved and accepted.

It is terrifying to be fully known. To be exposed. To be vulnerable. The chance of rejection is high. The risk does not seem to outweigh the reward. As I’ve gotten older I have tried to be more vulnerable, more open, but I am careful that I do so in safe places.

I need to know I will be okay. I need to know I will not be treated differently. I need to know I will still be loved.

I remember sharing at an FCA gathering my senior year of high school about my journey with self-harm and suicide when just a year before I almost ended my life. Even today I remember so vividly sitting in my favorite recliner refusing to move the night before an important test because I feared if I stood up I would find a way to hurt myself. My “I have it together” facade at school was becoming harder and harder to maintain as my struggle worsened and I began to plan my graduation from self-injury to suicide.

Overall my story was well received and I was celebrated for sharing something so painful. But I had one classmate that never treated me the same after that Friday morning.

That was the day I learned not everyone is a safe person to share with, not everyone will honor your story or honor you.

Since then I have tried to be outspoken about mental health and its many faces. And I have been navigating the waters of how to share, when to share, and who to share with. Because my story and my feelings belong to me. And in sharing, I show my deepest struggles.

Not everyone gets to bear witness to me. Not everyone gets to know my pain. And that’s okay.

I know who the safe people are in my life. I know who will not run and hide on my darkest days. I know who will hold me and hold me tight when I start to spiral. I know who knows me and loves me.

Yes, there are people who have seen my scars and walked away. Yes, I take a risk when I write or post to social media. And I am constantly mindful of this. I make sure I am capable of handling the risk—no matter how it turns out. It took me a number of years to get to here and that is okay. Because now I have a number of people in my life who don’t bolt when I tell them the desire to self-harm is coming back. They don’t yell. They don’t freak out. They wrap me in their arms or spend time talking with me on the phone to make sure I know I am safe.

Especially now, I think this is incredibly important. I recognize that it is a gift that I am able to work from home. But this transition to life online has been difficult. Having to social distance and shelter in place when I really want, and honestly need, a hug has been hard.

And I know the problems that could come up with my mental health.

I know that this stress and lack of control could lead me to want to self-harm again. It was one of the first things I considered as changes began happening. So I had to make decisions quickly about how to take care of myself. There were moments during those first couple of weeks that were incredibly overwhelming and I was not sure how to cope.

But I have safe people.

People, who even though we may not be in the same place, I can reach out to. People who know to check-in and make sure that I am doing well, both physically and mentally. People who give me permission to do what is best for me because they know the alternative. I have taken great comfort in being assured that I am known and well-loved. I have found rest even in just the conversations I have had with these individuals in my life.

So find your safe places and find your safe people, and rest in their embrace.

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Comments (10)

  1. Tabatha Hubbard

    Reading your story hit me different.. in a good way. I don’t talk about my self harm or depression very much to anyone. That is a very difficult thing for me to do ( open up to people). Seeing that people do have someone they can trust to talk to and lean on is an amazing thing especially because I know what it feels like to not have someone or to have someone but you don’t know how to talk, so they don’t really understand. But thank you for sharing your story.

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  2. Andrea

    I hope one day everyone has a “safe person” who they can turn to in a time of need. I truly appreciate you sharing your story.

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  3. Zoe Burrows

    Thank you

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  4. Kelly Hanwright

    Mallory, I SO feel your vulnerability on the risk taken when writing or blogging about mental health. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  5. Phoebe

    I wish I had people in my life like this. Every time I have shown myself, the people I thought would never abandon me, left me.

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    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Phoebe,

      We’re so sorry to hear that when you’ve opened up to people, they haven’t reacted in the way you hoped. We want you to know that you are not alone though, others have experienced what you’re going through and there are people who want to help and be there for you. Would you email us at so we can learn more about your story and offer you some support?

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  6. Sarah

    Thank you

    Reply  |  
  7. Emily

    Thank you for sharing your story here. My self-harm scars are decades old, and I’ve spent a ton of energy over the years trying to keep them hidden. Over the past few years, I’ve been a lot looser about letting my scars. Not in every setting, but way more than ever before. It’s been freeing. The people who have asked me about them have thanked me for sharing. The more you show, the more others will too. Everyone has their thing. If someone turns away because of what you’ve shared, it’s not you, it’s them. Most people want to help. I will always, always regret cutting myself in such a way that I have lifelong visible scars, but I can look at them now and feel good about how far I’ve come. Now, my young son is dealing with these same issues. I’m thankful for TWLOHA for the advocacy and the stigma smashing, and for all of those who share their story so we know we’re not alone. Best wishes to all.

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  8. Karon

    Thank you for sharing part of your story, Mallory. Many of your words, I have thought myself. It’s reassuring to hear that you have found safe people and safe places. I have yet to find that. My scars go back decades and I struggle to trust enough to find safe people. Maybe some day I can be vulnerable and still rest in their embrace.

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  9. Zoe Burrows

    Thank you this helps me realise and it is more I haven’t self-harmed now for over a month the temptation is their

    Reply  |  
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