by Pia Regensburger
A scar is a mark left on the skin after a wound or an injury has healed. This definition likely comes to mind first and foremost in any reflection on scars. The scars we see, the marks left on our bodies bearing witness to past experiences, are likely to remind us of injuries we have suffered, and may even have the power of vividly bringing us back into their place of origin. A number of thin lines on my shin, for example, testify to the danger of stairs; or scars on my knee, they are reminders of childhood accidents; yes, even the faint mark on my toe tells a story. The nature of scars, it seems, is that they are visible, they have the ability of pointing back to a painful experience. Yet at the same time, and crucially, they are a sign of healing, of having fully overcome the injury – they tell a story that lies in the past.
There is, however, yet another way of thinking about scars: the scars of trauma. What I mean by this term I cannot explain, for finding a definition to capture the ambiguity, fluidity, and instability of the scars of trauma seems impossible. They can be visible scars on the body, of the kind described above; yet ultimately, it is not the physical, bodily marks in themselves, but the invisible scars to which they point that is of concern to me when speaking of the scars of trauma. The scars of trauma are within us, aiming to cover up grief and sorrow, anguish and despair; they are hidden from outsiders and at the same time all too easily hidden from ourselves. For it is the essence of sorrow to hide, sometimes even deceive. Sorrow is reserved, silent, solitary, and seeks to retire to itself, yet it continues to live on in the depths of ourselves, gradually turning into an invisible scar. As the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes: ‘the need for sorrow to break through, to whatever extent it may on occasion have expressed itself, ceases to exist; the exterior is calm and composed, and deep inside, sorrow lives like a well-guarded prisoner in an underground cell, where it spends year after year in its monotonous movement, walking back and forth in its by-chamber.’ The scars of trauma, regardless of how deeply hidden they are from ourselves and others, and how well the wound is covered by them, should however not deceive us to think that the process of healing has been completed – for the scars never cease of having the potential of being ripped open, turning once again into a gaping wound.
The scars we see, the visible marks on our body, point towards a wound or injury that has healed, an experience that has passed. The scars of trauma, however, regardless of how deeply hidden, how inconceivable they may be to both outsiders and oneself, point towards a wound that can never heal, that can never be fully overcome, a wound that can start bleeding at any given moment in time. The nature of scars is paradoxical – the scars we can see are wounds that have healed and are no longer a part of us, while the scars that are invisible are wounds that are forcefully and permanently present, always part of our identity. It is that which is hidden, that which is invisible, to which we ought to direct our attention to; for although the visible scars on our body necessarily form a part of us, it is what we cannot see, the scars of trauma, and the way in which we engage with them, that makes up our identity, our being, and our true selves.