When someone you love is self-harming it can be confusing and scary. You don’t want that someone to keep hurting themselves but you don’t know how to stop them. You worry about them and you also might get angry with them—why do you keep hurting yourself? You might ask — is this for attention? You might yell at them to stop. These are all normal reactions. You care for them and you want them to care for themselves.
What are you supposed to do? How can you help them? You wish you could take all their pain away. You wish you could understand how they are feeling and why hurting themselves seems like an answer. But the truth is you can’t take it all away and you can’t fully understand all the pain. What you can do is be there for them. Even if they act like they don’t want you there, deep down they appreciate it. You can show them you support them. The healing is theirs. It needs to happen within them. You can’t make it happen but you can be there to cheer them on and to hold their hand through the tough parts.
A few things to remember if someone you love is self-harming:
1.) It is not about attention. That comment makes anyone who is self-harming’s skin crawl and for good reason. Self-harming is a means of relieving emotional pain by making that pain physical pain. It is deflecting from one area of pain to another. If someone is self-harming there is always a valid reason. The person may be struggling with depression, anxiety, overwhelm, stress, or another mental health condition. It is an attempt to meet a need the person is feeling. Maybe they are consumed with negative thoughts and just want to make them stop. It is not an effective or healthy way to meet a need but it is a way the person is trying. If someone you love is self-harming, avoid saying anything about it being for attention. It is likely something they are trying to hide anyway.
2.) Judgment and criticism only make it worse. If someone you love is self-harming you may be tempted to tell them that it is “ridiculous” for them to hurt themselves. It can be easy to pass your own judgments and criticisms on but it is only going to harm your relationship with that person. They won’t want to share their troubles with you and will go to more lengths to hide their harmful behaviors if they fear judgment and criticism from you. Keep those thoughts to yourself and do your best to be open-minded to their struggles. It can be helpful to spend some time researching why people self-harm so you can be more informed. Speaking to a licensed mental health professional can help you to better support your loved one.
3.) They know it isn’t good. No one who self-harms thinks that it is healthy to hurt themselves. They know it doesn’t make sense as a coping tool. They know it is dangerous. But they also know that it offers temporary relief from their intense emotions. Telling them how dangerous it is isn’t going to help them heal. Rather, help them get the proper help from a mental health professional who can teach them healthy coping tools.
4.) They might not want to talk about it. As someone who cares about them, you will want to try to understand what emotions are driving them to do this. You might want to know more about their triggers and why they keep turning to this for relief. But, they might not want to talk about it. They might not even know all the reasons. They just know that it offers some relief temporarily. Trying repeatedly to get them to talk to you about it, if they don’t want to, is only going to make them avoid you. Rather, let them know you are there to talk when they want to and when/if they are ready.
5.) They aren’t trying to hurt you, even though it does. It is painful to watch someone you care about hurt themself. But, they aren’t doing it to cause you pain. This is about them and what they are feeling, not about you. In fact, most people who self-harm try to keep it a secret. They wear clothing to cover it up. They don’t want you to find out so they don’t hurt you. Instead of making it about you and how they are hurting you, fight for them. Be there for them and know how important it is that you are there standing with them trying to help them through.
6.) Ask them what they need & don’t try to change them. Self-harming is a behavior it is not who a person is. Rather than trying to change them, ask them how you can help. Maybe lighten their stress load, help them clear away self-harming tools, help provide them with healthy coping tools, and get them in touch with a mental health professional.
Take Care of You
You can’t cure these behaviors for a loved one. But, you can take care of yourself. This is a stressful, highly emotional time for you. Make sure you practice self-care and check in with your needs. Lean on those around you. Seek the help of a licensed counselor or therapist who can help to guide you through this confusing time.
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The professionally trained and licensed counselors at Rooted & Rising Therapy in Bridgeville have openings. Our practice specializes in treating individuals through years of experience, we’re confident that no problem is too great to overcome. Through therapy, there is always a way to address the issues you face and learn coping strategies to help you both right now and in the future. Just call our office at (412) 228-8489 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started to feeling better today. We are here for you.