This is one of the most controversial topics. With people who have never self-harmed can not comprehend why & how an individual can intentially cause themselves harm. Self-harm can be defined as deliberate nonsuicidal injury to one’s own body tissue, as cutting or burning the skin, or pulling out hair, in a physical manifestation of emotional distress. The reasoning behind why someone chooses to self-harm varies some people self-harm because their emotions are so overwhelming, and they are struggling to cope with distressing feelings and thoughts. It serves as an attempt to manage the unbearable pain of those emotions . It is, contrary to what people believe, a way of surviving a way of blocking out the dark thoughts that tend to cloud them. It is not an act of attention, or a suicide attempt. Although it can build to suicidal feelings.
It can become a vicious cycle; self-harm can make one feel shame and embarrassment, which creates more overwhelming feelings, which then brings about anxiety and self loathing that can lead to self-harming again, for the temporary relief. Self-harm can be like a drug, addicting once you start it can be hard to stop. Once you feel the relief each time it becomes like a trance you fall into to escape the overwhelming pain and emotions. Like drugs the addition can get worse and worse, even though you know it’s not good for you, you can’t stop yourself. It becomes an easy escape because the sad reality being it is much easier to deal with the outside physical pain than what you’re feeling inside. An escape that can make one hate themselves but at the same time stop themselves from doing something much more sinister. Most people who self-harm know it is not good, it’s self-damaging and it makes them more self-conscious then they most likely are already.
HERE’S WHAT NOT TO SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SELF-HARM.
People who self-harm are already deeply self-conscious and ashamed, they are really delicate, more often than not they do not like talking about their scars. This isn’t because they don’t want the help, it can be that they don’t know how to express their feelings or explain themselves.
Especially when they are asked why or when they are told to stop. These are things they are already internally fighting with. They don’t know why they keep doing, they want to stop but can’t and you repeating it demines them. It makes them feel small and tends to make them close off even more.
It’s not a cry for attention, its like an internal battle with their self-conscious and more of a complicated cry for help. It is a tricky and complicated, but here are some ways to help a friend/ relative who self harms:
- Avoid judgement. Those who are self-harming may get worried that they are being judged or assumed to be suicidal. This can cause them to shut down even more.
- Seek understanding. Genuinely be interested in understanding how this helps them, what purpose it serves and why they do it. It might be helpful to know about the type of injury, the frequency, coexisting mental health issues, their willingness to seek help and their risk for suicide.
- Be supportive. Even if their actions don’t make sense to you, try to be supportive and tell them you will be there for them.
- Don’t dismiss. Please don’t dismiss or ridicule their actions.
- Don’t ask for promises. Asking someone to promise you they will stop hurting themselves might be even more distressing to them. This ask might also make them feel like they don’t have control over the action anymore. Unfortunately, if they hurt themselves, they will end up with an additional guilt of disappointing you.
- Try to be accepting and normalize (you don’t have to tell them they’re right) how they feel as people cope differently, and gently encourage them to seek help. You can gently help them understand that this behavior is not working for them and offer to get help.
- Stay calm. You might feel angry that someone you care about is hurting their own body, but reacting with anger can shut the conversation down. That person you care about needs your kindness right now.
- Acknowledge their emotions. Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress. You can ask open questions about their feelings. These can be as simple as ‘How are you feeling?’ or ‘What are you feeling?’. Remember, this is about them expressing their emotions. You might feel you need to urgently understand why they are doing it, but it’s usually best to give them time and space to talk in their own words.
- Show care and concern. Focusing on people’s emotional distress can help people feel cared for and heard. We know that caring relationships are key to helping people who self-harm.
- Be non-judgmental. There is a lot of stigma around self-harm. People can feel really apologetic and embarrassed, which can add to their distress and make them less likely to speak about it. Let the person in your life know they don’t need to be apologetic or say sorry to you. You are there to listen and support them to find a way through.
Always give yourself credit, even though you relapse. Do not loose hope, take small steps and give yourself credit, because even though it doesn’t feel like it, YOU ARE STRONG & YOU ARE DOING GREAT. You are not alone and you are not to blame!