When you realize or suspect that someone you love is practicing self-harm, you may feel shocked or helpless. Of course you want to help, but you’re not sure what to do. You might be afraid of doing the wrong thing and pushing your loved one into danger or destroying your relationship with them. Perhaps you’re tempted to ignore what you’ve learned, to pretend you don’t know what’s happening and to keep the information a secret, even from yourself.
Staying silent, however, might be the choice that causes the most harm in the long run. You can’t stop the pain your loved one is feeling, but you can provide them with support and help them agree to seek treatment. Take a look at some steps you can take if someone you know is self-harming.
Ways to Help Someone Who’s Self-Harming
People who self-harm do so in a variety of ways. They may scratch or cut themselves, they may keep existing wounds from healing, or they may burn themselves.
Typically, those who self-harm keep these deliberate activities secret. As a result, it can be initially hard to understand what you’re seeing if you notice wounds on a person’s arms or legs. A person who self-harms may isolate themselves or avoid relationships, and they may have difficulty controlling their emotions.
You can reach out to someone who self-harms with support that makes a difference. Having a nonjudgmental attitude toward the person and expressing unqualified support for them as a human being is key to opening the doors to help. Here are some other ways to help someone who is self-harming.
- Don’t dismiss or make fun of their self-harm. Doing so is likely to drive your loved one deeper into self-harm and other negative actions.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Self-harm is an expression of emotional pain and distress. Even asking “How are you feeling?” can allow your loved one an opportunity to express those emotions in a non-destructive way.
- Express your concern and love. People who self-harm feel disconnected from others, as if no one understands them or cares for them. Expressing care can help them feel heard and seen.
- Listen. You may avoid someone who’s self-harming because you feel as if you don’t have the answers they need — but just listening to them with empathy can make a difference.
- Focus on the positive. Now’s the time to remind your loved one of all their good qualities and of how much they mean to you.
While you’re supporting your friend, you should avoid trying to take control of the situation — remember, for many people, self-harm is one of the few things they feel they can control, so your actions could be threatening. Also avoid accusing your loved one of any kind of attention-seeking.
Reaching Out for Further Help and Treatment
With the right help and treatment, your loved one can recover from self-harm. Many people who self-harm are reluctant to seek treatment because they use their self-harm as a coping mechanism. However, by offering to make the first phone call or drive them to their first appointment, you can help set your friend on a path toward healing. Baystate Recovery Center offers multiple levels of treatment for anyone who has been self-injuring. Contact us today to see how we can help.