How Can I Help?

Unknown author

I think the most important way in which others can help self-harmers is by listening and not judging them. It is often very hard to even try and contemplate why a person would ever want to deliberately injure themselves and if it is someone you care about it can be very distressing and frustrating for all involved and it is ok to seek help from others yourself in helping the self-harmer.

There are a number of online resources for those who have friends or relatives who self-harm where they can receive support and help in coming to terms with others harming behaviour but here are a few simple ways you can help.

If someone has told you that they self-harm then it is because they trust you! This is often the biggest step for us because self-harm is not something we are proud of and often we go to great lengths to hide it. You’re probably not aware of how much of a relief it was for that person to have finally told someone so in a big way you have already helped. You have also taken the time by coming here to try and understand and learn more which is also a very good thing; it shows that you care and that is above all a supportive thing to be doing.

It is important not to be sickened by a person who self-harm’s purely because you don’t understand, they are still the same person you knew before you found out they harmed themselves and so it shouldn’t be seen as a whole seperate entity which needs to be immediately banished in order for you to continue loving them.

Self-harmers are often scared that when people find out they will ‘disown’ them and threaten to walk away if they don’t stop immediately; this is an unrealistic burden on a person as self-harm is in many ways an addiction, it is doubtful that they want to harm themselves, they feel they need to for whatever reason and would probably have preferred to have stopped rather than admit the problem to anyone. Threatening the self-harmer will do nothing other than isolate them further and probably stop them from confiding in you again so however much you want to scare the person into quitting you probably won’t.

If you have found out by accident that a friend or relative hurts themselves the worst thing you can do is hound them about it! If they want to discuss it with you they will in their own time and by relentlessly questioning them about it you are further backing up the belief they may already have that they are strange or alone. Self-harm is a private act and making someone who doesn’t want to talk about it discuss it with you you are intruding in their own personal space in the same way that there are things you may not want to discuss with others. Make it clear that you are always willing to listen and help without judging but please don’t intrude because you may well alienate them further!

It may be tempting to rush the person who harms themselves straight off to the doctor/psychiatrist/counsellor/local psychiatric ward but that is rarely the answer. People seem to believe that the medical profession can instantly cure anything but this is not the case with issues such as these. If the person wants to see a psychiatrist then fine but you should not force this upon them because it will undoubtedly be ineffective as therapy where one party in incooperative is impossible. I have encountered countless younger people who have been dragged off to therapy the minute their parents found out they self-harmed and the overwhelming feelings are of resentment, anger and fear. Believe me the thought of having to discuss your feelings with a complete stranger is hard enough when you have made your own personal choice to let alone when you don’t have a choice about whether you want to or not. Psychiatry and drugs have had little success in dealing with self-harm so as much as you may want to get that kind of help for your friend or relative and as much as you may think it’s ‘for their own good’ please reconsider and instead ask them what they would like you to do for them.


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