5 Ways to Help a Loved One Who Self-Harms
By Jeanette Lorandini
Knowing that someone you love is self-harming can be very difficult.
You don’t want your loved one to be suffering at all. Yet, you know that they have been dealing with some severe issues for a long time.
Seeing them not only emotionally distraught but also physically hurting themselves is painful to watch.
You want to help, but how? After all, this is not something that you had even realized was a thing.
If you’re struggling to help a loved one who self-harms, there is hope.
Learn more about it and how self-harm counseling can help your loved one.
1. Learn More About Self-Harm
The first thing to do is to learn more about self-harm. There has been quite a bit of research on the topic, although not everyone in the general population may have heard of it.
Self-harm, also known as “cutting,” is when someone creates an injury as a way of coping with complicated emotions or thoughts. Generally, self-harm is not intended to be a way of attempting suicide. Instead, consider self-harm as an unhealthy way—similar to drug or alcohol use—to manage intense emotions.
Often, people who self-harm say that the act of cutting or burning themselves creates focus and pushes away unwanted thoughts. There can often be a triggering event that causes a person’s thoughts to spiral. They then turn to self-harm to keep those emotions seemingly manageable.
2. Provide a Space to Distract
Keep in mind that someone who cuts may not be interested in talking about it. However, you can still help a loved one who self-harms by offering to provide a space for them to focus on an activity.
It could be watching a movie together, playing a board game, listening to music that could be uplifting, giving them a hug, or any activity that can help them distract.
Even if they turn you down, that’s okay. Make sure they know the offer is always open. If they don’t want to spend time with you, then perhaps later.
3. Listen and Don’t Judge
If your loved one does want to talk about self-harm, suspend your judgment. Instead, be open, attentive, and listen to what they have to say. Validate their pain and their struggle. You do not want to validate the invalidate. You can say something like, ” I understand that you are hurting and cutting is a way of coping. At the same time, I would like for you to find other ways to cope with your pain. ”
This approach helps your loved one to understand that you are on their side, not against them. Mainly because people who self-harm know that there is a stigma against the practice.
You don’t want to push them away, so avoid using language that sounds judgmental. Some examples might include, “that’s ridiculous” or “I don’t believe that.” Remember, your objective is to provide support for your loved one.
4. Reaffirm Your Support
During your time together, reaffirm to your loved one that you do want to help and support them. One way is by summarizing what they have said to you or otherwise known as active listening
You shouldn’t do this word-for-word, as this can come off as sounding like you are parroting them. Instead, try to get the gist for their pain , and continue to be supportive. .
Ask for clarification. Let them educate you, which empowers them more than proclaiming they are “wrong” or “misguided.”
5. Turn to Counseling
Knowing how to help a loved one who self-harms is not always an issue that you should be tackling on your own. Professional help from someone who is an expert in self-harm counseling can benefit you and your loved one immensely.
Kindly, respectfully, and gently suggest to your loved one to attend counseling. Don’t be surprised if they turn you down at first. But don’t give up.
Also, consider seeking out therapeutic support for yourself too. Self-harm can bring up lots of emotions for loved ones too. Recognize that you may need support as you help your loved one who self-harms.
Self-harm is a harrowing way—both physically and emotionally—to deal with issues that may be deeply rooted in your loved one’s past. If you want to help a loved one who self-harms, keep in mind to stay open, listen, and not give up.
Please visit our self-harm counseling page or contact us to learn more about how we can help.