Talking About Self Harm
Self harm (also described as self injury) is still a topic that people struggle with. That’s understandable. It’s a hard thing to think about. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. So, since it’s Self Injury Awareness Day, I thought I would write down some of things that I’ve learned, things I’ve found useful, things that I wish other people had known during my ‘self harm journey…’ So, without further ado, here are some dos and don’ts for talking about self harm, from my experience at least…
- Try to stay calm – Simply put, don’t freak out and say something you might regret. It’s a hard thing to find out about anyone, let alone someone you really care about. You’re allowed to feel your feelings but try to control any outbursts of upset or frustration.
- Ask – If you don’t know what to say, ask them. It’s okay not to know and asking, ‘how can I help you?’ or ‘what response do you want/need to hear?’ is better than anxious rambling or silence.
- Offer what you can – Even if it’s only being a person to call, assure the person that you are there for them and that you will support them through whatever it is they’re going through. But don’t make promises you can’t keep by overcommitting.
- Remember that it’s not about you – A person doesn’t self harm because their parents nag or because their friend said they couldn’t hang out. Yes, negative interactions and experiences can trigger it but a person wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t something really serious going on internally. It’s not about you, it’s about them and what they’re going through.
- Grab the area that’s injured or scarred and demand an explanation – A confrontational or accusing attitude won’t help either of you and it’s NOT okay to touch someone without their consent even if you think you’re trying to help. Try to stay calm, and allow them to direct the conversation if possible.
- Judge – Unless you’ve struggled with self harm, you can’t know what it’s like. That’s okay. You’re not expected to understand it but that doesn’t mean you can’t be compassionate and supportive. Try to keep an open mind while having these conversations.
- Simply ask them to give it up – If it were that simple, no one would self harm. If someone is hurting themselves – going against their body’s survival instinct – there’s something seriously intense going on and so just stopping isn’t possible. And that inability to stop can turn into a lot of guilt and self blame so it’s a sensitive subject in itself.
- Ask them to give up for you – I know it can seem like positive motivation (and maybe it works for some people) but it actually just creates more pressure and more pressure is exactly what they don’t need right at that moment. I’m not an expert but from my own experience, pressure leads to feeling even more guilty and all the negative emotion just builds and builds and makes the whole thing worse.
I hope these things have been helpful and I’d love to know what else you would add to this. Awareness and understanding are so important and every conversation matters. And if you’re someone that struggles with self harm, I hope you remember that you’re doing the best you can. Obviously everyone wants you to be in a place where you don’t feel you need self harm but that’s a really big thing. It’s not a place you can necessarily get to over night but every day that you get through – every hard moment – is a success, however you get through it. It’s a process and whatever speed you travel through it is okay. Living is hard. You’re doing fine.
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