June 22, 2010

So you know someone who self-injures

So you've just found out that your child, your pupil, your grandchild or your friend hurts themselves. I am guessing you feel shocked, upset, guilty or angered by this, which are very natural reactions, but what do you do now that you know? How should you approach them? Should you approach them?

In short, now what?

Firstly, it is important to remember that this is not your fault, they are not crazy, they are not seeking your attention and that they are in some degree of emotional pain or turmoil which has manifested in self-injury. They are still the same person you have always known and loved, they are just coping with a problem in a way that might not appear to be very helpful to you, and it is not your fault!

Now that you've processed this information, you need to know what to do, and what not to do. It might take some trial and error to understand which is right and which is wrong for the individual you are dealing with because we are all individuals, and we all hurt ourselves for different reasons and in different ways. The only way to figure that out is to communicate with the person, but for now here is a list of things to do and things not to do!

  • Talk about self-injury with the person, but don't press them for information. Be non-judgemental and let them know that you are there to talk to if they need to discuss this, or anything else, with you. Self-injury is a behaviour that is often very secretive, and the person may feel ashamed about the fact that they hurt themselves, so understandably it might be something that is difficult for them to talk about at first. Just be patient, supportive and do not display any hint of behaviour that may portray you as being judgemental of their self-injury.
  • Do not ask the person to stop self-injurying and do not issue ultimatums. They are very distressing to the person because they feel that their self-injury is often the only thing they can do to cope with their own distress. If you force them to stop self-injurying, they will become even more withdrawn and secretive, and often very afraid that if they do not stop self-injuring you will not love them any more.
  • Do talk to a counsellor about your own feelings and reactions. It is important for anyone in this situation to receive some kind of "self-care" to look after their own wellbeing and mental health. Do not be afraid to seek help for yourself. Caring for someone who self-injures can be very distressing and emotional, and it is important to take care of yourself. You are number one. Always.
These are only three things that you can do, but there are many more. You can read more about how to support a loved one who self-injurers at this website which is a valuable resource for anyone who is affected by self-injury, and also has a very active forum where you can go to ask advice on any aspect of self-injury. A "real-life" counsellor or therapist will also be able to give you some information about how to approach a situation like this.


  1. I used to self-harm really badly. With a bit of positive reinforcement from friends I found that I just grew out of the need to do so. I strongly agree though, deadlines and ultimatums do more harm than good.

  2. I'm a recovering SH. I last SH in December 2009 when I was going through a period of Depression and Anxiety. Touch wood I have been fairly stable since with a added medication change in January in fact I’ve not felt the need or thought to SH since I started on it and things are going very well for me. I too am DX with BPD and Bipolar II.

  3. Congratulations, Ms Moose :) It isn't easy to stop, but it is so rewarding in the end. Good luck!