This brief article is aimed to support you if you were to self-injure or if someone close to you has just disclosed that they self-injure and you’d like to know how to best respond. Self-injury can take many forms; there’s a misconception that it is only cutting or scratching oneself. People develop different ways to hurt themselves.
There are numerous ideas on the function of self-injury. Some people talk about the need to replace emotional pain with physical pain. Some people may self-injure in an attempt to feel more, at a time that they feel numb. Others discover that their self-injuring releases anger that they’re unable to share with others. One thing every person I work with feels strongly about though, is that their self-injuring is part of their way of coping. Giving yourself or your loved one a no-self-injury ultimatum is never helpful, in fact it can do more harm.
When supporting people who self-injure that initial reaction of acceptance is crucial, and the same goes for you if you were to be that person, that self-acceptance is key. As you’re listening to them disclosing this, remember that they trusted you with that information and keeping that trust is something you need to attend to. You may find yourself feeling unsettled as you’re listening to the various ways self-injury takes place but remember that we all hurt ourselves at times, even if not in external, visible ways. We do injure ourselves emotionally; harsh self-criticism is a good example of that. Try not to think differently of the person now that you know this about them and remember, we’re all in this together. As you’re having that intimate dialogue you may understand something more about yourself too.
It is pivotal that once you’ve listened to that person, you gently ask more about how they’re looking after themselves after moments of self-injury. Do this to get a sense of how they’re managing it all. Often there may be a sense of shame for the individual, so hear them out and sit with them a bit with whatever is going on for them now that they shared this with you.
If you did all that, you’ve already done so much for them. Make sure that you’re looking after yourself too. Supporting a loved one who self-injures isn’t easy and you may want to encourage them to seek professional support. Initially you may be the only one who knows this about them, but it doesn’t have to be this way. To fight the stigma and lack of awareness there are places you can go to for support, and you can pass these on to that person. The more support the better, given that it is the right kind of support.
On a finishing note, even as you’re reading this you may feel overwhelmed and lonely. It makes sense that you do; it is hard to deal with as there’s so much stigma around. Hear me out though when I say, there are people out there who understand that struggle and ready to support you in whatever ways they can.
LifeSIGNS – Self-Injury Guidance & Network Support