One of the questions that I regularly get asked both here on the blog and in real life is ‘I know someone who struggles with self harm urges. What can I say to help?’ There are specific things that can help your friend/family member which are personal to them, with those I can’t help. However if you are looking for more general advice then these tips are a great place to start.
- Guilt trips don’t work. This tip works for a range of problems as well as those who are experiencing self harm urges. More than likely, the person is already feeling guilty/stupid/crazy for feeling this way, so please don’t add to these feelings. Telling a person that they *shouldn’t* do something because of xyz often adds to their already overloaded stress coping mechanisms.
- Listen This might seem like common sense but it’s hard when someone you love is expressing a desire to hurt themselves. Effective listening means that you need to listen to what they are telling you without prejudice. Try not to place your experiences onto the person. Listen and offer advice IF it is wanted. Sometimes just having a listening ear is enough.
- Distraction. I know for me personally, sometimes just hanging out with someone or even chatting online about anything but my self harm urges works. It may seem like an avoidance tactic but sometimes the key to overcoming self harm urges is changing the train of thought, removing yourself from the situation and being around people who make you happy.
- Don’t freak out. I already feel like a freak for turning to a blade to make me feel better, please try not to act like I belong in the circus. I know that this is easier said than done, but it can feel really disheartening as someone who self harms when a person offers help and I then have to console and reassure them.
- Be honest and ask questions. If you aren’t sure what to say, let them know. Ask them questions about what they have found helped in the past. Sometimes when you are in the midst of a crisis your mind is going a million miles an hour and it helps when there is someone to help bring things back to a logic place.
- Urge them to seek professional help. While a friend who lends a listening ear is a great asset, there comes times when a person needs to seek professional help. Offer to go with them to the hospital or a Dr. It can be a daunting experience and it’s really helpful to have an advocate. Especially if things don’t go to plan while seeking treatment.
- Offer reassurance. Let the person know that you are there for them and that if they do self harm, it doesn’t make them weak. There are times when a person who self harms, despite the best efforts of those around them, goes through with the self harm. There is usually a lot of guilt felt once the initial adrenaline wears off. Help to reassure the person that you still care about them, try to stay away from *should* statements such as ‘you should have let me know you were feeling that way’.
- Don’t brush off their feelings We all react to things differently. One of the things that my psychologist has said several times to me is that people who self harm often have certain feelings that they find overwhelming and cannot stand to feel them, regardless of their intensity. So while you may experience anger and see it as a healthy emotion, they may find it grating and unbearable.
These are just a starting point to helping a person who is struggling with self harm thoughts and is based on my personal experience. What works for me, may not always work for everyone else.
If you or someone you know is experiencing self harm urges please seek help. You can talk to your GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14
Linking up with Essentially Jess for IBOT