How to Help Someone with Self Harm Urges

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?’ amity-1107005_640There 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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’.
  8. 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

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25 thoughts on “How to Help Someone with Self Harm Urges

    1. Tegan Post author

      Self harm is not the same as suicide. Self harm is often used as a way to keep going and not commit suicide. Taking a person’s feelings seriously is definitely one of the most important things in supporting someone who is suffering from self harm urges.

      Reply
  1. Toni @ Finding Myself Young

    I think this is good advice for dealing with people who are suffering any type of mental illness. I have mentioned in the past I haven’t ever self harmed, but I am well versed in mental illness and from my experience a lot of this advice would help in many situations.

    Reply
  2. Zita Hooke

    Great tips Tegan! In my current role working as a Guidance Officer in a High School I am sometimes mortified/scared/shocked/distressed (am not sure which emotion is stronger) by the number of young girls turning to self harm as a way of coping. It is frightening and I feel, reading your tips, that I am on the right track to helping them…. thanks again

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I am glad that this post was able to help you feel like you are on the right track. From getting to know you through your blog I think that you would make a great guidance officer. The one I had when I was at school was a bit of a twit!

      Reply
  3. Alison

    Yes! Guilt trips are about the person doing the guilting and have bugger all to do with helping the sufferer. Agree with all of this. How I wish there was a way to mute people when they start talking shite.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      Yep, and that is why I steer away from the but think how your loved ones will feel. It’s likely (unless they are sociopath) that they have already thought about their loved ones and they don’t need some lughead reminding them again.

      Reply
  4. EssentiallyJess

    Thanks Tegan. Such great advice.
    I’ve found that just listening and not handing out judgement or even ‘solutions’ can be one of the best things for so many people suffering any kind of mental illness. I know how much it irritates me when I just need someone to listen and not fix things, and yet that’s what they try and do. And it’s because they want to see things better for me, but just don’t know how to do it. I think that’s part of what makes it so isolating sometimes. If you feel that all you will get is advice, it’s easier to stop talking.
    But anyway, that was me going off on a tangent wasn’t it?!
    Thanks for sharing. xx

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I find myself doing the same thing too Jess and often I do have to take a step back and realise that sometimes they just need a hug and a listening ear. Oh and go off on a tangent all you like! I love hearing different thoughts on the posts I write 🙂

      Reply
  5. Lydia C Lee

    You do really good work – it’s honest and helpful and I’m sure very useful to many, many people. It’s also accessible to those who are chartering new waters. (Just thought you might like the feed back, though I’m sure you already know it)

    Reply
  6. SarahD @SnippetsandSpirits

    I think this is really great advice Tegan. The best advice only comes from the ones whom know. I think guilt trips is a big one along with being honest and asking questions that way a conversation can be opened up. I think many make the mistake of making someone feel even more guilty then they already are and I would imagine that can be detrimental. Thank you for sharing this insight.

    Reply
  7. Kate

    Tegan, I have to confess that while I am a very empathetic person by nature, I’m often at a loss to know how to deal with someone in this situation. I’m really glad for this advice because it takes the pressure off having to respond perfectly and reminds me to just be there and not avoid the conversation. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I’ve been struggling with these thoughts for over 11 years and I still find myself at a loss for words as to how to help a friend in the same situation. I think it’s just our love for that person, and our desire to protect them just gets in the way sometimes.

      Reply
  8. Lisa@RandomActsOfZen

    I think the biggest message I get from this is “be honest and ask questions”. It’s hard for me to gauge when I’m asking an OK question, and when I’m coming across as just too nosey and crossing the line.
    Thanks for putting this honest list out there Tegan. x

    Reply
  9. Bec @ The Plumbette

    Thanks Tegan for this post. I’m taking away a lot and will use these tips if I come across someone who has the urge to self harm. I prefer to have some sort of idea on the right way to approach the subject if a friend brings it up.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Self Harm Myths | Musings of the Misguided

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