Cutting is probably the most well-known forms of self-injury although it is far from the only one. If your loved one has been harming themselves, you are probably really scared. I don’t blame you.
But please know the world is not coming to an end. They aren’t the first one to do this and I can guarantee you, they aren’t the last. But as a person who used to injure myself on an almost daily basis, I would encourage you to keep reading to find out some ways you can help them.
1. Get Rid Of the Myths About Cutting
There are two HUGE myths I hear all the time about cutting. The first one is that people who cut themselves are doing so as an attempt to commit suicide. While it’s true that suicide can occur via blood loss, this is NOT the common reason people injure themselves.
In fact, often times the opposite is true. Most people give two reasons for hurting themselves: a need for control, or a need to feel something.
The second myth is that cutting is a cry for attention. This one bothers me to no end because it doesn’t even make sense. I mean, I’m sure there are some people out there who do it once or twice to show it off and “look cool” or get attention. But the majority of people I know who have truly suffered from self-injury go to all kinds of crazy lengths to make sure no one ever finds out.
Someone I once knew primarily injured the soles of their feet and for years made up excuses as to why they couldn’t go barefoot. Many people wear long sleeves to cover marks on their arms.
I was careful to avoid leaving marks and if I did, I made sure it was where no one would see. While people who are cutting are often hurting emotionally, injuring themselves is NOT a cry for attention.
2. Don’t Shame Them
I realize this is probably really emotional for you. There might be a TON of thoughts flowing in your mind. You may feel guilt, as though it is your fault. Perhaps you are afraid they will go too far and die.
Confusion is a common emotion as well as you’re trying to understand why someone would intentionally cause themselves pain. But no matter what you’re feeling, calm down and put them aside before you spend too much time talking with the person. Emotion-filled words are powerful and they could make a bad situation a whole lot worse.
The most important thing to do when you are ready to talk is to make sure you don’t make the person feel ashamed. More than likely, they already feel “weird” and “not normal”. They don’t need you to tell them they are strange.
It will just cause them to have even lower self-esteem which could quite possibly make the cutting worse. Instead, make sure they know you love them and that you want to help. Let them know you care and you’re concerned. But don’t tell them they’re “stupid” or ask questions like, “Why would anyone in their right mind do THAT!?”
If you do shame someone for a self-injurious behavior, you have shown that you can’t be trusted. And if you can’t be trusted, you had better believe they aren’t going to call you if and when things do get out of control. Worse yet, they won’t let you help them. That is NOT what you want.
3. Do Listen To Them
In a non-accusing way, ask them why they feel like they need to hurt themselves. If they’re not forth-coming, put some ideas out there: Do they think it’s cool? Are they punishing themselves? Does it relieve tension?
Also, ask what kind of things are going on when they feel the need to cut. Is it during times of extreme stress? Or is it when things seem too calm and quiet?
Next, find out how they feel about it. Are they proud they can injure themselves or are they embarrassed? Do they want to stop, or do they think it’s safe to continue?
Don’t judge them for their responses. Just listen.
4. Remember, Cutting Is Not The Problem.
I know you are looking at your computer screen with wide eyes. Of course, hurting yourself is a problem. There are a lot of dangers including infection, and blood loss which could be deadly. Regardless of the severity of self-injury, however, cutting is simply a symptom of a much more serious problem. A person who cuts almost always is suffering from extreme emotional distress of one form or another and they are unable to deal with that stress on their own. No matter how hard you try to make them not injure themselves, they will always find a way. The only way to make someone stop cutting themselves is to help them heal their mind and emotions.
5. Brainstorm Together
More than likely, there is at least a small part of the person you love who wants to stop cutting themselves. They may be afraid like I was. And that’s okay. Once you’ve heard them say they want to stop, don’t rush ahead. It’s a HUGE deal and if you go too fast, they’re going to fall off the wagon pretty quickly. Instead, ask them their opinion on ways you can help and then offer a few of your own. If they aren’t comfortable with a suggestion, don’t force the issue. Try something else instead.
I do not believe there is a single thing that works for everyone, but here are some conversation starters that may be helpful.
- Are they willing to set up a plan so that if they harm themselves, they will come to you so you can help make sure it doesn’t get infected?
- Would they like a journal where they can write down their feelings before and after injuring themselves to release some of their emotions? Would they give you permission to read it?
- If they have a difficult time talking to you face to face, as a lot of people with anxiety tend to do, would they be willing to give something like this Mother Daughter Journal a try?
- Would they like to talk to someone outside of the family such as a local pastor, or a professional counselor?
- Especially if they have physical wounds, do they agree to see a doctor to ensure they’re physically okay?
- Can they tell their doctor about the way they feel and consider some anti-depressants?
- Discuss some natural ways to fight back against depression.
- Do they give you permission to limit their time alone to try to help them not cut themselves?
- If they have a cell phone, are they willing to talk to a trained counselor via text the next time they wish to self-harm? If so, they can text the word CONNECT to 741741. This works for any kind of mental crisis, including having a desire to self-harm, or even a contact afterward. It is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
- Is there anything they can think of that may help?
6. Don’t Steal The Control
Did you notice most of the last point is questions? That’s because one of the primary reasons people begin cutting is because they feel they have zero control over their lives.
As a loved one, I know you’re scared and you want them to stop. But taking away all control and forcing them to stop is NOT the answer.
I have talked with quite a few other self-harmers and most of them say their parents tried to make them stop so they just got sneakier. You don’t want your loved one to hide what they’re doing. That is only going to make it worse. Show them they have the control and the power to treat themselves the way they deserve to be treated.
7. Check Out These Resources
This book is good for anyone interested in learning more about self harm. Whether you struggle with the addiction, or love someone who does, you have got to read this. The authors did a wonderful job dispelling some of the myths I’ve mentioned here and more as well as providing a myriad of tips and suggestions for how to overcome.
What I like most about this book however is the focus placed on learning to regulate emotions rather than simply learning how to avoid self-harm. Personally, this was crucial for me gaining control of my impulses. It also contains some helpful worksheets to enable someone to have some inward reflection into the reasons they feel the need to harm themselves.
Doctor Shapiro has done an excellent job with helping people, especially teenagers, get to to the bottom of their reasons for self-harm and cutting. If you have a teen who likes to write, or at least isn’t completely opposed to it, this book may be a very valuable resource for them! From help writing a letter to parents about what he refers to as “SI” to worksheets exploring their inner struggles and fears, it reaches into a lot of deep areas. Even if you are an adult, however, it still has a lot of amazing insight and prompting I truly haven’t seen elsewhere, so I have to recommend it for you as well although be warned, some parts are obviously not going to pertain to you quite as much as others will.
Please Take Time To Share This Or Pin It For Later
If this article was helpful to you, please consider sharing it with your friends and family. Cutting and self-harm is something many people are embarrassed about and you may have no idea who needs to read this.