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Self-Injury: A Guide for Family and Friends

A Guide for Family and Friends

When you discover that someone close to you uses a razor to cut her skin or a cigarette to burn her arm, you may be scared and even disgusted. That can make it hard to help someone. But if you want that person to heal, it's important to do what you can to support the person who injures herself. Here are a few ideas experts recommend about what to say and do if someone you love hurts herself.
  • Don't take it personally. The person is not cutting, burning, or hitting herself to make you feel bad or guilty. She is not doing this to get attention.
  • Be honest with yourself about how her behavior makes you feel. Don't pretend that you think it's OK if you really think it's gross. Find someone else to talk with about this—maybe even a therapist. It may sound strange to get help for someone else's problem, but self-injury can trigger very strong reactions, especially if you love the person.
  • Make sure she knows that you love her, whether or not she self-injures. Don't tell her how you feel about her specific behaviors. She already feels ashamed enough.
  • Tell her that you'd like to help her, and ask her what help she needs. Many people who hurt themselves have a hard time saying what they need. That's why it's good for you to ask directly.
  • Don't avoid the subject of self-injury. Let her know that you're willing to talk about it. Let her know that you want to understand why she hurts herself. If she wants to talk about it, that will open the door. If she's not ready, just let her know that you will listen when she's ready to share.
  • Be available. Most people who hurt themselves don't do it in front of other people. So if you are with her, she will do it less often. Just your company gives her other options.
  • Set limits if you need to. For instance, if it makes you too uncomfortable to be with her when she is actually cutting herself, you can tell her that you care about her too much and it hurts you to watch. Say it in a kind, loving way.
  • Acknowledge the pain she's in. Tell her that you know she's not trying to make life hard for anybody and that you understand she is in a lot of pain. Offer her hope about the possibility of learning other ways to cope with her feelings.
  • Take her on a field trip. Sometimes just being distracted—like going to a movie or out for a walk—can help her through a hard time. Tell her you know that she feels lousy and that she can stay in her bad mood as long as she wants. But you just want to do something nice for her today.
  • Don't try to force your friend to stop before she's ready. It won't work. She wouldn't choose to hurt herself if she knew about better ways to cope. back to top
Last Modified Date: 4/11/2001
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