If you have a loved one who is self-harming, you may be feeling overwhelmed with questions and concerns.
Why does my loved one self-harm?
What can I do to help them?
How can I make sure they get the care they need?
These are all valid questions, and since March is self-harm awareness month, we’re going to attempt to answer them.
What Exactly Is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is an often misunderstood concept. Many people think self-harm simply means self-injury through cutting and bruising, but it can refer to a variety of unhealthy behaviors that are used to cope with emotional pain or stress.
These behaviors can include excessive drinking or drug use, disordered eating, picking at skin or self-mutilation, physical fighting, and anything else that a person uses as a self-destructive way of dealing with difficult feelings.
These behaviors could be seen to offer short term relief but oftentimes they can create long-term difficulty or exacerbate underlying mental health problems.
How Do I Know If Someone I Love Is Self Harming?
Is your child or loved one exhibiting unusual behaviors? They may be struggling with self-harming.
To spot it, look out for:
- a fascination with long sleeves and pants
- injuries that they’re especially vague on explaining
- secretiveness where none existed before
- an uptick in negative dialogue towards themselves
- suspicious cuts creating shapes or symbols – not to mention any potentially sharp objects hidden away.
Why Does My Loved One Self Harm?
Self-harm is an incredibly complex and personal topic. It’s understandable to be filled with confusion and curiosity about why a loved one self-harms.
Here are 5 main reasons your loved one may be harming themselves:
1. To cope with difficult emotions:
When someone is feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions like sadness, anger, or anxiety, they may turn to self-harm as a way to cope. Self-harm can provide a temporary release from the pain of these emotions and can help the person to feel more in control.
2. To punish oneself:
Some people who self-harm do so as a way to punish themselves for real or perceived mistakes or shortcomings. They may believe that they deserve to be hurt or that they are not worthy of love and care. This type of thinking can be very harmful and can lead to a spiral of self-destructive behavior.
3. To feel alive:
For some people, self-harm can provide a way to feel more alive. When they are numb or disconnected from their emotions, self-harming can give them a physical sensation that helps them to feel more in touch with their body and their feelings.
4. To express anger:
Anger is a very powerful emotion that can be difficult to express in a healthy way. Some people who self-harm do so as a way to release their anger in a physical form. This can be harmful if it becomes a habit, as it can lead to further isolation and emotional distress.
5. To seek support:
In some cases, self-harming may be a cry for help from someone who feels hopeless and alone. They may believe that injuring themselves is the only way to get the attention and support they need.
Does Self Harm Mean Suicidal?
The short answer? Usually, no.
Self-harm can be a serious problem, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is suicidal.
Oftentimes self-harm is used as an unhealthy coping mechanism to help relieve emotional pain the individual may be feeling. Self-harm doesn’t always mean that the person is wanting to harm themselves or even take their own life; instead self-harm may just be a way for them to deal with the pain they are enduring in an unhealthy manner.
It’s important to remember that self-harm can provide temporary relief for some people for issues such as depression or anxiety and does not often mean that the individual wants to take their own life.
Is There Anything I Can Do To Help?
Offering help to someone self-harming is a challenging yet meaningful endeavor. The best way to help is to create a safe and nurturing environment for them, validating their feelings while providing hope that they can overcome this difficult issue.
Use Active Listening:
Firstly, it’s important to listen actively, rather than immediately trying to provide solutions; self-harming is often more about emotions than logic and understanding what lies beneath the urge can be the key to unlocking recovery.
You can do this by:
- Making eye contact
- Asking open ended questions
- Repeating back what was said
- Paying close attention to the words they’re saying
- Recognizing both verbal and nonverbal cues
- Avoid interrupting
Encourage Them To Seek Help:
Secondly, be proactive in encouraging them to seek professional help; self-harm can manifest from underlying mental illness or trauma and talking with a mental health expert can truly benefit them in getting the care they need.
Finally, try your best not to judge what they are going through and respect their decisions; no matter how wrong something may seem from your point of view, it’s ultimately up to them to decide how best to proceed.
Understanding self-harm can be difficult and it often leaves family members feeling helpless. On the bright side, self-harm is not usually linked to suicide and is more likely a way for those affected to cope with the emotions they are going through.
It is important for family members to keep in mind that their loved one’s pain is valid, regardless of if they self-harm or not. As an outsider, the best way to help someone self-harming is by providing them with a safe space where they can discuss their issues without fear of judgment or condemnation.
Showing that kind of compassion can go a long way in helping your family member make healthier choices when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions.