How to support a friend who is self harming

supporting a friend who is self harming

People who self-harm often use it as a coping mechanism to help them to deal with difficult feelings or painful memories.

Self-harm is when a person purposefully inflicts harm or pain on their own body. Common types of self-harm include cutting, biting, and scratching your skin, alcohol, and drug misuse, and over or under-eating.

People who self-harm often keep it a secret from friends and family and feel shame and embarrassment about what they’re doing. Whilst there is a lot of stigma around self-harm, this is something that needs to be stamped out to encourage people to seek help sooner if they are suffering.

In this article, we will explain a little more about how to help a friend who’s self-harming.

Finding out that a friend is self-harming

Finding out that a friend is self-harming can be very difficult. It’s not unusual to feel a range of emotions including shock, sadness, anger, and helplessness.

You may feel disbelief and frustration when you first find out and question why on earth they are doing this to themselves. Whilst this is a perfectly normal reaction to discovering that someone you love and care about is deliberately hurting themselves, it’s important to get your feelings under control before you speak to them.

How to react if you know someone is self-harming

Many people who self-harm do so because they are struggling to manage very hard feelings and emotions.

The way that you respond to finding out that your friend is self-harming could affect how they are feeling and whether they feel that they can rely on your support.

When you speak to someone about their self-harming, try to do so calmly and with compassion. Self-harm can be difficult to understand if you have not been there yourself, so avoid being judgemental, confrontational, or overly emotional when speaking to someone who self-harms.

How to help a friend who’s self-harming

If you have a friend who is self-harming it is understandable to feel helpless and worried about them. Whilst you cannot force anyone to stop self-harming, you can offer them some of the most valuable support possible simply by being there for them.

Here are some of the best ways you can help a friend who is self-harming:

Be calm, caring, and compassionate – This one might sound obvious, but it can be easy to panic and overreact if you discover someone you love is hurting themselves. Making sure that you always speak to someone who self-harms with patience, kindness, and compassion can provide them with a valuable safe space to talk about any difficult feelings that they may be having.

Let them know you’re there to listen to them and support them – Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone who is going through a difficult time is to keep showing up for them. Even if you’re sitting side-by-side in silence, knowing that you’re there for them if they do want to speak can be comforting and help someone who is self-harming to feel less alone.

Encourage them to seek further help – As a friend, there is only so much you can do to help someone who is self-harming. If your friend is struggling with their mental health or cannot stop self-harming they may need professional help or support to stop. You can find a list of useful contacts for those who self-harm on the Mind website here.

Educate yourself about self-harm – It is easier to help someone who is self-harming if you are educated in self-harm and how to support someone who is going through it. The self-harm, suicide, and substance misuse masterclass that we run here at CBAT covers how to support people who self-harm, understanding why people do it, when and how to intervene, and details about relevant services and support groups that may help.

What to avoid doing and saying to someone who is self-harming

If a friend is self-harming it can be difficult and upsetting to deal with. Sometimes, even those with the best intentions can end up worsening the situation by reacting in an unhelpful way. Some things to avoid saying and doing if you find out a friend is self-harming include:

  • Trying to take control away from them or force them to do things they don’t want to.
  • Ignoring what is happening.
  • Questioning whether they are ‘attention-seeking’.

Find out more about our Self-Harm, Suicide, and Substance Misuse Masterclass online or book your place on the course today by calling us on 01772 816922.