3 Things I Want People to Know About Helping an Adult Who Self-Harms

Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I’m a 30-something woman. I experience bouts of anxiety and depression. And while some people say it doesn’t exist, I’m an adult who has self-harmed to try to cope with my severe depression.

While self-harm can take many forms, the method I used was cutting. The drive to cut can be so overwhelming. When the feelings of worthlessness get too strong and too painful, it seems to be the only thing to numb it and quiet the inner dialogue filled with self-hatred, shame and disgust. The relief after cutting feels instantaneous. It washes away the uncontrollable feelings and immediately brings a peace that isn’t easy to find.

But the relief is short-lived. Sometimes right after, the shame returns once again. Only more intense. The voices of people in my life echo in my mind, “What are you? A dramatic teenage girl? Grow up!” or “I don’t know why you think you need to do this to get attention.” These previous comments get the wheel of shame cranking in my mind and the depression, guilt, shame, disgust, worthlessness and other feelings wash back over me. Cutting provided such a short yet sweet reprieve from the inner turmoil and pain of severe depression.

If you know anyone who self-harms, regardless of their age, I have three requests:

1. Do not treat it as a cry for attention.

In the majority of instances and individuals I have known, this is not the case. It is a person’s best effort to stop the emotional pain. If it is a cry for anything, it is a silent cry for help. Offer the person your love, your support and your phone to call their therapist or psychiatrist.

2. Avoid shaming or showing contempt or disgust.

While it may be very disturbing if you discover your family member or friend is self-harming, do your best to avoid strongly negative reactions. While you may be showing this reaction to the injuries, person who is self-harming will take that as a reaction to him or herself.

3. Be honest if you are scared.

Sometimes the hardest thing for a family member or friend to admit is they are scared for person who is self-harming. However, when a friend said this to me, it gave me pause. It made me feel like the person loved me and cared for me enough to be afraid for me. And that they were hearing what I was going through. My friend’s fear reached me in my cloud of depression and made me think that maybe, just maybe, someone did still care for me, regardless of how worthless I was feeling.

I haven’t cut myself since early 2015 when my depression was the worst I have experienced to date. I don’t consider myself cured, however. The draw of the blade and the momentary peace it provides will likely always speak to me. What I try to remember is that the relief is temporary, but the scars are often permanent.

If you struggle with self-harm, I encourage you to find ways that do not hurt yourself, others or objects to release the extreme emotions you may be feeling (my therapist’s guidance or mantra for me). Also, continue or seek counseling. I take advantage of counseling with a skilled and compassionate therapist on an ongoing basis to keep me on track and alert me to early signs I might be missing. This is an important aspect of my self-harm “remission.” And finally, take care of yourself. While you may not believe it, there are likely many people who love you and see your value, even when you cannot see it yourself.

Unsplash photo via Lotte Meijer

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