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5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who Self-Harms and Why

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Article updated August 12, 2019.

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

There is so much stigma attached to self-harm. Please don’t make us feel any worse about it than we already do. You see that only exacerbates the problem. I feel shame already. Please don’t add to that with “helpful” comments. I have bipolar with emotionally unstable personality traits and I self-harm. I have heard a lot of comments, sadly some from professionals in the field and some from family. Here is a list of the five most unhelpful ones:

1. “I don’t understand why you would do that to yourself.”

Not helpful. I self-harm because it is part of my mental illness. I don’t do it because I choose to, like in the same way I choose to watch TV. Everybody has their own reasons for self-harming and mine may be different from someone else’s. Ask instead,  “How do you feel right before you self-harm?” Then, you can understand the emotions that lead me there.

2. “If you’re that ashamed of doing it, don’t do it.”

Reactions like this hurt twofold. They imply we are weak because we can’t resist the impulse of the act. Secondly, they imply we are not that ashamed or we wouldn’t do it. A very dangerous statement.

3. “Are you trying to kill yourself when you do it?’

Self-harm isn’t an act of suicide gone wrong usually. Just because someone is hurting themselves doesn’t necessarily doesn’t mean they are trying to end their life. It is much more complicated than that. That statement is far too black and white.

4. “Isn’t that something only teenagers do for attention?”

This is one of the worst and at 45 years old, I have had it said to me twice now. No is the answer. Mental illness has no age restrictions. This statement is just so damaging, I do not know where to even start. I will just clarify that anyone who self-harms never does it for attention. Ever.

5. “When you want to go do it, just don’t.”

Well this is quite possibly the most unhelpful advice ever. Do people actually think we don’t try not to self-harm? That we willingly want to add to our scars and feel the self-loathing we know we will feel after? Education is the key here. Educate yourself on why people self-harm and stop judging. It’s just another branch of that tree called mental illness. The reasons why people self-harm are as complicated as mental illness itself.

Remember. Never feel shame. You have an illness and with the right help you can get through.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via 1blackpen.

Originally published: August 10, 2017
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