Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help you self-harm less and make you feel less alone.
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Tips for talking about cutting and self-harm
Focus on your feelings. Instead of sharing sensational details of your self-harm behavior—what specifically you do to hurt yourself—focus on the feelings or situations that lead to it. This can help the person you’re confiding in better understand where you’re coming from. It also helps to let the person know why you’re telling them. Do you want help or advice from them? Do you simply want another person to know so you can let go of the secret?
Communicate in whatever way you feel most comfortable. If you’re too nervous to talk in person, consider starting off the conversation with an email or letter (although it’s important to eventually follow-up with a face-to-face conversation). Don’t feel pressured into sharing things you’re not ready to talk about. You don’t have to show the person your injuries or answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering.
Give the person time to process what you tell them. As difficult as it is for you to open up, it may also be difficult for the person you tell—especially if it’s a close friend or family member. Sometimes, you may not like the way the person reacts. Try to remember that reactions such as shock, anger, and fear come out of concern for you. It may help to print out this article for the people you choose to tell. The better they understand self-harm, the better able they’ll be to support you.
Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help you self-harm less and make you feel less alone.
How can I help myself?
If you self-harm it can be difficult to stop. The first thing you need to do is decide that you want to stop. You might not want to at the moment, but simply thinking about this is the first step.
You could keep a list of reasons for and against self-harm, which might be helpful. You may need good support from family or friends before you can think about stopping.
Deciding to stop - Once you have decided to stop there is plenty you can do to get control of your self-harm. However, everybody is unique and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you.Here are some suggestions of things that you can do to reduce your self-harm. In time you might be able to stop completely. Most of them look at different ways of expressing how you feel.
Things to try: - Seek social support from your friends and family.
Talk to someone who understands. This could be a friend, a relative or another person who self-harms.
Find other ways to express your feelings and relieve tension, such as hitting something, writing, drawing or doing sport.
Do something else instead of self-harm. Biting into ginger, squeezing ice or flicking an elastic band on your wrist can all cause intense feelings. They may be painful but do not cause lasting harm.
Try to delay self-harming for a short time (for example, start with 15 minutes and gradually increase this time).
Get up and go round to a friend or relative’s house.
Do something soothing such as having a hot bath with bath oil or make a hot cup of cocoa and snuggle under the duvet.
Do something practical, like write a letter to a friend
Take your mind off self-harm by choosing a random object and think of 30 different uses for it.
Before harming, ask the following questions and write down the answers:
You could try thinking about the following things:
Why do I feel I need to hurt myself?What has happened to make me feel like this?
Have I been here before?What did I do to deal with it? How did I feel then?
What I have done to make myself feel better already? What else can I do that won't hurt me?
How do I feel right now?
How will I feel when I am hurting myself?
How will I feel after hurting myself?How will I feel tomorrow morning?
Can I avoid what has made me feel like this, or deal with it better in the future?
Do I need to hurt myself?
How can I stay safe if I cut myself?
Do not share cutting implements with other people - many diseases including HIV/AIDS can be transmitted this way.
Try to keep cuts shallow.
Make sure you have first aid supplies and know some first aid.
Make sure you know what to do in an emergency
Before self-harming, set limits. Decide how many cuts and how big they will be, so that they are just enough to relieve distress but no more
Dealing with scars - If you self-harm, you may harm yourself where clothing normally covers your scars. Your scars may remind you of the pain you have been through – this may be something you feel OK about or something you find difficult. You may want to find ways of getting rid of your scars Different people feel differently about their scars.
Dealing with unpleasant questions - If your scars are uncovered, someone might ask what happened. Usually, people are not trying to make you feel uncomfortable on purpose. Quite often the easiest solution is to laugh and say "it's a long story". Other approaches include:
“I had a fight with the cat”
“I got run over by a lawn mower”
“I wrestle tigers”
“I got caught on barbed wire”
In the end you have to choose what you feel most comfortable with. Sometimes saying something funny is a polite way of saying "none of your business" but other times you may want to tell someone about your self-harm.
Dealing with scars themselves - You may want to hide or minimise your scars if you are with people you do not know. Long sleeved tops and trousers can easily hide scars. You can always say that you are sensitive to the sun. If you get good first aid or care for your wound in the first place, this can reduce scarring.
Why do people self-harm?
There are many reasons why you may self-harm. Often the reasons people give for self-harming are different from what the professionals say.
We can group the reasons that people give for self-harming into three categories:
Controlling Mood - Some people can find it difficult to cope with emotions and feelings, especially feelings which are unsettling, unpleasant or strong. If you self-harm you may feel unable to deal with these sorts of emotions and feel overwhelmed.
Self-harm could take you away from these feelings and make you feel better. It can also make your brain release certain chemicals that can improve your mood.
Communication - You may self-harm to try and show others how you are feeling. Some people may see this as a form of attention seeking. You might already have tried other ways of sharing how you are feeling, but people might have ignored this or not responded properly.
Control - You may self-harm as a way of having some control. You may feel that you have no control in your life and this can be frightening.
If you self-harm you may have experienced traumatic experiences in your life including emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Self-harm can bring back the feelings you had when you first had the traumatic experience. Some people find that it is easier to deal with these familiar feelings rather than new feelings like sadness or anger.
Why do more women than men self-harm? -Surveys have found that women self-harm more than men. Some have said that if women feel angry, it is less acceptable for them to show this. So women may take feelings of anger or rage out on themselves instead.
Is self-harming a mental health problem? -Self-harm is not a mental health problem in itself. It can be a sign of a mental health problem though.
When doctors see people who self-harm, they diagnose many of them with depression. However, most people no longer meet the depression criteria a year later. If you self-harm, a doctor may say you have borderline personality disorder (BPD). Self-harm is a symptom of BPD. This diagnosis can be unhelpful if it means you do not get the help you need for your problems.
Some people with bipolar disorder schizophrenia, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder also self-harm.
There are many people who self-harm who are not in touch with mental health services and do not have a diagnosed mental health problem.
Do people repeatedly self-harm? - The Samaritans estimate that around one in ten people who self-harm will do so again within a year. So if you self-harm, it is important to seek help and support as you are at risk of self-harming again.
Self-harm and suicide - Self-harm does not always mean you want to end your life.
You may self-harm to try and share how you are feeling, to try and feel better or to punish yourself. However, people should see this as different to wanting to end your life. However, if you self-harm you are much more likely to try and you’re your own life than someone who does not.
Sometimes, people try to take their own life as a way of sharing how they feel or to control their emotions. In these situations this can be very similar to an act of self-harm
Help and support for those who are self harming, cutting, burning, and those that want to stop
Help I am self harming - What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when you want to harm or hurt
yourself on purpose.
There are many ways in which people self-harm,
these can include:
Banging or scratching the body
Hair pulling or picking skin
Taking toxic substances or objects.
Self-harm can also include taking drugs or drinking alcohol too much to harm yourself. This is different to drinking or taking drugs for pleasure.
If you take toxic substances or overdoses, you may not feel better afterwards. You can rarely overdose safely and it can have a serious effect on your health.
Most people think of self-harm and suicide separately. People who feel suicidal and try to take their own life usually want to end any pain and their life completely. If you self-harm, you are usually trying to make yourself feel better.
People over 25 years old self-harm less than younger people. It is most common amongst people who are between 11 and 25.
If you self-harm you might:
Have a difficult family life that includes abuse, neglect or rejection.
Have a mental health condition such as an eating disorder, depression, bipolar, or a borderline personality disorder.
Take illegal drugs or drink too much alcohol.
Self-harm can be a sign of an underlying problem. If you self-harm, it can help to try and work out what that problem is. This can mean you get the right help or treatment.
Talking about self-harm can be very stressful and bring up a lot of emotions. Don’t be discouraged if the situation feels worse for a short time right after sharing your secret. It’s uncomfortable to confront and change long-standing habits. But once you get past these initial challenges, you’ll start to feel better.Type your paragraph here.
How can I tell my family and friends if I have a problem with self-harming?
If you self-harm, you might feel that no-one else does this. You might think that you are the only one who can understand why you do it. This can make you feel more alone and could make your self-harm worse.
Sharing your experiences can play an important part in your recovery. Eventually you may decide to talk to somebody about what has happened. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in person, it might be easier to write it in a letter.
Here are a few pointers that people have found helpful: - Be sensitive to the other person's feelings: Remember that it could be hard for your friend or relative to hear that you are harming yourself. They may feel guilty about what they could or could not have done to help.
Explain that you are telling them because you love them: Explain that you opening up to them is positive and that it is because you love and trust them, not because you are trying to punish or manipulate them.
Pick a place that is private and allow plenty of time: Pick a place where you will not be interrupted. Your friend or relative may need time to take everything in or they may want to ask you questions and talk more.
Don't tell others in anger: It is best to tell your friend or relative when you are calm. Try to take things gently and don't blame them for your self-harm.
Consider having someone else present: If you have a friend or therapist who understands self-harm you might want them to be there too. They might be able to help you tell your friend or relative and answer questions.
Provide as much information as you can: The more someone knows about something, the less they fear it. Many people have the wrong idea about self-harm. Let your friend or relative know where they can find out more or who they can ontact for support. Try and be as well informed as you can so that you can answer their questions.
Be willing and prepared to answer their questions: You might want to think about the questions your friend or relative will ask and try to put together your answer. You should have a good idea of what you want to do about your self-harm and perhaps what you want them to do. Decide what you feel comfortable to talk about and what you are not.
You don't need to go into a lot of detail in the first conversation: Avoid describing your self-harm in detail when you first tell your friend or relative. You can give them better descriptions if they need it.
How can I help someone who self-harm?- Perhaps someone you care about has told you that they self-harm or you have found out some other way. Here are some tips on how to deal with this help that person.
Don't take it personally: Self-harm is about the person, not about the people around them. Even if it feels like manipulation, it probably isn't. People do not harm themselves to be dramatic, annoy others, or to make a point.
Learn about self-harm: Get as much information about self-harm as you can. It will help you understand what the person is going through. There are many good books out there and several good websites which you can find details of at the end of this factsheet.
Understand your feelings: Be honest with yourself about how this self-harm makes you feel. It is ok for you to feel frightened, uncomfortable or provoked.
Be supportive: It is important that the person who self-harms knows that you will love them whether they self-harm or not. If possible provide a safe place and be as available as you can be. Set aside your personal feelings about self-harm and focus on what's really going on for the person. You should always be honest and realistic about what you can and can't do.
Take care of yourself: You are no good to the person if you are exhausted and emotionally drained. Don't be afraid to take a break whilst making it clear you still love the person and you will be there for them when you have recovered. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help for yourself.
Some people find support groups helpful. Many support groups for friends and family of people with mental health problems have experience of self-harm even if they are not specifically for this issue. You can also find support on the internet in forums for friends and relatives of people who self-harm. See the contact information at the end of this sheet to find some of these sites.
Demands do not work: Demanding that someone stops self-harming can often make the self-harm worse. It can make someone self-harm secretly. You may want to take things that they could use for self-harm away (for example, sharp knives). This could make someone find other ways of harming themselves. Punishments and guilt trips are also very likely to make things worse.
The pain of the person: Accepting and understanding that someone is in pain doesn't make the pain go away. It can make it more bearable for them though. Be hopeful about the possibilities of finding other ways of coping rather than selfharm. If they are willing, discuss possibilities for treatment with them but don’t push them into anything. They will decide when they feel the time is right.
Don't force things: Be patient. You might find it difficult if the person rejects you at first but they may need time to build trust.
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