Saturday, March 31, 2007

Families and Friends: Self-Harm

Your best friend calls you up crying hysterically. You try to ask her what's wrong, but she gets flustered and ends up telling you she has to go. The next day she confides in you that she cut herself again last night. You feel so helpless! You wish you could do something to help her. The good news is, you CAN do something to help.

Here are some things you can do to help your self-harming loved one:

1. Offer a chance for him or her to talk - Some self-harmers are trying to communicate through cutting, burning, hair pulling, and so forth. Given a chance to talk, some self-harmers will be more than happy to talk. Others may not know how to express how they feel. Still others may be reluctant to talk about what's going on. No matter what the case, be patient and don't push. Simply let him or her know that you are there to listen if he or she wants to talk about anything with you.

2. Nurture and care for them no matter whether your loved one has recently self-harmed or not. Some self-harmers feel that they can only get your attention when they hurt themselves. It's important to nurture your loved one regularly. Here are some ideas of caring things to do:
-Send your loved one a paper or e-card.
-Bring her a flower.
-Set some time each week where you and your loved one do something fun together.
-Take her to lunch or a movie.
-Hug her (if she likes hugs).

3. Offer distractions. Sometimes self-harmers merely need a distraction from their feelings for a while. Offer to go to a movie or dinner with your loved one. If you can offer her to spend the night at your house or offer to come stay at her house for the night.

4. Set some boundaries. Tell your loved one that you can talk up until 10PM at night, but if you don't want her to call at 3AM, let her know that. You might also tell her that you care about her, but you don't want her to hurt herself while she is actually talking to you because it hurts you to see her do this.

5. Be available. You can't be helpful if you're not available to your loved one.

6. Be patient. Sometimes families and friends of self-harmers expect them to stop self-harming right away. This may not, and in fact, often does not, happen. Stopping self-harming behavior can take months or years. It requires consistent support from loved ones and professional help for a self-harmer to break this unhealthy coping mechanism.

7. Get support for yourself. If you need to, talk with a therapist about your own feelings regarding someone who self-harms. Sometimes it is important to get help for yourself when you are supporting a loved one.

8. Educate yourself. The more you understand about self-harming behavior, its causes, and other related mental illnesses, the better off you'll be. This is one of the best sites I've ever found on self-harm.

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