by Holland and Associates Counseling, PLLC.
When someone you know, love and care about is self-harming it can be a scary and overwhelming experience for all involved. Often times, people that self harm use this maladaptive coping skill to feel and express emotions that they are unable to communicate or understand. When you first learn that someone is self-harming the most important thing to do is to decrease shaming communication when intervening. Shaming communication can look like "Why are you doing this to yourself, you're smarter than this!" or "I've taught you better than this, why would you do this?" Instead, you may try communication like this "I am here to listen if you are willing to talk." or "I can find someone that can help you if you are ready to talk." or "I understand that self harming is not scary for you, it is for me and I'd really appreciate you talking to someone that can help because I care about your well-being." Any of these will work, however, using your own words and genuine care will also help the person you care for that is self-harming.
Recent research identifies self-harming behaviors as an unhealthy replacement for problem solving skills and a need to increase communication that promotes emotional and independent skill building. The same research shows how vital of a role family/friends/other support people can play in decreasing self harming behaviors. In order to stop or reduce self-harming it is clinically important to increase emotion recognition, increase effective communication, increase assertiveness with boundaries, increase the knowledge around co-dependency as well as increasing one's core beliefs and self concept. That's a lot of individual work for the person self-harming, their success in treatment is matched by family/friends/other support people doing the same type of work to enhance the support as well as the relationship.
Lastly, its important to state that self-harm does not mean someone is suicidal. If you are worried and learn that someone is self-harming it is appropriate to ask the individual if they are wanting to live or if they do think about ending their life. Research on suicide prevention shows us that asking someone about their intentions on suicide is prevention where avoidance communication on suicide does not help to prevent suicides. In other words, asking someone if they are suicidal does not mean that they will become suicidal because you have brought it to their attention nor does it mean asking someone about self-harming will lead to them self-harming more. If any of the information shared in this blog entry leaves you with more questions or motivation to make changes we highly recommend using the resource list of counselors on the Breaking Through Task Force Website to schedule an appointment!
References: Wasserman, D., Iosue, M., Wuestefeld, A. and Carli, V. (2020), Adaptation of evidence‐based suicide prevention strategies during and after the COVID‐19 pandemic. World Psychiatry, 19: 294-306. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20801
Sitton, M. S., Du Rocher Schudlich, T., Byrne, C., Ochrach, C. M., & Erwin, S. E. A. (2020). Family Functioning and Self-Injury in Treatment-Seeking Adolescents: Implications for Counselors. The Professional Counselor , 10(3), 351–364. http://doi:10.15241/ms.10.3.351