For centuries, people have used self-harm to cope with life or discipline themselves. From religious ascetics to depressed teenagers, SIB (self-injurious behavior) can be found in all cultures and eras. Some societies have embraced it while others criticize it. Currently, most people lack awareness and even empathy for this symptom of mental illness.
I am not going to debate what drives every form of self-harm and the validity behind those motives. There are people who believe one can self-harm for good reasons. However, any form of inflicting pain on oneself (outside of for some extreme purpose) is problematic. Yes, that is very controversial and black-and-white. Yet, I have seldom, if ever, seen an exception to this.
Anyway, people struggle to understand why other self-harm. Thus, many responses come out of confusion, hurt, and fear. Here are some comments said in those moments that actually do more harm than help. Hopefully, you were learn more about how to care for those who use SIB from this list.
- Stop being so overly dramatic. Many people who I have met that struggle with self-harm actually struggle to talk about their feelings. This often means that they are afraid of drama and being honest. SIB is a quiet way that seems to hurt only yourself. That is not true, but that is how people who hurt themselves see it. Thus, labeling them as overly dramatic is unkind and usually incorrect.
- You have no good reason for doing that. Sure, I might not have a broken family or an abusive boyfriend. That does not mean my life is free from pain. Do not judge a person as not suffering enough to hurt themselves. This only adds to self-hate.
- So, were you not able/strong enough to end it all? Whether or not someone was trying to kill themselves, this is an insensitive question. First of all, not committing suicide takes great strength for many people. Secondly, SIB can be a cry for help. Some people do not want to kill themselves but do want to inflict pain. Do not just assume that someone was aiming for suicide.
- What did you use? Unless you are the person’s caregiver or part of their medical team, this question is usually very triggering and unnecessary. For one thing, I do not want you to get any ideas. Secondly, I do not to remember what I did because this will increase my urges to do it again.
- Why would you want to make yourself ugly? The assumption that scars means ugly is rather sad. Flaws do not take away beauty. Some people who self-harm are very concerned about their looks and take that into account when using this symptom. Others are in so much pain that this is the last thing on their mind. Either way, this question has no good answer and can only lead to anger and/or self-hate.
- Can you cover that up with long sleeves? I shouldn’t have to see it. Would you say this to someone with a scar from a car accident? Making negative comments about someone’s appearance is already rude. When it concerns an issue this sensitive, it is even more painful.
- You need to promise that you will never do that again. This sounds like an excellent thing to say. However, stopping an unhealthy coping skill is not that simple. Your loved one will probably use it again, go for some time without doing it, and then do it once more. Recovery is a process and rarely can happen immediately.
- How can you do that to me? Really, I am not trying to hurt you. Even if I did it while I was angry at you, the reason was not to cause you pain. Instead, this is an unhealthy way that I am coping with my own anger. This is more about me than you. This seems to be the mentality of most people who use SIB. Yes, our actions hurt others, but we are not doing something to you on purpose.
- Whatever. It’s your body. This is the opposite of the previous comment. Now, it sounds like you do not care at all about your love one. If you do, please do not belittle this cry for help. Instead, treat SIB with importance without taking it personal. I know that is easier said than done, but that would be the ideal way of handling this.
- It’s just a way of coping, I guess. There is nothing wrong with that. No, that is not true. Self-harm is a coping skill, but that does not make it alright. There is a reason it is an unhealthy coping skill. Using it helps in the short-term but does not bring positive lasting results.
What are some comments that you have heard that you would add to this list? Please let me know.