Ten Things Not to Say to Someone Who Self-Harms

Self-hate and self-harm

When we don’t know who to hate, we hate ourselves. – Chuck Pahlahniuk

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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35 thoughts on “Ten Things Not to Say to Someone Who Self-Harms

  1. what an excellent post. I’m coming into contact with more and more people who have family suffering with this. thanks for sharing this info!

  2. bloomnpsycho says:

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    The one I heard the most was “stop looking for attention.” I’ve also heard “do it right the next time or don’t bother.”

  3. Jessica Shakespeare says:

    I was told by a doctor that my cuts were only superficial. I felt that I had to cut deeper to be taken seriously.

  4. Dooley says:

    Why is it people only think females self harm? Yes there may be more causes but I’m sure there are plenty of males out there that may feel the same sort of I don’t know I jus know that I’ve been there and it’s frustrating that no one thinks a guy would do this kind of thing and the comments I’ve received are less than helpful off friends,family,etc

  5. Halie says:

    Why? It’s very personal and if that person has to do with it it makes it worse.

  6. elliot says:

    “remember cut down the road not across the street”
    “you chose to do it”
    “stop complaining jesus christ”
    “you don’t need to cut”
    all today by people i considered friends

    • I’m sorry! Hopefully, your friends can support you more, and you can find hope to keep going. I believe in you!

      • Elliot says:

        And when I explained to them why I cut the first thing said was “triggered ” and I literally can’t see why I was friends with them because I just told you why I cut and it was to show them that sometimes it’s better than the alternative but all they could do was make fun of me

        • My hope is that you can find friends who will really listen and care. It is hard not to trigger people. There are certain people I would not talk to about certain things because I know it would trigger and hurt them. Other people do not understand and just get frustrated. I have to find the right people to be fully open to about what I am struggling with at the time.

  7. Whatever says:

    Well my mom recently found out na she said that she would rather kill herself, then live with this shame or something like this…Way to make me feel better… 😦

  8. 3eleanor3 says:

    I was in a restaurant and a friend of mine saw it on my legs and whispered furiously, “cover that shit up!”- but in a the kind of way that seemed like it was stupid and disgusting. I was pretty upset. I can’t talk to anyone, what should I do to feel better?

    • When people made comments like that to me, I needed sometimes to distance myself from them a bit. I often got a lotion that I liked and would put that on the places I hurt myself to feel a bit better. Also journaling, dancing, walking, and talking to someone who would listen helped. I’m sorry that your friend said that. It is hard covering up scars and sometimes seems impossible. I finally started to do it years ago when I still self-harmed because I just didn’t want the stares or questions.

  9. Shannon says:

    When my friend found out about my self harm scars she said I am dissapointed in you and I thought you where stronger than that. When she said that to me I felt so stupid and felt like such a disappointment to my friend because I wasn’t strong enough to not self harm.

    • People who haven’t used SIB (or even some who got past using it) have such a hard time understanding usually. It isn’t easy to feel normal or strong after a comment like that. Know that it was a way you coped. It did not make you less strong. Choosing to keep moving forward and find other coping methods shows great strength.

    • Ashley says:

      my friend saw a big bandaid on my wrist and asked me why i would do something silly and that i have no reason to do it, when i am on the verge of losing it

  10. Halie Wilsey says:

    “Oh, those don’t even look that bad.”

  11. Anonymous says:

    Calling a self-harmer selfish.
    That can really hurt and it then leaves a sort of mental scar, the person keeps remembering that and it can have terrible effects on the way he/she feels about themselves afterwards. It makes them feel constantly self conscious and
    if they where already having problems with the way they are, particularly personality or even physically, it can basically cause them to believe that they are self-centered or ungrateful, making their situation worse.
    Thanks.

  12. Ashley says:

    Worst thing I’ve been told by my boyfriend of four years: “Adults don’t cut themselves, that’s what thirteen year olds do.”

    I did used to cut myself occasionally in high school (I’m 22 now) and I very rarely do it now.

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