About Self-Harm – Part 4 – How To Help

Welcome to part 4 of our series about self-harm.  Last week I debunked the attention-seeking myth by explaining how people could do it for attention but the majority don’t.  Today we’re going to look at how you can help someone who self-harms.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

How to Help

I’m sure this is the question that is in your thoughts, especially if you know someone who self-harms.  How can you help them?  What can you do? Well, I have a few facts for you but also a few suggestions as to how you can truly help them. Stick with me, as I think you’ll be quite surprised with some of the things I suggest.

So what can we do?  Well there are a few simple things that anyone can do to support someone.  Here they are:

  • Be supportive: it goes without saying but if they know you are supportive of them, they will take far more comfort from that than if you berate them for doing it.
  • Try to be understanding: this links in directly with the last one; try and understand what they are going through and why they do it.  This is a good opportunity for you to put some of the things we talked about in our Talking Things Through series into play!
  • Don’t express extreme worry: this is a difficult one as they are hurting themselves and that is concerning but please try not to express worry.  If anything, it’ll make them feel worse for something that could be completely out of their control.  Again, a good opportunity for using things from out Talking Things Through post about sensitivity and mindfulness.

If you follow these steps, you’re well on your way to establishing yourself as someone they can turn to when they’re in trouble.  If my journey is anything to go by, establishing yourself in such a way is a good way of setting yourself up as an alternative to self-harming.  I’ve turned to one of my most understanding friends far more times than I can count when I’ve known I’m starting down that road again. More often than not, she’s helped me through it.

What do you need to know?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you need to bear in mind when dealing with someone who self-harms but there are a couple of things that Cheryl and I discussed that we thought would be useful for you to remember.  Here they are:

  • It’s not your fault: if you try and support them and stop them doing it and they do it anyway, don’t think you’ve failed.  If they want to do it, they will do it, regardless of how good you are at helping.  I’ve been there. I’ve had some of the best help ever and I’ve still gone and done it anyway. It depends on where they’re at in their own journey at that point.
  • Be non-judgemental: expressing disappointment or having a go at them will be the quickest way to drive them straight back to the blade.  Being non-judgemental and calm is the best approach you can possibly take.
  • Remember: you’re not an expert: this is more for those of you with no experience of it.  Find out why they do it, find out what helps them avoid it and go from there.  Build that rapport so you can support them better.  If they feel like they’re being taken seriously, they will open up and trust you with it.

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What not to do

Regarding self-harm, aside from those couple of points I’ve mentioned about not having a go, not being judgemental, etc, there is only really one thing that I need to mention.  This is the one that might surprise you.

Do not remove all sharp objects from accessibility.

That’s right, don’t remove them.  

I can almost hear you asking why, so let me explain. Doubtless you’re doing it with the best will in the world.  After all, removing sharp objects can remove temptation, which should lessen the act.  Despite that thought, it’ll actually cause more harm than help.  By removing the sharp objects, not only are you removing their ability to self-harm, you are removing their control over it and possibly removing some of the safety aspect too.


I shall explain control in more detail next week, as I feel it is too long to go into in this post, but suffice it to say that sometimes knowing that the blade or other instrument is there can greatly increase the control against not doing it.  As I said, though, more on that next week!

Removing Sharp Objects

Removing sharp objects doesn’t sound like it would go against safety aspects but let me give you an example.  Someone I know removed all the sharp objects from the house so her husband couldn’t self-harm.  Without any blades or anything to turn to, he went somewhat out of control and smashed a glass instead and used that.

Think about it, which is better: a surgical razor blade that makes a clean cut or a shard of glass that leaves a jagged cut with the potential for getting glass in the wound?

You may be trying to help and we all understand and appreciate that.  We really do. However, please do not remove the sharp objects from the house.  It can have disastrous and dangerous consequences. As difficult as it is, let them keep at least one blade around. If they use it, they use it.  If they’re determined enough to self-harm, they will find a way no matter what steps you put into place.

I hope this gives you some insight into what you can do to help them.

Next Week

As I mentioned earlier, next week we will be looking at control.  It may sound like an odd thing, thinking of self-harm as control, but all shall be made clear next week.  In the meantime, check out our Talking Things Through series if you haven’t already or go Inside My Head to see a little more about my journey.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Author: Alex Davies

Alex Davies is the creator and writer for Pushing Back the Shadows. Find out more about his journey here and connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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