How to Help Someone Who Self Harms

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Knowing that a loved one is struggling with their mental health can be hard. You probably wonder what you can do to help. Luckily, there are many ways to support someone you love through their struggles. 

There is not a single solution to self-harm, but there are a lot of ways to help someone who struggles with it. Showing compassion, and being present and encouraging are some of the best ways to help someone who is self-harming.

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-harm occurs when someone both physically and mentally hurts themself. Most of the people who struggle with this cut, burn, or hit themselves until they feel pain. Most of the people at risk of self-harm are very young

Many people struggling with self-harm use it as a coping mechanism for emotional pain. Although it is categorized as non-suicidal self-injury, those who suffer from it are at a greater risk of suicide if they aren’t given the help they need.

What Are The Symptoms Of Self Harm?

A number of harmful actions are considered self-harm. Some of the common ways people self-injure are:

  • Cutting 
  • Bruising
  • Burning
  • Piercing
  • Hitting

If you suspect that one of your loved ones self-harms, it’s important to know the early signs that it’s happening. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Scars, bitemarks, burns, and cuts
  • Talking about hurting themselves
  • Talking about being hopeless
  • Unpredictable and irrational behavior 

It is important to note that self-harm looks different for everyone. If you suspect some one is engaging in self-harm, you need to take a compassionate approach in caring for them.

If you suspect that someone is at risk for serious self-harm or is showing suicidal ideations, call 911 or 988 immediately.

What Are The Causes Of Self Harm?

Self-harm doesn’t have a single cause, but it’s usually a coping mechanism for depressive thoughts and emotions. It happens when a person feels overwhelmed by their emotions and they feel that physical pain is the only solution for relief. Some say that they feel they deserve to feel pain. Some things that lead to this extreme emotional distress are:

  • Social  issues
  • Home issues
  • Bullying
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Substance abuse

More often than not, these issues build off of each other, exacerbating depressive thoughts. They become so overwhelming that it feels like the only escape from the person's problems is to take them out through self- injury.

Causes of self-harm include issues at home, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and low-self esteem.l

If you know or suspect someone who is experiencing self-harm, or if you struggle with self-harm, it’s important to get professional help as quickly as possible. Inner Balance is here to help anyone 18 years old above. Located in Mesa Arizona, Inner Balance Counseling is here to help you lead the life you want and deserve. Fill out the form and request a consultation today. 

What Is The Self Harm Cycle?

Something to know about self-harm is that it’s a cycle. The stages of self-harm start a repeating chain reaction that, if left undisrupted, can escalate.

  1. Suffering—The beginning of the cycle can start small. This emotional suffering can come from an outside source or from within
  2. Distress—Emotions continue to build and causes distress
  3. Panic—When someone feels overloaded, they have no choice but to panic. This panic pushes the person to find relief
  4. Action—The relief someone seeks during the panic stage is the act of self-harm 
  5. Grief—Self harm causes temporary relief, but is often followed by regret and shame

The regret of the last stage mixes with other strong, negative feelings. This builds into the emotional suffering of the first stage, and begins another cycle. 

How Can You Help Someone Who Self-Harms?

Having a loved one who self-harms can be difficult. While there is no single cure for self-harm, there are multiple different approaches to treating self-harm. It’s important that before, during, and after treatment that you’re being supportive and compassionate.

These are the best ways to help someone who self-harms.

How to help someone who self-harms: be compassionate, be presents, distraction techniques, and the TIPP method.

Be Compassionate

Remember, the regret that occurs from the final stage of the self-harm cycle causes the cycle to start again. Something you could do to catch it before it happens again is talk to the person who self-harms with love and compassion. They aren’t in a good place mentally and emotionally, so show that you understand that they’re struggling and give them some grace. 

Related Article: Why ‘Just Snap Out of It’ Doesn’t Work

Be Present

Being there for someone is just as important as being compassionate. Check up on them regularly, whether it’s a quick “I’m here for you,” or spending long periods of time with them. Ask them questions regularly:

  • Have you been drinking enough water?
  • Have you been eating enough?
  • How has your day been?
  • Have you been journaling or meditating?

Not only will you express your care for them, but you can also find out what they need to encourage them to heal. They may want someone to do some coping mechanisms with them, so offer to do some things together.

Encourage Them to Get Therapy

The right counseling is one of the best ways to manage self-harming tendencies. Professional help is effective, and often necessary. While being present and compassionate also go a long way, you’re likely not qualified for some of the heavier conversations that need to happen.

Be supportive of your loved one’s therapy journey. It’s not always easy, and they may need encouragement to stick with it. 

Related Article: Online Therapy

Distraction Techniques

Self-harm is caused by overwhelming, difficult feelings. Asking someone to suppress those feelings and urges makes things worse. Help them divert those thoughts and emotions to something healthy. Some things you can encourage someone to do (and do with them) include:

  • Draw your feelings out on paper
  • Call a friend or a family member
  • Practice mindfulness techniques such as breathing and meditating
  • Hit a cushion instead of a wall or yourself
  • Grab an instrument if you have one and play it loudly
  • Read
  • Take a walk and clear your mind

These outlets are harmless, and you can do them together. Eventually, they may become habits that your loved one uses to cope instead of self-harm

Related Article: What is Micro Meditation?

Try The TIPP Method

This method is found in dialectical behavioral therapy and is designed to calm intense emotional distress. TIPP is an acronym for temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s how each of them works to regulate emotions:

  • Temperature: Heat can cause emotional dysregulation. Cool environments help slow things down and clear up thoughts. 
  • Intense Exercise: You’re more likely to feel accomplished and energized after a workout. 
  • Paced Breathing: Mindful breathing helps clear your mind and help you regulate feelings. 
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Relaxed muscles can help relax the mind. Close your eyes and focus on relaxing each and every muscle, starting at your crown and ending at your toes.

These practices help people clear their minds and allow them to have healthier thoughts.

Related Article: Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Take Care of Yourself

It’s hard to help someone else if you’re not feeling your best. Neglecting your own emotional and mental health needs is a sure way to experience compassion fatigue. Remember, you are helping someone, not fixing everything for them. Encourage them to get help outside of what you can give, and make sure you’re taking measures to take care your own well-being.

Related Article: How to Deal with Compassion Fatigue

How To Help Someone Who Relapses

Like with substance addiction, self-harm treatment often includes relapses. Someone may stop for a while, but begin again for any number of reasons. While you might help someone who self-harms avoid triggers or work past them, a relapse is still possible. 

When this happens, it’s as important as ever to show compassion and help your loved one. Healing is never linear, and relapses are common. This person did not fail, they are simply in a difficult part of their path. 

Talk To A Professional

Self-harm needs to be taken very seriously. At Inner Balance, our professional team will help your loved one overcome harmful urges through a personalized mental health program. Contact us today to begin your recovery journey. 

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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