Cutting normally begins to occur in the teenage years and peeks in the early 20's, with most people stopping in their 30's. The estimates are that about 2 million people have engaged in some form of self harm to cope with their emotions at least once in their life.
When we find out that our loved one has self harmed or self injured themselves, we often experience shock, anger, frustration, and guilt.
* Our shock may lead us to judge them as doing something "wrong" or "bad".
* Our anger may erupt because we feel "manipulated" and that it is "unnecessary".
* You may feel guilty for not "being there for them", for not "helping them enough", or for not being a "good enough parent".
You will find yourself filled with questions - "how could you?" - "Why did you do this to yourself?" - "what's wrong with you?" - "you're doing this to manipulate me" - "you're not who I thought you were" - and the biggest question of all "what should I do or say?
* "Do" discuss this with them.
Self injury flourishes in secrecy, since it is typically performed when the person is alone and feeling overwhelmed by their emotions. Trying to ignore it or control it (which you can't anyway) only sends the signal that you don't care about their emotions or feelings. It diminishes them even more and adds to their shame and poor self esteem. This will be tough to do, but don't judge them. Stay neutral and calm and away from negative comments. Maybe ask some nonjudgmental questions, such as:
* "How long have you been hurting yourself?"
* "Why do you hurt yourself?"
* "How do you hurt yourself?"
* "When and where do you usually hurt yourself?"
* "How often do you injure yourself?"
* "How did you learn to hurt yourself?"
* "What is it like for you to talk with me about hurting yourself?"
* "Does it hurt when you injure yourself?"
* "How open are you about your self-injurious behaviors?"
* "Do you want to change your SI behaviors?"
* "How can I help you with your SI?"
* Be available.
This means that you offer to discuss their need to self injury at any time, within reason
(ex: not in the middle of the night or during your work day or if you feel threatened and manipulated). You are offering to be their support person so that they don't have to engage in self injury to cope with their emotional pain.
* Help them find other sources.
Make suggestions for them to talk with a therapist or to join an online support group. Offer to help them surf the internet for available resources, since the more support and understanding they receive, the less shame they will feel and the better the odds that they will learn to control and stop it before it starts.
* Don't discourage self injury.
The emotional pain that someone feels that drives them to hurt themselves is so overwhelming, that to offer the advice "just don't do it" trivializes and mocks the pain they are in. It will damage your relationship with them and reduce their desire to seek your support and create further shame inside of them. For some, engaging in self injury is the only alternative they see besides ending their painful life.
* Don't push.
Now if they don't appear to want to discuss this with you - don't push them to. Insisting that they do only further damages the relationship and trust between you.
The fact that they are hurting themselves isn't a reflection on you - it is a signal that your loved one is in extreme emotional pain and that they need to find a release for it. They aren't deliberately trying to manipulate you. This isn't a game they play to control you. It is a severe and unhealthy coping mechanism for them.
Accepting them isn't the same as condoning what they have done. Try to connect with the fact that they are hurting, and offer them empathy and sympathy based on that. Judgments and negative criticism will only make it worse...
Our job is to offer nonjudgmental support and acceptance of them - as hard as that seems, it is nothing compared to the shame they feel inside themselves.Threats to self harm and how to care for ourselves
If they are making threats to self harm to stop you (for example: to stop you from going somewhere) or in an attempt to control you - this "can be" an attempt at manipulation
. We can't allow ourselves to be manipulated in this fashion.
Your response should be to offer them healthier options while also not being controlled by their threats. Don't give in to this and think that by staying and talking to them more, that you are helping them. You are giving them the green light to threaten you every time they want to get their way. In this form of crisis, we can't allow them to emotionally blackmail us, since that only guarantees that they will do it again (threaten us) as a way to control us. It doesn't mean that they won't
hurt themselves, since they probably will "to show what you made them do to themselves",
. It means that while our loved one is a lot of emotional pain, we still can't allow them to control us in this unhealthy fashion.
~ We can't lose our own sense of self trying to save them. We can't allow their pain to dictate whether we go out bowling or to see family members or to work. We can't stop living our lives because of their pain.