Talking About Self-Harm with the People in Your Life (aka How Do I Tell Somebody I Self-Harm?)
By Draco Malfoy,
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Telling another person that you self-injure or "coming out" as a self-injurer has been likened to coming out as gay or bisexual. It carries with it stress and and fear. Fear of rejection and fear of what the other person may say or do. It can be a big step towards getting help or towards letting others into your world. For these reasons a brief guide on the common reactions others have to self-injury and how you can deal with these reactions has been put together.
You may feel that verbally telling another person about your self-injury in a choregraphed conversation is the only way you can go about telling another person about your self-injury. There are other ways, though. You may instead write this person or these persons a letter or an e-mail, some people find that this makes it easier for them. A letter or e-mail would allow you the time to express your thoughts clearly and it would allow the other person time to think over what you have told them. If you decide to use this method be sure to follow it up with a conversation or a phone call.
When you tell a friend or family member that you self-injure they are very likely to have some strong reactions, some of which you may not like. Be prepared to give them some time to sort their thoughts or feelings out. You may want to "just get it over with" but it is important you give them space, if they need it.
Self-Injury Keeps Other People at a Distance
Self-injury may help you cope and survive, as well as have some other purposes, but it can also have a detrimental effects on your relationships with other individuals. One of these effects is to keep other people at a distance, in both emotional and physical ways.
Self-injury encourages emotional distance from other people in several ways. First, "the secrecy and shame attached to many SI behaviors causes a lack of honesty and open communication between you and the imortant other in your life." You may have not told anyone about your self-injury. You may edit information about your self-injury and about how you feel (your emotional states.) You may even lie about what you do and how you feel. Each of these hinders or cuts off communication and intimacy with other people, which creates distance. You can't be close with others if you are lying to them.
Dissociation, a "spaced-out" state that may accompany self-injury, may also create emotional distance. Remember that dissociation may come before or after an act of self-injury. You cannot feel connected with other people if you are in a dissociated state, because during dissociation you feel disconnected from yourself. You can't feel emotionally close to other people if you are distant from yourself. "SI, to the extent that it contributes to dissociation, will cause you to feel isolated and removed from those around you."
You may also keep other people from yourself because of the wounds and scars caused by self-injury. For example, you may sleep in a separate room from your partner so that your injuries are not discovered. You may also keep from having sexual or intimate contact with others for the same reason. Even if the other person knows about your SI, you may not want yours scars or injuries to be exposed or touched. Or you may feel self-conscious or ashamed when other people notice your scars.
Closing the Gap
Now that you have found how self-injury hinders communication and helps keep you distant from other people, you may now be able to reduce the distance between yourself and others. Ending your self-injurious activities is a way to decrease this distance. This is because by not hurting yourself, you don't create the results of SI, such as shame, wounds, etc., which cause you to remove yourself from others. But this solution may not be realistic for many people because they may not be ready to end their self-injurious behaviors. So, instead of stopping your self-injurious activities, you may choose to decrease the distance between yourself and others by "not allowing yourself to engage in those behaviors that serve to create distance."
"For example. if you refuse to let others physically touch your scars because you are self-conscious or ashamed of them, by doing so you are distancing yourself. To promote your intimacy with others, don't allow yourself to act in this way. Let other people touch your scars. Stop omitting information about the cause of your injuries. Begin to talk to others openly and honestly about SI."
Doing this will be difficult for you and requires a great amount of courage and risk-taking. But you will feel more connected with other people, which may decrease your desire to hurt yourself. Stopping SI, and decreasing the distance between yourself and others, is probably going to be a long and difficult process. It will take perseverance and courage to be successful.
Coping With Other People's Reactions To Your Self-Injury
It is very important to realize how much your actions affect others around you. Self-injury causes many different emotions and reactions in others. You may not have the intention of provoking a reaction, you may not even want others to know about your SI, but most likely the will react.
Most of the reactions others have to your self-injury will be negative. You may have already noticed this if you have noticeable scars or wounds. People may see people staring at your scars or wounds, or hear cruel remarks on your mental state. Also, other people may treat you differently after they find out about your self-injurious activities. This is because a large amount of people may see SI as sick, disgusting, or crazy.
You may experience negative reactions to your self-injury, if you have not already. And you may be unprepared for these reactions. You may be so focused on the great amount of courage and effort it takes to tell others about your SI, that the possible ramifications for others may not have occured to you. Eventually you will notice some of the negative effects of telling others about your SI. You possibly may lose friends because they are unable or unwilling to deal with your self-injurious behavior. There may be subtler changes in your relationships with others, such as friends or family members inspecting you for new injuries. Also, friends and family may focus your conversations on your SI rather than other parts of your life. Each of these reactions will change your relationship in some way.
Another reaction which is on of the most difficult and damaging is nonreaction. Sometimes others will not respond to your behaviors, which may make you feel invisible. And as has been stated in the FAQ section, self-injury is often connecting to feelings of isolation and alienation. When you are ignored, the feelings of being invisible can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation that are part of the SI cycle.
When self-injury is met with a negative response or nonreaction, you will feel negative emotions of your own. When you are met with a nonreaction you may begin to hurt yourself more often or more visibly. You might increase the severity of your injuries so that they no longer can be ignored. And eventually you may stop trying to provoke a reaction and end up feeling more isolated, more invisible, more rejected.
Although it is true that self-injury affects and creates reactions in the people around you, this is not a sufficient reason to try to stop or change your SI behavior. You may decide to change your self-injurious behaviors, but it is essential that you do this for yourself and not to please others. You are not responsible for controlling or changing the feelings of others, nor is this even possible.
It would be nice to not be affected by the reactions of others, but this is not likely to happen. Whatever the other person's reaction, it will almost certainly have am impact on you. On method you may use to cope with others reactions is to try to understand why they are reacting this way. Since you can't control others reactions, you can only try to understand them.
Learning to Communicate Directly
Self-injury is a very indirect method of communication. And the message that others receive why they learn about your self-injurious behavior likely will be distorted and inaccurate. You may think that your SI only communicates one message, but it actually send many, some of which may not be what you intended. This is miscommunication.
Miscommunication has many results. First, your needs will be left unmet because you are unlikely to get your point across. Also, SI is often misinterpreted as an act of manipulation. Because self-injury is an indirect form of communication, people might think that you are trying to provoke a response or reaction from them. In some cases this may be true, but most often, manipulation is not the goal of SI. But because you are not being direct about your intentions, your needs, and your internal feelings, "you leave yourself open to a wide variety of misinterpretations, many of which will not be favorable."
Instead of using self-injury as a form of communication, it would be better to talk about self-injury directly with other people. Messages you are trying to transmit will be communicated much more clearly with words than with self-injury. This does not say that you need to stop injuring yourself; you can only do that when you are ready and have alternate coping mechanisms. "However, communicating directly about the ways you use, view, and think of SI will help clarify some of the possible areas of miscommunication."
Information from 'Scarred Souls' by Tracy Alderman.
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