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Dear Reader,

Sometimes self-injury can be an individual’s “deepest, darkest secret.”  Although everyone’s comfort level in social contexts vary, it would be hard to argue that carrying the burden of self-injury alone isn’t tough.  But then again, how do you get someone to share that burden with you?  Maybe you have a supportive person: family member, friend, significant other, psychologist, counselor, etc.  But how do you share something like this?  How do you know they won’t react badly?  Or, as unfortunate as it is, maybe you don’t have anyone that you think would be supportive.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, what should you do when someone confesses to you?  What should you say and what should you avoid saying?

Why don’t some self-injurers want to confess?  Many people fear the responses they may receive.  Some common fears are:

  • The listener will not understand the idea of self-harm.  As made evident by my previous blog post on the effects of the media, self-injury can have a negative stigma.  Some people may think the action is attention seeking.  Or perhaps they may think self-injury is  something only done by the extremely mentally unstable.
  • On the other hand, some people cannot stomach blood or cutting flesh.  A self-injurer may fear disgusting the person they wish to confide in.

How to confide:  Some people just might not be as accepting as you’d like.  Be careful while disclosing to ensure the best results.

  • It can be helpful to focus on your feelings leading up to your self-harm.  Don’t bog the listener down with the physical pain or fiery emotions during, especially if this is the first moment confiding.  Relaying these ideas can be a relief, but it is best to be certain that this person is willing to listen and won’t be frightened.
  • It is important to be comfortable.  If you are too frightened to talk face-to-face with someone, don’t stress yourself out.  Confessing is already a big deal.  Pick the means of communication most comfortable to you, whether that be in person, over the phone, or online with a specific person or perhaps a support forum.  Online support forums can be helpful if you don’t have a specific person to confide in or if you just want some extra support.   One such support forum is LifeSIGNS .  For this forum you can become a user and receive advice from the administrators of the forum.  Although they are not registered psychologists, the extra pick-me-up can be helpful for many.
  • Give it some time.  Although you’ve probably been dealing with self-harm for awhile, it might be new to the person you’re confiding in.  Or even if that’s not so, it may still be a surprise to them that you are self-harming.  Allow some processing time and try to ignore any premature exclamations from them that may not be well thought out.

How to receive a confession:  The self-injurer is obviously going through a rough time because he is self-harming.  And confiding in you may be a stretch out of his comfort zone.  Although you might not be certain, it’s important to be as respectful as possible and make the self-injurer feel comfortable.

  • Overall try to stay calm.  Any indications of shock or revulsion may make the self-injurer regret confiding and may prevent him from getting needed help.
  • Don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt themselves to feel better?  It’s okay.  What the self-injurer needs primarily is someone to talk to.  Just accept him for his coping methods that may differ from yours.
  • One tip I find the most important is do not threaten in any manner.  It may sound like a good idea to threaten to tell someone of authority or threaten to take self-harm tools away in an effort to get the self-injurer to stop hurting himself.  I’ll tell you now, that’s probably one of the worst ways to handle it.  Leaking the information can have serious effects.  Unfortunately enough, some families may not be sympathetic towards the idea of self-injury.  If the individual does not feel safe confiding in his guardians, don’t force it.  On the other hand, just because you take away the tools doesn’t mean you stopped the self-harm.  Giving up self-injury can be like giving up an addiction.  If the urges become strong enough the individual may relapse.  And just because he doesn’t have his tools doesn’t mean he won’t go out and find more.
  • Don’t let the self-injurer spend too much time recalling a depressive episode for you.  Thoughts alone can be triggering, so don’t let the individual dwell on every detail.
  • Although you shouldn’t threaten the self-injurer into it, do assist him in seeking help.  Don’t rush him or force him into something he doesn’t want to do, but remind him that it is in the best interest for his recovery if he finds help.

Although the end of self-injury is the main goal, do not overlook the significance of finding the right person to confide in.  In my own case I can be extremely shy and veer away from attention when I’m feeling down.  But nevertheless it is important to me to have those individuals that I can ask advice from or even just unload my grief to.  But to get to that stage, you must first confess of your self-harm.

Thank you for reading today.  Please take care and stay tuned for my next installments.

With love,

The Empathetic Activist