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How To Help Someone Who Is Self-Harming

How To Help Who SelfHarming

When someone is self harming, especially when it’s your loved one, it can be hard witnessing that. You might even feel helpless thinking about what you can do to help them. The good news is that you can help them get through this, you just have to know the right way to do it.

Self Harm Is An SOS

When someone is self harming, it is a sign of distress and that the person is in need of support. Self harming behaviors are considered parasuicidal and although the person may not have intentions of killing themselves the act of self harm can be seen as a part of the spectrum of suicidal ideation, leading one to eventually becoming suicidal and/or complete an accidental suicide.

There are lots of reasons why someone may choose to self harm, which we will get into in this article along with the ways in which you can support your loved one. This article will identify the what, why, and how of self harm along with the steps you can take to intervene if someone you love is selfharming. Additionally if you, yourself are self harming, here are some beginning steps you can take to get help, find relief without hurting yourself.

Related: How To Heal Your Most Debilitating Core Wounds

What Is Self Harm – Terminology

Self harm, self-injury, self-injurious behaviors (SIB), self-mutilation, and nonsuicidal self-injury, all refer to any action taken to intentionally harm the self. These are actions taken without the intent to take one’s life or cause a life-threatening injury. Some of the more common ways that people self harm are cutting, burning, biting, hitting, and scratching.

Suicidal ideation (SI) is when a person becomes increasingly consumed with the thought of dying and/ or taking their life. This may be a process where the feelings gradually build over time, causing the person to eventually create a plan and possibly make an attempt to take their life. 

Some form of suicidal ideation is fairly common for people who deal with depression, which does not mean that they will take the steps to act on these feelings, they can be classified as vague or passive suicidal ideation which are thoughts or feelings that occur from time to time but without a plan or true desire to die. 

Vague or passive SI is more of the feeling that you want the pain and heartache to go away and dying feels like a way out of that, but there isn’t any follow-through, and there is not the sincere wish to die. If someone is experiencing or expressing suicidal thoughts or ideation, this is an important place to intervene to ensure that they don’t escalate, as I said most often this is connected to the distress and the feeling that they want the pain and suffering to go away, rather than dying.

Parasuicidal behavior or suicidal gesture is an action taken that can be both lethal or non-lethal but that has the clear intent of causing bodily or life-altering harm and/or death. Some may classify this type of behavior as a suicide attempt.

Examples of suicidal gestures or parasuicidal behavior would be a drug overdose or placing a plastic bag over ones’ head as an attempt to suffocate themselves and then pass out, it could also be withholding food or engaging in high-risk activities such as reckless driving, increased substance use or anything that would place a person in harm’s way.

Completed suicide is the act of having taken one’s own life.

If you or someone you know and love is hurting themselves, you can contact the text line below which will connect you with a crisis counselor who can support you through any one of the above crises.

when someone is self harming
How To Help Someone Who Is Self-Harming
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Meredith Flanagan, LICSW

Meredith Flanagan is a Mental Health Professional (LICSW) with more than 20 years of experience as a social worker, educator, therapist, and community organizer. She has worked in a variety of fields such as domestic violence and crisis intervention, developmental disabilities, healthcare, and public education. Among her proudest achievements is being an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer), serving in Ecuador and Honduras. She has been in clinical practice for over 10 years and works primarily with clients who battle depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and Adjustment Disorder. Meredith has been working in the field of public education for the past 7 years and currently holds a position as a Special Education Administrator. Her passion is turning life’s challenges and roadblocks into opportunities and strengths that drive us forward creating new and exciting possibilities.View Author posts