How to Care for Someone Who Inflicts Self-Harm

Let me begin this post with a short introduction for myself. I’m a very analytical person. Sometimes that works out well for me, because it helps me to be thorough and passionate. Other times, it doesn’t work out very well for me. Sometimes my analytical tendencies aid to me becoming stressed from over-thinking. During part of my sophomore year of high school and my junior year of high school, I became depressed over the many things I stressed about. It wasn’t long before I became so desperate in my depression that I looked for an escape from the pain it caused. I found my escape by inflicting self-harm. After 2012, when I came to terms with my problems and overcame them, I haven’t kept it a secret. If you read any of my other blog posts, most of them will bring some mention to what I call my “Abyss of Fire.”

Someone recently asked me for advice on what to say to someone struggling with self-harm. She wasn’t sure exactly how to be there for her friend. At first, I wasn’t sure what to tell her. Everyone is different. So I asked whether her friend had come to her about it or whether she just suspected there was a problem. She told me that her friend had come to her and I answered her question the best that I could. I’ve been thinking about her question since she asked. How can someone help someone else who is dealing with self-harm?

The most important thing is to let the person know that you are there for them and that you care. I try to make it a point to ask each of my close friends how they are doing. I don’t just ask them, “How are you?” I ask, “How are you doing? How can I pray for you?” Then I often ask follow up questions. When I was inflicting self-harm, nobody knew I felt depressed and was hurting. I didn’t tell anyone, because no one ever asked me how I was. It is so, so important to ask people how they’re doing. Sometimes, that question could be the one thing that keeps them from going over the deep end. I think if I had had someone who asked me just once how I was, I wouldn’t have fallen so deep into my depression. Sometimes, just asking one time shows the person that you do care and that will lead them to want to tell you. I know for me, when I met my best friends Allie, Holly, and Shelby Lilly, they showed me pretty quickly that they cared. Almost immediately, I felt comfortable enough with them that I told them on my own when I needed to help and prayer. Telling people that I’m struggling does not come easily to me. I don’t know that it comes easily to anyone, but it certainly doesn’t for me. I have three friends now though that I know will hear me when I cry, so I cry out to them when I’m feeling close to the edge. I have two other friends now whom I will honestly and thoroughly answer if they ask me how I’m doing. To anyone else, I might say, “Not well,” but I won’t go into detail. Correction, I do have a few other friends I’d be willing to open up to also. The five are just the people I see and or talk to on a regular basis.

In addition to asking, for real, how someone is, observe them. Don’t be all weird and obvious about it. Just as a friend, watch them with caring eyes. From my experience personally and with other people, I’ve learned that we will say and do things to indirectly tell you how we are. After observing them, do little things to prove you do care how they’re doing. Now that I’m comfortable with who I am, I’m sometimes much quieter than anyone has ever known me to be. Mostly, that’s because when I was in high school and depressed, one of my attempts to stay afloat was to text literally every number in my phone every day after school. I needed someone to ask me how I was doing. In high school, there was only one person who every really asked me. Her name was Demi and we were close friends when I was sophomore and during part of junior year. She knew, just from the tone of my text messages, if something was wrong with me and she would ask. For the most part, no one ever caught on to the fact that I was desperately crying out for someone to ask me if I was okay. Now that I’m better, it’s mostly a habit to talk a lot. I’m good at it, so why not? I also just genuinely like talking to some people. When I am quiet, people will ask me what’s wrong. After a while it gets a bit annoying to be asked by everyone, but I wouldn’t ever ask them to stop. I may not be depressed now, but I was once and sometimes it’s hard not to be afraid of going back there. More times than not, whether something is wrong or not, just having someone ask me how I’m doing reminds me that people do care. I don’t have to be afraid of falling into my “Abyss of Fire” again. I know I’ve got people in my corner this time around. One of my five told me that it might have something to do with my thinking face. I get a very serious look on my face when I’m in deep thought.

It’s the little things that help the most. One of my five, Stephanie, will ask me if something’s wrong maybe once a week, because of said thinking face. So far, there hasn’t been anything wrong when she has asked, but one day there will be. The fact that she asks lets me know that I can be honest with her when that day does come. Another of my five, Vickie, is just my person. It started as a joke, but now it’s real. She makes me feel so special, because I had a day off from work last week and she told me a few times that she missed me. Nobody has ever really told me that. No one has told me they missed my presence, not on their own accord. Stephanie, and another of my five, Shelby Lilly, have teased me about going away though, so in that way they’ve showed me they’d miss my presence. Vickie though, she actually told me she missed me. Vickie and Shelby Lilly both tell me to text them when I get home when we’ve been together and that is another way they show me they care. My mom always did that when I lived with her and I appreciate it now. Then though, I was a whiny teenager who was annoyed by the fact that Mom wanted to know exactly where I was at all times. Shelby Lilly, and the other two of my five, Allie and Holly, have written me many letters for different occasions. These letters hang on my bedroom wall or sit in an envelope on my nightstand to remind me of the ways they care about me. One of my younger friends, Anna-Marie has also written me several letters that remind me she cares. The same goes for our other friend Shelby R., though hers have come via text or Facebook message.

It’s the little things that often make the biggest difference. Without these girls, especially Shelby, Vickie, and Stephanie who are older and wiser than me, I may not have been able to say that I’m a truly happy and healthy person now. It’s nice to have close friends who are older than me, because it’s like having the older sister I never had, but always wanted. God has used all these girls, and many others, so much in my life that I wouldn’t be the same person without them. That sounds cliché, but it’s true.

Ultimately, if you are ever faced with needing to know what to say and how to be there for someone who inflicts self-harm, just be there for them. Be like the girls from my last paragraph. Do the little things to show you care. Be like Shelby Lilly and Stephanie. More than anyone in my life, they notice and remember random things I do and say. They point out little details about me and they prove they remember weeks, months, and sometimes years later.

1.      Ask how people are doing.

2.      Be there.

3.      Pay attention.

4.      Do the little things.

5.      You’ll change someone’s life; I promise.

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