Lifeskills Mental Health Blog

How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

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How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

Is there someone you know that might be harming themself? It’s a difficult line to tread when interacting with someone who feels the need to engage in behaviors that bring them pain, and the last thing you want to do is approach the process without a clear understanding of what’s right and wrong. Let’s dive into what may cause one to harm themself and how you can support someone in getting the help they need to prevent further self-harm.

What Encompasses “Self-Harm?”

Self-harm is an unhealthy coping mechanism for individuals who attempt to manage their stress, emotional pain, or mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. It’s important to distinguish self-harm from suicide attempts. Self-harm is very different and may be undistinguishable, so be cautious with anyone acting out with any potential suicidal behaviors, as they should immediately receive psychiatric treatment. Call 911 immediately for any suicide attempts or threats.

There isn’t any particular way that people act out to harm themselves. Individuals who often harm themselves do so in different manners and many have methods of hiding their attempts to harm themselves due to shame. However, some may act out for attention seeking but should always be taken seriously.

Self-harming behaviors can include any of the following actions:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Ripping/Picking skin
  • Pulling out hair (Trichotillomania)
  • Preventing wounds from healing properly
  • Overdosing on medication
  • Punching objects/Inflicting pain

Why People Partake in Self-Harming Behaviors

An immediate question you might ask is why do people participate in these self-harm behaviors? One thing you should understand when encountering someone who may self-harm is that their painful and often impulsive behavior is not a form of dealing with their own lack of coping mechanisms and is not necessarily done to be attention-seeking. Instead, their behavior is commonly an attempt to fill an empty void and a temporary relief of their stressors.

Some of the more common reasons people harm themselves are to deal with emotional distress, challenges with interpersonal relationships, which may include communication with people they find difficult, attempts to take control of situations if they feel like they have no control, or to “punish” themselves for mistakes, wrongdoing, or imperfections including negative perceptions or feelings toward their “image.”

What Are Some Risk Factors That Might Predict Self-Harming Behaviors?

Warning signs are the key to understanding plenty of situations, and that certainly rings true for individuals with self-harming behaviors. There are risk factors that play a role, as well as certain actions that indicate that there might be a problem. Typically, self-harming occurs mostly in young people and adolescents[1], yet may extend into adulthood, especially without treatment. . Some of the most important risk factors and warning signs include:

  • Low self-esteem/self-worth
  • Difficulty dealing with emotions/Poor emotion regulation
  • Isolating from others during social gatherings or events with family and friends
  • Scars on the skin in specific patterns
  • Unexplained injuries that occur randomly but frequently
  • Attempts to hide injuries with abnormal behaviors (ex. wearing long sleeves in the heat of summer)

Is It Possible to Help Someone Who Harms Themself?

It’s certainly possible to help a friend or family member who self-harms. There are a few important steps to remember, most of which revolve around supporting those in their time of need. Be encouraging, reassuring, and open-minded on your loved one’s journey to recovery. Offer help and suggest they are not alone. Most importantly, do not shame them.

Remember That You Won’t Have All the Answers

It can be tempting to think that you should know how to solve an issue or know exactly what to do to get the individual on the right path. But remember that it’s okay not to know how to answer certain questions or what to say at specific moments. Instead, focus on supporting the individual or encouraging them to get help from treatment facilities like Lifeskills South Florida, which can provide Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based best practice that supports healing from self-harm. Lifeskills South Florida also offers therapies for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which may also support such maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Be Willing and Open to Listening to Everything the Individual Needs to Say

Open and carefree conversations start with being genuine and having an honest dialogue. The only way someone will feel comfortable enough to do this is if they can trust that you’re willing to listen to what they have to say and that you won’t judge them.

Give Reassurance and Positive Affirmations

Always reassure individuals that things will be okay, but they may need professional support. Help them focus on a long-term goal of positivity and recovery yet encourage them to take a healthy risk to reach out for additional help. This will go a long way to ensuring that they can choose much safer methods of dealing with stress, anxiety, and the other feelings they experience.

Be Patient

Patience is key in all facets of life, and certainly applies here. Self-harming behaviors and the things that cause them won’t stop immediately. Understand that occasional setbacks, mistakes, and days will ebb and flow. But a long-term view, along with professional support, will help with long-term wellness.

Combat Self-Harm with Quality Mental Health Treatment

Treating self-harm isn’t as simple as telling someone to stop. At Lifeskills South Florida, our mental health professionals can help combat difficult feelings and provide coping strategies that promote positive thoughts and decision-making. Treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy are great supports to offer much-needed tools for people who self-harm to find alternative methods of understanding their thoughts and feelings. To get more information and find the right treatment for you, contact us today at



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