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Discussing self-harm with a loved one
by Narrative. October 4th 2013, 01:18 AM

Discussing self-harm with a loved one
By Kyra (Viridian)

Self-harm is often a private matter, and letting someone in on something so personal is never easy. Feeling unsure of where to start, even when wanting to tell someone such as a family member, partner or friend is not at all unusual. Many self-harmers are afraid of telling someone for fear of them ‘freaking out’ in the case of a parent, a breakup in the case of a partner, or abandonment if it’s a friend. Here are several steps one may consider taking to help make it easier on the self-harmer and the loved one in question.

The first step one might take is figuring out what to say. Finding a balance between sharing too little and too much information is important. One might want to consider condensing their points along the way to leave out what may not be necessary. The loved one may become overwhelmed if a large amount of information is initially shared with them.

Once that's done, the next step is deciding how to say it. If nervous or afraid of talking to a loved one, writing a letter might be considerably easier than asking to talk to them. Letters have the advantage of allowing for full expression without the risk of getting too nervous halfway through a conversation. A few pros to this method include having more choice of what to write and more time to organize one's thoughts and prepare for the loved one's reaction. One might leave the letter for their loved one to find, or they might prefer to give them the letter themselves. One might also ask that the loved one give them a written response back if the thought of sitting face-to-face is too distressing. If one does not wish to write a letter, pulling the loved one aside and saying, “I have something to talk to you about when you have a moment,” is as good a first step. One advantage to this method is that when speaking face-to-face, emotions can clearly be seen. It is sometimes hard to tell how a person is feeling through words on paper, and by choosing to speak directly to the person, emotions, facial expressions, and body language are easier to express. However, it is important to make sure that it is a good time for the loved one to sit down and have the conversation; if they are stressed or busy, perhaps it is not the best time. Waiting may also allow one even more time to collect their thoughts and run through what they have decided to say.

Remain calm while communicating with the loved one. Panicking may result in things being forgotten or "second guessed", whereas if the self-harmer is calm, the atmosphere may be less tense, and the conversation may feel easier to initiate and get through. Taking deep breaths, focusing on breathing in and out and timing oneself, using 'self-talk', such as, "Everything will be alright, I am going to get through this, and so will my loved one," and thinking through everything one says before saying it are effective ways to keep oneself calm. If the loved one becomes angry or upset, and the situation starts to get heated, remaining calm will help ensure it doesn't escalate any further. On some occasions, people do not react well to being told, "Calm down, you're overreacting." Only one person can control their actions, and that is them. It is no one else's fault; their reaction is their choice. Keeping these points in mind may help one to cope with a negative reaction and how it affects them.

If a loved one is a reason for the self-harm, it may seem tempting to point the finger at them. Despite this, remember that one's actions are their own decision. There are ways to tell a loved one that their actions have had a hurtful or negative effect without laying direct blame. Constructive statements such as, “I feel like [this] when you do [this],” or “When you say [this] to me, I feel [this],” are not seen as accusatory because it doesn’t sound like the self-harmer is saying the person intended to make them feel that way. It also allows one to take ownership of the way one feels. Statements such as, “You make me feel [this],” or “You do [this] to me,” may not be received well, as the person may feel accused and get defensive, which may make it harder for them to listen. Even if the loved one is not the reason, using constructive statements throughout one's conversation may help it to run more smoothly.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to control anyone’s reaction to things that are said. The loved one may demand to see the self-harm, or confiscate the self-harming tools if any are present. Many self-harmers are uncomfortable showing their self-harm, and may not want to part with the self-harming tools they use. In this case, it may be useful to discuss setting appropriate boundaries. If the self-harmer is uncomfortable with a request or demand made by their loved one, they should communicate this with them. On the other hand, the loved one may not act this way. Many people are less judgmental than one might think, and instead will react with love and support. Most conversations do not turn out the way one fears they will. Regardless, the loved one is responsible for how they respond, whether in a positive or negative way.

It is important to be honest. It is much better to tell the truth than to tell a lie, no matter how hard it is. Letting someone in on an extremely personal part of one's life should not be expected to be easy. Breathe, stay calm, and be honest and constructive. These strategies may help make a distressing conversation easier on everyone involved. In many cases, it's important to share this sensitive information and may be helpful in the long-term, but that does not mean it is easy to do. Remember, recovery is a process that should not be rushed, but instead, taken one day at a time.
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