How to Help a Friend Who Is Cutting (Self-Harm)

WHAT IS CUTTING?

“Cutting” is the most popular choice of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) and is an enigma amongst teenagers. Self-injury behavior can also be in the form of bruising or burning the skin. Females are more inclined to engage in nonsuicidal self-injury than boys are. Typically, the cuts are located on the forearm/wrist area or the upper arm. Your friend might attempt to hide or cover the marks with long sleeves, a stack of bracelets, or a watch. Occasionally, adolescents cut themselves on their upper thighs or lower abdomen as well.

 

WHY DOES MY FRIEND CUT?

Many people are afraid their friend may be suicidal. However, cutting and other nonsuicidal self-injuries are a way that adolescents cope with negative feelings and experiences. It’s their way of dealing with what they’re feeling, without committing suicide. Some teenagers have described cutting as a way for them to have a sense of control, in a world where they feel little control, or when a situation becomes unbearable for them. Some adolescents say that their sorrow, stress, and frustrations in life are too much to handle, and cutting provides relief. Though this may be challenging to comprehend from the view of someone who doesn’t cut, it makes sense to your friend. Try not to “bash” on them for cutting or tell them they are wrong. Allow your friend the space to heal and come to you about how they are feeling, and why they are cutting. Providing them the space to do this at their own pace might help ease the pain in their life and enable you to help them find the support they need. There are also scientific reasons that cutting relieves emotional stress in the brain and body.

 

WHAT DO I SAY? HOW DO I SAY IT?

People are often quite uncertain and hesitant of how to approach their friend once the act of cutting is exposed. Encourage people to display a posture of “loving-concern” for their friend’s welfare. Try not to communicate out of anger, disappointment, or frustration. Although you have every right to feel what you feel, so does your friend. Both of your feelings are valid. Your emotions, however, can negatively affect the loving conversation you need to have with your friend if you let them get in the way. Try explaining to them, “I am hoping you understand that I’m aware of what’s been going on. I love you and I want to help you.  You’re not in trouble. We are going to get you support.”

Another technique is the “open door policy” of communication. Do your best to avoid asking too many questions. As a friend, it’s common to want to know everything immediately! Nevertheless, cutting is a delicate subject and should be handled as such. When it is found out that others know they’ve been cutting, adolescents can become notably protective and feel very embarrassed. These self-conscious emotions can make your friend want to suppress their feelings and hide their actions even more. Try telling your friend, “I know this isn’t easy to talk about. You can tell me anything without fear of judgment. We don’t have to talk about it right this very second.  I would like to talk to you about this, but only when you’re grounded and ready.”

 

AS A FRIEND, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

Ask your friend if they would be willing to talk to a mental health professional for services. Cutting is driven by powerful and strong feelings. These emotions are occasionally caused by stressful circumstances, such as relationship dilemmas, low self-esteem, traumatic life experiences (assault, abuse, rape), academic pressure, etc. Additionally, your friend is more than likely dealing with anxiety, depression or some other psychiatric condition. The combination of these elements makes it difficult to support your friend by yourself. The proficient understanding and experience of an accredited mental health counselor are crucial in helping your friend find a place of peace and healing.

Cutting does not have to be a permanent problem in your friend’s life, but it also should not be considered a “phase” or “state they are in”. Children, teenagers, and adolescents who harm themselves are in need of constant parental support and affirmation, as well as extensive medical care – which should constitute a central focus on mental health, emotional health, and physical health.

It is very possible for your friend to heal from the pain they are in. The first step is to admit that they are stuck, hurting, and in need of help. Being a support for your friend is a great start towards them finding healing.

 

By Sara Corcoran, Undergrad Counseling Intern

Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc.

 

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