How to help someone who self-harms?

Hi! I have a friend who struggles with self-harm and I want to help them as much as I can. They’re making progress and I’m proud of them. But there are moments when they feel the urge to do it and they text me, which it doesn’t affect me, just that it hurts me that they go through that. I’m glad if I can help them but sometimes I can’t. And I don’t know what to do. I’m trying to talk to them, to distract them, to be there for them, but I don’t know what to say in some moments and I really want to help, to pass over those feelings and to get them to a safe place (I’ve been there, and I know how hard it is to stop those feelings ) but they’re really trying to get better. How can I help more in those moments, what can I say? Please, any advice is welcome

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Hi @thelight

You must really care about your friend to seek advice, that makes me smile. No one was there for me when I was self harming.

I think what you are doing is great and sometimes it is hard to find the right words to say. I’ll tell you tho, just showing support and love is helping them all on it’s own. You could talk about what triggered them and get the focus off of self harming and onto figuring that out. Distractions really help the most in that moment of crisis because it will pass and the strong urges will subside.

You could have them fill out the Safety Plan we have here on the wall as well. When they are in that crisis, you could talk to them and remind them of the things they put in place to help get them out of it.

Just follow your instincts, it sounds like you’re doing fine

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Lizzy is correct, just being there when you can is a tremendous help. Triggers aren’t always known, and if a person is not good at looking inward, professional help is needed. Maybe the two of you can identify the experiences that led to self-harm. As Lizzy said, distractions/diversions can be effective interventions, especially if the person establishes a habit of using them.

It looks as though there must have been something of a safety plan template, but I didn’t see it. However, there are safety plans here, and they do loosely follow a format, but each plan is unique to the person who wrote it. I think it’s better that way. Here are some examples:

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Thank you @Wings for linking the Safety Plan.

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Hi thelight
I think there are a couple of things that might help your friend. When they text you that they are not feeling well. Remind them to breath and do some breathing exercises with them. Tell them that you care about them and that you want them to be happy. Try to listen to what they have to say and be there for them. There is also a couple of things they can try on there own. I will post a video here about the things that help you cope with self harm. Send it to them. It might help. :slightly_smiling_face: Self-Harm and Self-Care: Tips on How To Cope - YouTube

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@Mystrose I do care about them, and I’m glad that they trust me enough to open up about this and that they really want to get better. When I used to selfharm too I didn’t tell anyone about it, and I can’t even remember that well how I got over it, but music helped me a lot.
@Wings I kinda know what triggers them, and yes, professional help is something that we talked about and most probably they will take that step. I’m gonna tell them about the Safety plan
@Ashwell yes, I tried some breathing exercises and it worked one or two times. I’m gonna show them the video
Thank you all so much for the replies!
This community is so heartwarming :slight_smile:

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Thank you for caring about your friend the way you do @thelight. They’re very lucky to have you by their side. Someone who not only understands from a personal standpoint, but also take the time to be there, to listen and not judge. That’s very, very precious, and even though it might seem normal to you, it is something that already helps a lot in this situation.

I’d just add to what our friends said before, regarding your question:

How can I help more in those moments, what can I say?

Ask them directly. Maybe not during one of these moments, but when they are more calm and can reflect on what happened. Ask them how you can support and encourage them. What are the things they need when they come to you. How they can involve you in a way that would help them. What are the needs you could help them to meet, knowing also that you cannot fulfill everything for them. Friends can’t take the burden away, but they can face it together. By asking them how you can help or encourage them, you also invite them to reflect on their own needs and recovery, and you both open a door to be more active in it, in different ways.

As for the things to say, I’d encourage you to always listen. People generally want to do something because it’s just hard to see someone we love being in pain. But that means we act to fulfill our need, not necessarily the ones of our friends. And then the act of listening is forgotten. There’s not necessarily a need to jump on advices to give. Actually, unless someone asks for it, what we generally need during a time of pain is someone to listen and validate our feelings. Not solutions or advice, because that requires a different mindset, one that can be present later, when the storm has passed.

You can help tremendously and be an incredible friend by listening. Validate their strengths, their accomplishments, remind them when they resisted against an urge and succeeded. If they have times of breakthrough and important realizations sometimes, you can use their own words to remind them how they were feeling about themselves at a time when they felt stronger. When we are in this position, we underestimate our ability to thrive and resist against the urge of hurting ourselves. You can remind them of how strong they are by using positive reinforcement.

If you can, I’d encourage you to have a look at the workbook Rewrite provided by HeartSupport. Eventually, you could even read it together and share that, if that’s a commitment you’d feel okay with. But even more, there is a section in the book dedicated to the loved ones who help, and how they can learn to be present yet affirming boundaries too. The questions you ask here are definitely something you can expore in these parts of the book. I’d really encourage you to have a look at it. I’ve been through it, and I think it’s a really good and thoughtful resource (not because it’s HS-made, but because of the content). You can see more informations here if you’d be interested:

ReWrite Chapter 9 - Here’s the topic dedicated to the specific chapter I’m mentioning. @nyntje and I shared a bit of our personal takeways at the time. I don’t know if you would find some interesting insights, but it might be worth it to have a look at it. Video’s in itself is worth it at least. Sharing it right at the end of this post. <3

Through all of this, make sure to take care of yourself too. You’re loved. :hrtlegolove:

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Thank you so much! I will take in consideration everything that you said. I’m gonna put the workbook on my list and read it one day. And the video indeed is worth it to watch.
I will take care, thank you! Take care of yourself too❤

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