Cutting & Self-harm: How to Help

Depression, Health

Why would anybody want to cut or hurt themselves? How could that possibly make somebody feel better? While a lot of us don’t understand it, there are many people who feel relief when they cut or harm themselves in some other way.

To some people, hurting themselves makes them feel better. It makes them feel like they’re in control for once, and makes them feel alive instead of numb. It can help express feelings they can’t explain, like extreme sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt and rage. It releases the built up tension they feel inside that they don’t know how to let out in any other way. It distracts them from their overwhelming emotions and anything going on in their life that they can’t deal with. It’s a temporary fix that, after a while, only makes them feel even worse… so it becomes addicting and they continue doing it.

If someone you know is cutting or harming themselves, here are some warning signs. They might:

  • have unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs, and chest
  • have blood stains on clothing, towels, bedding, or lots of blood-soaked tissues
  • have sharp objects or cutting instruments always on hand, like razors, knives, needles, glass shards, bottle caps or scissors
  • have frequent “accidents” – they might claim to be clumsy and have many mishaps
  • always be covered up, like wearing long sleeves and pants even in hot weather
  • want to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom

If a friend tells you they’ve been cutting or if you confront them about it, here are a few things you can do to help them:

  1. Be sure to focus on their feelings rather than the fact that they’re cutting. Instead of asking how often they cut, what they’re using to cut, and where they’re cutting, ask them how they feel. What kinds of feelings and thoughts are they having?  How do they feel before and after they hurt themselves? How are they feeling about their life overall?
  2. After asking about how they feel, figure out why they cut. What are their self-harm triggers? Is there a pattern, does something similar happen every time they cut that causes them to get the urge to hurt themselves? What’s different in their life now than before they started cutting, and what happened the first time that made them decide to experiment with self harm?
  3. Help them find new coping techniques. People cut and harm themselves for different reasons, so after you figure out their reason, help them find something that works for them and will really help them feel better. Here are some ideas for people with different kinds of feelings:
  • If the cut because of intense emotions, they can…

-paint or draw

-journal about their feelings

-write a poem that expresses their feelings

-write down all their negative feelings then rip the paper up

-listen to music that describes how they feel

  • If they cut to calm and soothe themselves, they can…

-take a bath or shower

-cuddle with a pet

-listen to calm music

-wrap themselves in a warm blanket and lie down

  • If they cut because they feel disconnected and numb, they can…

-call a friend

-go to a self-help website, message board, or chatroom

-take a cold shower

-chew on something with a strong taste, like peppers, peppermint, or a grape fruit peel

  • If they cut to release tension and anger, they can…

-work out, like running, dancing, or hit a punching bag

-punch a mattress or scream into a pillow

-squeeze a stress ball or some Play-Doh

-rip something up, like a newspaper

-make lots of noise, like playing an instrument or banging on some pots and pans

When people cut and harm themselves, they keep it a secret from everyone they know, sometimes for several months. That is very hard on them, on top of whatever they’re dealing with that makes them cut. So when you reach out to them, make sure they know you aren’t judgmental about it and you just care about their feelings. Let them know that you’re their to help, and that there’s hope for them to get through this hard time.

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