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What to do if your partner self harms

Here are some ways you can support a partner who self harms


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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It can be difficult to know that your partner is engaging in self harm. It may help for you to learn more about self harm so you can understand more about it. 

Why do people self harm?

Many people self harm as a coping mechanism to deal with intense and difficult emotions. These feelings are often pushed down and eventually are expressed through causing physical pain.

  • Self harm is often used to relieve tension or anger
  • It might also be a way to let out feelings and to deal with sadness, stress, self-hatred or depression
  • Some people find it easier to cope with physical pain rather than emotional pain
  • Some people find that self-harming relieves anxiety and tension and helps calm them down when they are distressed
  • Physical injuries are often easier to cope with than the invisible emotional pain

How can I help my partner?

There are a number of ways that you can be there for your partner if they are self harming.

Reach out and be willing to listen

One of the most helpful things you can do is to reach out to the person you care about and let them know you are there for them if they want to talk to you about how they’re feeling and what they’re doing to cope. Listening without judging can be one of the most powerful things you can do. People who self harm can feel a huge amount of shame about their behaviour and can find it really hard to talk about it.

If they feel that you are judging them, it may make things worse and they may feel unable to confide in you again. Listening without judgement isn’t always easy to do. Learn more about being a good listener here.

Avoid confrontations and ultimatums

While it’s important to talk to them about their self harm, it is key that you don’t scare them off by confronting them. While you are probably feeling upset, confused or even angry and want to talk to them about it, it’s vital to remember how they must be feeling. Instead of rushing in and making things worse, take your time and show them how supportive you can be by listening carefully and being non-judgemental.

It's best to avoid confrontation, and avoid giving the person an ultimatum (for example, if you don't stop self harming I'll break up with you), as this is never helpful.

Guilting someone into stopping self harming won’t work, and research shows that forcing someone to stop self harming before they are ready is usually unsuccessful. Don’t take the fact that they hurt themselves personally as it really is not because of you.

Learn more about self harm

Self harm is a coping mechanism that is often used to deal with difficult emotions. Everyone self harms for different reasons, and in different ways so there is no one size fits all way of dealing with it. You can read more about self harm here.

Take care of yourself

It’s important that you don’t forget to mind yourself during all of this. Being with someone who self harms can be stressful as you might not understand why they want to hurt themselves. Along with that, it isn’t always easy to hear details about the things people do to harm themselves.

While it’s important to be there for them it’s even more important that you don’t forget to look after your own mental health and if things become too stressful that you are allowed to take a few steps back. You can’t be of support to anyone else, unless you are first a support to yourself.

Keep the communication open

Communication is pretty vital in any relationship but particularly one in which someone self harms. If you feel uncomfortable talking about self harm with them you might prefer if they speak to a mental health professional or someone with more experience in dealing with self harm. Remember that self harm is simply a coping mechanism that your loved one has learned to use.

Encourage them to get professional help

It’s great that they have opened up to you, but you are not a mental health professional so can only help so much. They may also need to speak with a therapist or a mental health professional for support. A really good first step is to visit a GP as they can refer you to other mental health professionals if necessary.

There is also the possibility for the person to attend a service like Jigsaw.ie. That service provides free mental health support to 12-25 year olds. They have centres in lots of places around the country and work specifically with young people so they will completely understand whatever you tell them.

Pieta House is a free confidential service that works with people who self harm or are suicidal. They have centres in lots of places around the country. To find out your nearest centre visit www.pieta.ie or by calling 1800 247 247 or texting “HELP” to 51444.

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Published July 29th2016
Last updated July 31st2018
Tags self harm mental health
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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