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How to tell someone you self harm

Making the decision to tell someone is a positive step and is something you will want to do when the time is right for you


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


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If you chose to tell someone that you self harm you may be anxious about how they will react. Making the decision to tell someone is a positive step, and is something you will want to do when the time is right for you. Ideally, it is best to open up to someone who is in a position to support you, such as a parent/guardian, teacher, doctor or counsellor.

How to open up to someone about self harm?

Try to be honest

If you want to tell someone about self harming be prepared that they will probably ask you some questions about it, such as why you self harm and how long you have been doing it for. Finding the words to explain why you self harm can be difficult as you may not fully understand the reasons yourself. Try to be honest with the person and explain it to them in the simplest way you can think of.

When opening up to someone about self harming you may feel you want to hide the reasons you self harm from them as you do not want to upset them. Although seeing someone upset may be difficult, you need to prioritise yourself and what you need, by being honest with them you can decide together on what the next best step for you is.

If you do not feel you can be honest with the person about the reasons you self harm try to avoid lying to them about it, instead, tell them you do not currently feel comfortable talking about it but that you may be able to in the future.

Choosing how to tell someone you self harm

When you are ready to tell someone you self harm, choose to do it in a way that suits you. Whether you want to do it in person, over the phone, or through text is up to you.

Telling someone in person

If you decide to tell someone you self harm in person, choose a safe space to tell them, somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Practising what you want to say before you speak to them can help you to decide on what it is you want to tell them and focus the conversation on what you want to take from it. Do not feel that you have to show them any scars or injuries if you think it may cause discomfort to you, or the other person.

Telling someone over text

If you want to tell someone you self harm but don’t think you can find the words to say it in person, texting someone is also a good option. By sending a text, you are able to take time to choose what you want to say and when would be an appropriate time to say it. If you text someone about self harm they will probably want to meet or call to talk to you further about what is going on, so at some stage you will still probably have to talk to them about it face-to-face.

Another thing to keep in mind if you decide to text someone about self harming, is that you may not get a reply straight away. It is important to remember that the person may not be on their phone or they may be in a situation in which they can’t reply. Waiting for a text may cause you to feel anxious as you do not know when they will reply and the situation is out of your control. If someone does not reply within the time frame that you had hoped, you may want to send them a text or a follow up call, especially if it is something you want to talk about as soon as possible. Alternatively, if the person fails to respond, it is a good idea to have a second person in mind, whom you could turn to for support.

If you decide to tell someone through text it is a good idea to ask them if they have the time to text/talk before opening up to them about self harm. By doing this you will know if they will be able to respond and won't have to wait for an answer if they are busy.

Writing down what you want to tell someone

If you want to tell someone you self harm but do not think you can say it out loud, writing it down may is a good way to express yourself to others. Writing down what you want to say can also be helpful if you want to speak to your doctor about self harming, as it will be a more formal conversation. Your doctor will probably ask you questions such as how you self harm, where you self harm, when you started self harming, and what makes you want to self harm. Writing down your answers to these questions beforehand may help you to focus the conversation if you feel upset or overwhelmed.

Opening up to someone you do not know

If you want to speak to someone about self harming but are not ready to speak about it to someone you know, there are other supports available that you can speak to. Charities such as Samaritans and Childline offer free support through messenger, text and over the phone. Pieta House also offer support to people who self harm or who are feeling suicidal.

It is important to remember that if the person you open up to doesn't respond in the way you had hoped that there are always other supports available to you. 

Learn more about:

There are several different ways to reduce harm and find support for self harming. You may need to try a few different methods and supports until you find the one that works best for you. For information on self harm reducing and finding supports visit our Mental Health section.

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Published July 15th2019
Last updated Sep­tem­ber 20th2019
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