expressions of genuine feelings during self-injury as being merely attention getting
behavior. Indeed, most self-injury is done in secret and kept secret. Yet, it can be a
cry for help. And why not? Most self-abusers feel that no one understands them and
no one cares.
The reactions of others to self-injury
Some people become concerned that a person who is so angry that they self-
injure is dangerous to others. It is true that some self-injurers are angry with others,
but they seem to usually cope with aggression by turning it on themselves.
Professionals do not ordinarily consider self-injurers to be a risk to others. Of course,
if the self-injury behavior begins to include aggressive acts, such as bullying or
physical threats, then one would rightly have concerns about the welfare of others
Naturally, friends or relatives are often upset by this behavior and bluntly urge
the self-abuser to stop. Some people who self-injure feel some resentment of this
and think if my hurting myself doesnt bother me, why should other people be
concerned? Whats it to them? The answer is that watching or even hearing about
self-abusive behavior is troubling to most people, especially if it could be permanent
or lethal, if the aggression might extend to others, and if the observers do not realize
that self-injury can be a method to allay the overwhelming stress. Most self-abusers,
however, in the course of time, feel that they would like to avoid using self-injury as
a coping mechanism. If they can find other ways of soothing their emotional turmoil,
the self-injury response will extinguish.
Other peoplefriends, partners, and relativesoften at least have negative
feelings about self-injury; it doesnt immediately arouse sympathy. Instead, it often
causes a conflict situation where the self-abuser is criticized and called weird or
crazy. Even experienced therapists may not have dealt with much self-injury before,
so like others, they may be baffled by it. Besides, young people often do not take
kindly to the comment that you need to see a shrink which is said more like an
order or a demand, rather than gentle concerned encouragement.
How should one respond to a person who self-injures?
The simple answer is: with concern and respect, with a desire to understand and
help, with no criticism, blame or negative comment. Some self-abusers appreciate
getting to talk about their troubles, their feelings, and even their self-injuries. Others
feel they have been misunderstood, mishandled and neglected before, so lets not
talk about it. Sometimes they get tired of telling the same history over and over
without getting help; sometimes they have been told that therapy will not be
provided if they continue to self-injure (doesnt seem empathic, does it?); sometimes
their helpers just seem uninterested, treat them like a child, or appear to have little
time. If these are the kinds of experiences self-harmers have had in the past,
naturally if you are a newly assigned helper, they are not going to warm up to you
right away. It takes a little time and a lot of genuine concern. They do want help.
In most cases, however, self-injurers feel they were or would be helped by
support groups made up of other self-harmers. They dont believe that more
statistical or diagnostic information about self-harm (in the form of the typical
brochure in the doctors office) would help them very much but they are interested in