Self-injury disclosure can come as a complete shock if you are on the receiving end. Your reactions to self-injury disclosure, though, are important. Here’s why.
If you know someone who self injures, the first thing you need to do is be aware of self injury and what self-harm actually is. From personal experience, I know that many people find the idea of self injury incredulous, and many people tend to back away from self injurers out of fear. This fear often stems from a limited knowledge of self injury as a whole.
About Self-Injury Disclosure
If someone confesses their self injurious behavior to you...
... you must realize that on the whole, people do not injure themselves in order to get attention. I say 'on the whole' because I am not intending to categorize self-injurers here. However, self injury cutting, and other forms of self-harm, can be a cry for help due to intense and unbearable emotions (see Causes of Self-Injury). If someone confesses their self injury to you, horror is the last thing you need to express. I realize that this can be difficult, as shock is bound to be an element of your natural reaction. Most self injurers are incredibly clever at concealing their actions from people, and so a confession of this sort can be a very big surprise! However, a reaction such as 'That's disgusting!' is not going to do wonders for the confidence of the person!
What you must realize is that to confess to something such as self injury is a very big step for someone. Many people are extremely worried about the reactions they will get from people if they 'come out' about their problem, and therefore if they do confess, it is likely that they confide in someone they trust.
Self-Harm Disclosure Reactions
On a personal note, self-harm is a very difficult topic to cover as I have witnessed many different reactions to my own self injury disclosures; some of which have been extremely beneficial and have worked wonders for me, and some of which have effectively made the problems a little harder to handle. Therefore, in writing this article, I appealed to other self injurers as well as people who had friends/relatives who harmed themselves. (You can find additional information on responding to people who self-injure on the self-injury statistics and facts page.)
These were the comments they gave me when I asked the question: "How did people react to your self-harm disclosure?"
"They freaked, flipped, were angry, confused, and tried to control me in every way possible, and that just made me more hostile and angry myself. But not everyone reacts that way - that was mainly my doctors, and family. my real life friends were concerned. At the time the people I told on the net didn't understand either, that's why they called my family *sigh* but I have people that understand now and that helps A LOT."
"My friend told me that she wouldn't talk to me again unless I stopped it. She did that because she cared, but it made everything a lot worse for me."
"When I told my closest friend about the cutting she cried. That upset me in a way but it shocked me because it showed that she really did care. She was very supportive and told me that she would help me in any way that she could. That was everything that I could have wished for. I am very grateful to her and I owe her a lot."
"My family made me feel very uncomfortable. They just didn't understand when I told them. They thought I was crazy and my Mom thought it was her fault that I was doing all this to myself. She shouted and told me it would get infected. I couldn't believe that she believed that would matter to me."
"Cutting is me. If people can't take that, they can leave it. All of my friends know and some ignored me. They weren't my real friends and I have learnt to deal with that."
"My father seemed only to care about the fact the self-harm scars were there for life."
"All of my friends knew and a few of them just made fun of it. They thought it was cool. The others didn't do anything about it. They knew I had problems."
"Telling my friend I self-injure was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn't know why I wanted to confess, but I kinda needed to. He just shook his head at me and ran out of the room. I should have expected that, but for years it stayed in my mind - from that day on I vowed I would never tell a soul about it."
"My friend encouraged me to talk to her about my self-injury, but one day it must have become too much for her. She couldn't cope. She told me that if I didn't stop hurting myself then she would tell my parents. I never talked to her after that."
"Someone found out about the self-injury cutting before I really told anyone. I confessed to a friend that day, because I needed some help in dealing with people knowing, and cause I didn't want her finding out another way. That was a long time ago now, and at first she was wonderful - concerned, worried, and supportive. She told me she was there for me. Along the road, she had problems dealing with it. There were times I thought I would die because she just didn't want to be anywhere near me - she was trying to handle my problems as well as her own. It was unfair to her. When I started to see a therapist and get cutting treatment, it helped. Now we are friends again. The cutting is a sore subject and I don't tell people about it now. It's not a big part of my personality. It is just a part of the inner me rebelling against the outer me."
"All I wanted was a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell me they would help me. What I got was panic about my health. Everyone seemed to take it that the cutting itself was the issue, and what it was doing to my health... the scars would always be there. No one asked me why I self-harm or what I was feeling. No one seemed to care. After that the cutting got worse. All I wanted was someone to listen to me and tell me that they understood, instead of telling me that they were worried about what I was doing to myself. No one understood."
Preferred Reactions to Disclosing Self-Injury
How Do You Want People to React?
"I wish my parents would have left me alone. They followed me everywhere when they found out - and it made me want to cut even more."
"I guess I want understanding.. but then no one seems to understand."
"My friend told me we would get through it together. I was lucky. He helped me through it every step of the way - just by being there and letting me know that he cared."
How Do You Not Want People to React?
"My friend left. I hated myself."
"I was scared of telling people because I thought they'd be afraid of me. I was right."
"All they care about is infections and scars. So I give them more to care about."
About the author: Clover, is a self-injurer and started the self-injury website, "A Healing Touch."