How Do You Tell Someone You Self-Injure?

When telling someone you self-injure, self-harm, there are many things to take into consideration. Consider revealing your self-injury to someone you trust.

Telling someone that you are a self-injurer is scary. You don't know how they will react. In a way, it can be viewed as similar to coming out as gay or lesbian. Although it is very common, it may not be considered "acceptable"  to others. Be careful whom you choose to tell. Choose someone you really trust. You can disclose in a conversation or in a letter that you present to them or by e-mail. If you choose the last two, be ready to follow it up with a chat session or phone call. Keep these points in mind:

  • Be willing to give the person some time to digest what you have told them. You may have caught them by surprise and first reactions are not always the best indicators of their feelings. Give them some space, but be ready for their questions.
  • Be as open as you can and give them as much information as you can. Give them internet addresses like this one or ways to get additional information or books to read. People are afraid of things that they don't understand.
  • Try to anticipate what questions they might ask. If they ask you something that you are not ready to talk about yet, tell them that.
  • Realize that it can be as difficult for them to hear what you have to say, as it is for you to say it. Anyone that you are that close to will not want you to hurt, and will want to help. They may wonder where they went wrong and feel guilty that they did not notice. Be sure to tell them that this is a choice you made and you were not ready for their help earlier but need it now.
  • You do not have to accept their value judgments about your self-injury.
  • Let the person know you are telling them because you trust them, not because you are trying to punish, manipulate or guilt-trip them.
  • Never tell someone in anger. ("You made me cut/burn/hit.") Do not blame the person for their behaviors which may have triggered you or for not seeing your pain. They'll get defensive and angry. You want their understanding not their guilt and besides self-injury is always your choice.
  • If you have a friend or a counselor that you trust you may want them to be present to give you support, but do not expect them to tell the other person for you.
  • It's usually best to avoid graphic descriptions of your injuries. You are not trying to freak them out. They probably don't need a technicolor description of your worst incident. If they have any questions later then you can give them the details in another conversation once they have had a chance to absorb what you told them.

next: How to Help the Person Who Self-Injures

Last Updated: 24 June 2011

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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