Understanding How Self-Harm Affects Others

May 14, 2020 Kim Berkley

It may be difficult to imagine how self-harm affects others when no one even knows (at least to your knowledge) that you're hurting yourself. Pain, however, always causes a ripple effect.

How Self-Harm Affects Others Close to You

When I was actively self-harming, it affected others even though I didn't share it with anyone. A big part of the reason I stayed silent about it was the effect I thought it would have on the people I loved. I didn't want my friends to look at me differently, judge me or feel bad for me. I didn't want my parents to suffer along with me; I knew my pain would hurt them, so I kept it to myself.

But looking back, I can remember times I said hurtful things because I was angry at myself. I remember shutting the door in my mother's face when she tried to ask me if something was wrong. I remember a friend catching my sleeve and asking if I was okay, and the doubt in that person's eyes when I faked a cheerful response. I may have kept the lid on my secret, but it wasn't watertight—my pain still managed to leak out and infect others, regardless of my good intentions.

Even if you've never told a single soul about your habit, people who are close to you may still spot the scars you try to hide or notice the way you always wear long sleeves even when it's 90 degrees out and you're dripping with sweat. They may not say anything because they may not know how to broach the subject, but the knowledge that you are suffering may still weigh heavily on their minds.

Others may simply pick up on unconscious signals that something is wrong, and worry without knowing why. They may become frustrated, especially if they feel you are hiding something; or, they may try to avoid dealing with their worry by ignoring it. They may simply try to help, to offer you extra support because they feel you may need it, even if you won't admit it out loud.

Feeling that someone you care for may be suffering is always difficult, no matter what. But pain is always easier to bear when the burden is shared, and that truth goes both ways.

How Self-Harm Affects Others Is Not Your Fault

It's important to understand how self-harm affects others because it is all too easy to forget (or deny) that you may not be the only one who is suffering. At the same time, however, it is equally important to remember that you are not responsible for how others react or how they feel.

How your self-harm may affect others in your life is not your fault. Nor should the takeaway here be that you should try even harder to keep your secret, and your pain, to yourself. Instead, try to use this understanding as a motivation to seek better ways to cope. Focus on love, including self-love, rather than blame or shame; focus on getting better.

Healing, too, can have a ripple effect.

How do you think your self-harm experience has affected others? What changes do you hope recovery will bring? Share your story in the comments.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2020, May 14). Understanding How Self-Harm Affects Others, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 17 from

Author: Kim Berkley

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