Don't Use Emotional Blackmail to Stop Self-Harm

April 28, 2022 Kim Berkley

Whether you do so intentionally or unconsciously, using emotional blackmail to stop self-harm is one of the worst things you can do to someone struggling to recover.

What Using Emotional Blackmail to Stop Self-Harm Looks Like

It's hard not to get emotional when you find out that someone you care about (and/or are responsible for) self-injures. It can be equally difficult not to appeal to their emotions in order to get the results you want—namely, to get them to stop hurting themselves.

In some cases, the intention behind this is selfish—it's natural, if not particularly nice, to want someone to get better simply because it will make you feel better. Humans tend to be instinctually averse to discomfort and pain, so if someone else's pain is affecting us negatively, it only makes sense to want to put an end to it. In other cases, the intention is less self-motivated—compassion and empathy are common motivators here, particularly if the person in pain is a loved one. 

Regardless of your intentions, however, it's wrong to use emotional blackmail to stop self-harm. If you're not sure if you've done this or not, here are some examples of what this can look like:

  • Threatening to harm yourself if this person ever self-injures again—This can add to feelings of overwhelm and guilt.
  • Emphasizing how much this person's pain is hurting you—This can encourage secrecy and hiding to "protect" you from the pain.
  • Demanding or actively pressuring this person to stop—This can increase depression and/or anxiety.
  • Punishing this person for self-harming—This can add to feelings of shame and encourage secrecy to avoid punishment.

What all of these have in common is that they involve using this person's emotions against them like a weapon with which you're trying to slay their self-harm. Recovery, however, isn't a fight for you to try and win—it's a healing process.

Why Using Emotional Blackmail to Stop Self-Harm Doesn't Work

Keep in mind that self-injury is often a coping mechanism for people already dealing with intense (usually negative) thoughts or emotions. It may sound counterintuitive if you've never harmed yourself on purpose before, but physical pain can sometimes feel easier to process and understand than more complex psychological pain or trauma.

Making a self-harmer feel even worse by trying to use emotional blackmail to stop self-harm tends to backfire. It is more likely to trigger an episode rather than prevent one. At the very least, it's not conducive to the healing process. It's like trying to stop a flood by turning a hose on it.

Instead, practice your active listening skills. Always ask before offering advice that may not be wanted. Offer support, but try not to force your help on someone who may not want it or be ready to accept it yet. When in doubt, it's always better to ask what you can do rather than assume responsibilities without permission. Even if you're a parent or guardian of someone who is self-harming, do your best to be patient and let this person come to you, rather than hounding them about self-harm recovery.

Finally, know that it is okay to need help, too. It's hard to watch someone you care about suffer and struggle with recovery, and it's not uncommon to need some extra support of your own to cope with the situation, whether that means just talking to someone in your personal life whom you trust or reaching out to a professional. This extra support can also help you gain a clearer perspective and identify helpful versus harmful ways to support your loved one through the recovery process.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2022, April 28). Don't Use Emotional Blackmail to Stop Self-Harm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Kim Berkley

Find Kim on Instagram, Facebook and her blog.

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