Telling your friends and family
Choosing to tell someone about your self-injury is a scary thing. So many worries arise:
Will they react negatively? Will they take you seriously?
Will they tell someone else? Will they turn away from you?
Surely it’s easier just to keep it to yourself?
There’s no denying it’s a very hard, nerve racking thing to do, but it’s also very validating, and can lead to feelings of relief and can develop into help and support. It is one of the first steps on your journey to move away from self-injury.
You can’t predict how anyone is going to react or respond when you tell them, but you can prepare yourself as much as possible.
The first step is to decide who you are going to tell. Will it be a parent? A friend? Your doctor or counsellor? It should be someone who you can trust and who you feel comfortable with. Unless you are planning to sit down with your parents, it should be with one person at a time.
Before you approach your chosen person, have a think about how you would like to start the conversation. Words can be so hard to find, how do you say ‘I hurt myself to make me feel better‘? It’s very hard to convey the feelings that bring a person to SI. Perhaps you could write down the key things you would like to say. It will help you to keep focus, and if you do clam up, you could simply hand them your pre-written words to discuss.
The next step is to approach them
If you’re planning to tell your doctor or another medical professional, it’s a case of making an appointment at your convenience.
If you’re telling a friend or family member, let them know there’s something you’d like to talk to them about, that it’s important and it may take a bit of time. You don’t have to talk right away if there isn’t time and space; it’s OK to arrange a date. You can agree a time and a place that suits you both.
Choose a place that’s quiet and comfortable, somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Get a cuppa and take a deep breath.
First proper conversation
You don’t have to jump straight in to it. You could start off in general terms, explaining that you are feeling depressed or anxious and struggling with things.
When you’re ready, explain that sometimes you hurt yourself as a way to cope – to help you deal with life and your emotions. You don’t have to go into any detail about how you hurt yourself, but be prepared for questions and maybe shock or sadness. Perhaps explain a little your main triggers ie, too much pressure or expectation, arguments, being unable to express yourself; whatever it may be.
Now give them time to respond and digest what they have heard. It’s understandable if they are upset by what you have shared. They will probably want to ask you questions, some which might seem silly to you. Answer them as best you can, but don’t feel you have to share everything all at once if you’re comfortable with it. Not everything needs to be said in one sitting.
(They may feel they are unable to continue with conversation until they have had some time to let it sink in. This is okay. Try not to get upset or disappointed, this doesn’t mean it has gone badly. Maybe you could tell them about the LifeSIGNS website, so they can find out more about self-injury to help them understand what is going on for you.)
If you’ve prepared something like a printed factsheet, or some of your own words, you could look at this together and answer any queries that arise. Hopefully, your friend/family member is getting a clearer picture of what self-injury is and what leads you to do it.
If you can, explain that by telling them, you are taking a step forward in the recovery process. That doesn’t mean that you’re ready to stop self-injuring, but having their emotional support will help you on the journey. Sometimes talking about our feelings, or learning to talk about our feelings, can lead us to feel better, thus reducing our need to self-injure.
Let them know what you would like them to do to help. Would you like them to go with you to see your GP? Are there things they can do to create a calmer environment for you, or give you more space and time to yourself? Or do you simply want an ear to talk to when you feel the urge to self-injure? Perhaps between you, you could think of ways to help you next time you feel the urge.
‘Coming out’ isn’t about getting attention; it should be about trusting some relationships and allowing a trusted friend or relative to know you better. It could be the start of reducing your SI, or getting therapy, or seeing the doctor about your depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem or emotional turmoil. It really could be the first step on the long road to becoming a happier person.
Some guides for ‘coming out’ about self-injury
- Plan who you are going to tell. Choose one person; it is best to avoid telling groups of people.
- Find a place that is comfortable for you both, where you won’t be disturbed and you have time to sit down, talk and think. This is not a thing to rush.
- Try talking about the emotional concerns behind your self-injury, whether it’s about your self-esteem, things going on at home or school / work.
- It may help you, and them, to print of some information about self-injury, or write about it in your own words.
- Allow them time to respond, or to think; you don’t have to keep talking the whole time.
- Allow them to ask any question, even if it sounds silly to you.
- Accept that this news may upset them today; don’t allow yourself to get disappointed this first time.
- Explain that you are not asking for them to ‘stop you’, but that you trust that they will support you emotionally.
- Let them know that you are getting help / considering getting help.
- Explain that this is not their fault or responsibility.
- You could say how important your privacy is, and ask them not to discuss anything about this conversation with their friends.
- Don’t show your scars at this stage, it would take focus away from the emotional concerns you’re trying to explain.
- Try to keep the conversation ‘informative’. Don’t tell them details of how and where you ‘do it’. You’re discussing your feelings today, that is all.
- Don’t ever tell anyone when you’re angry at them. Don’t tell them when you’re upset.
- If either of you are getting too emotional, distressed or angry, it’s best to leave it for now and come back to the discussion another time.
- Explain that self-injury is more common than most people assume, and that it’s recognised by all doctors.
- If you have a recent diagnosis / treatment plan from a doctor, you might consider explaining how your mental health affects the way you cope (and use self-injury). You don’t have to go into detail.
- If you’re under 18, the two of you should think about talking to an adult, even if you’re 17 and consider yourself independent.
These are only general guidelines, every individual case and situation is different.
Some important points:
- There is no need for you to show your scars or go into detail at this time. This conversation is about sharing your emotional concerns and asking for their help and support. Showing your scars will take focus away from this.
- Not everything has to be said in one sitting. It will be beneficial for both of you to have some time away to think and maybe meet up again in a few days’ time.
- Make sure they know it is not their fault or responsibility. Make sure they understand how important your privacy is, and ask them not to discuss anything about this conversation with other people without asking your permission first.
- If you are both under the age of 18, consider talking to an adult, even if you’re 17 and consider yourself independent.