Knowing the person you adore hurts themselves can seem unbearable

Written by Aja (with Jamie).

The hardest thing I have ever done is to be in love with a man who self-injures.

It hurts me so much to know he is in so much pain, and there is nothing I can really do about it. Sure, I am there for him if he wants to talk, I am supportive when he has a bad day or things go wrong, and when he asks for help (which he is getting better about) I do whatever I can; get his meds for him, hold him, or make an appointment with his psychiatrist for him.
Maybe it is something as simple as going to buy the dog food because he just can’t face going to the store that day.

But knowing he is upstairs, actually cutting, and he doesn’t want to / can’t talk, and knowing there’s nothing I can do, is the worst.
It is frustrating, it makes me angry, and it hurts. I haven’t really been dealing with this long, only about 6 months, but here are some pointers that have helped me deal with loving someone who self-injures.

Aja’s Tips for Supporting a Loved One Who Self Harms

  1. Take care of yourself. This could mean different things at different times. One day you may find you need time alone, the next maybe you need time with your friends or family. Maybe this means keeping a job rather then staying home to care for the person who self-injures.
    • Do things you enjoy. Don’t let your whole life be over run by the fact that you care about someone who hurts him or herself. You are a person with interests and abilities outside of the relationship, and you need to remember that fact.
    • Acknowledge your own feelings about it and deal with them. It hurts to see someone you care about hurting so badly that they have to injure themselves. Don’t be afraid to get support for yourself, be that from friends, family, or professionals.
  2. Don’t take it personally. You didn’t cause it, you can’t stop it. It is a choice that the person you care about made. Even if they say something like “look what you made me do”, this is only rhetoric; self harm is how they chose to handle the situation. They are the ones who chose to hurt themselves. I know this can be difficult, but it is important to realise that you can’t control the actions of others, no matter how much you may care.
  3. Respect the person. Give them privacy while actually si-ing. Ask if they want to be alone. If a door is closed, knock first.
    I made this mistake once. I walked in to my future-husband’s home office while he was cutting. It was a traumatic experience for both of us. He says I handled it well. All I did was ask if he wanted to be left alone. He said yes. I kissed him on the forehead and told him I loved him and walked out. But it would have been much better if I had knocked first.
  4. Keep lines of communication open. Talk as much as possible about deep issues, yes, but about mundane things too. Self-injury is not a person’s whole life. Most people who self-injure have jobs, interests, hobbies, etc. Let the person you care about have a chance to be a person, not just a person who self-injures.
    • Give the person a chance to de-brief after an episode. (This may be minutes or weeks after). Let them sort out feelings or issues that led to the episode and be willing to explore other ways they may handle such things.
      If you find it too upsetting, say so. Hurting yourself by talking about things you are not ready to deal with won’t help. You may need to direct them to someone who is better equipped to help, such as a therapist, or maybe a family member or a friend. You really can’t say “no, I can’t deal with that” every time a tough issue comes up or you will find that the person you care about will quickly quit talking to you. Still, you have to maintain enough distance to not be traumatized yourself. I have found that being able to talk to my boyfriend’s therapist has been a great help to me.
  5. Be non-judgmental. Don’t make the person feel guilty for si-ing. It is a coping mechanism. Believe it or not, you have coping mechanisms too, just not that particular one.
    • Trying to ‘guilt’ someone into stopping self-injuring can have the opposite effect. A person who self injures is stressed beyond his or her ability to cope. If you make them feel guilty or give ultimatums, you add to the stress. More stress could conceivably mean more self-injury or other unhealthy ways of trying to regain a sense of balance and control.

To recap the points of supporting someone who self-injures;

  • You have to take care of YOU first.
  • You can’t help anyone else if you aren’t in fairly good shape yourself.
  • Don’t take it personally. It is not your fault; it is the other person’s way of coping.
  • Give the person respect and privacy. It will make things easier for both of you.
  • Communicate. I really can’t stress this one enough. And a big part of that is remembering that the person is more than his or her issues.
  • Don’t judge the person you care about for self-injuring. They really are doing the best they can with the coping strategies they have.

And let me add one more. LAUGH. Share your humour. Find funny things to brighten each other’s days. Following these steps will go a long way to bringing you closer.

Aja and Jamie
December 30, 2004

This article may not reflect the opinions of the FirstSigns Organisation or its members.

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