the user-led self-injury organisation.

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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.


  • Anne

    Is anyone here?

    • Wedge

      Hello Anne, this is a website and blog, so people will leave comments about the pages, but people won’t discuss things in detail.

  • M

    My partner just told me that she self-harms. I didn’t know during the time we have been dating. Right now she’s having trouble dealing with some feelings and she doesn’t want to see me. I’m a little afraid that she is SI-ing but I’m not sure what I can do for her. This page has been useful for me. Thank you so much.

  • Me

    i self harm to cope an my situation with my partner has caused it to get significantly worse of late , it is not his fault but he feels it is as it’s the situation he caused (children from a former partner ) and my insecurities that cause me to SI.
    I don’t know how to make him see it’s not his fault Even if it’s the situation he causes that makes me Si.

    I’m so confused.

  • David

    I have a partner who SIs as well. It is distressing for me on many levels as I have been, at least in part, the cause for a resurgence in their SI.
    My partner had a terrible chilhood – bullying, lack of parental support, and more.
    While I know and understand that the SIing is not directly because of me, my actions have made it go from dormant to active. It is clear that the underlying issues were never actually resolved – just hidden – and as a consequence the potential for it to get worse is significantly increased.
    So, aside from my guilt, I have a deep concern for my partner, our children, our families, and friends.
    It looks like a long road as there is a deep reluctance to get actual help but rather deal with it ourselves. That worries me as I do not feel adequately mentally equipped to deal with this. I will do my best though and help and support where I can and when I am permitted.
    I hope that anyone dealing with this gets all the support that they need.

    • Wedge


      Relationships are complicated – you will stress each other out and even fight. Your partner’s coping technique needs to evolve, so that they can cope with the natural stress in life. But as you’ve identified, they need direct and active support to work through the underlying, serious, issues.

      You need support too – maybe formal, or maybe informal (friends, hobbies, self-help).

  • Craig

    Devastated to find my partner self harming so bad she needs hospital treatment.Felt like it was all my fault but after reading the facts on this site it has helped me to understand a little of how this works.Im still not sure how to move on and help her and feel so guilty that I feel so bad when she’s the one suffering.


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