This is somewhat a deviation from my typical author blog posts, but as someone who has struggled with cutting for nearly eight years and is seeking help, it’s been on my heart a lot lately. For those who are unfamiliar with this, self-harm/self-mutilation/self-injury is inflicting harm on the body, most often through cutting or burning, to deal with deep emotions a person cannot understand or communicate. Obviously, I cannot speak from the perspective of everyone who struggles with this, so the list I’ve developed is strictly from my perspective. If you are the family member or friend of a suffering teen or young adult woman, here are six things to consider when reaching out to them:
1. Offer to be there to listen and support. It may be difficult. Most people who self-mutilate struggle to understand and communicate her emotions. Depending on personality type and life experience, she may express concern over being a burden. As an IXFJ (someone who functions as an INFJ and ISFJ), I can attest to this. Those are the nurturing personalities, and she may fear she’ll push you away or cause you to feel taken advantage of.
2. Encourage her to express her thoughts and feelings and stay away from mentioning self-harming urges. It’s difficult and scary when a family member or friend is harming themselves, and it’s natural to want them to tell you when they feel urges. However, self-harming is a way we (the sufferers) cope with life. Early on, I communicated my feelings through talking about my urge to cut. It was the way I coped, and, in turn, I once again associated self-harm through relief. I talked about the urge to cut to bring much-needed emotional relief. For those who wish to help, it’s vital that the sufferers can separate cutting from relief.
3. Allow her into your inner circle. Most therapists agree that people turn to self-injury when they do not have healthy close relationships with family or friends. When a girl says she cuts because she “wants to feel alive”, or, “wants to feel something”, she may (I did) mean she doesn’t feel close to anyone. She may not feel like an important part of anyone else’s life, never have developed healthy emotional attachment. By allowing a girl struggling with self-harm into your inner circle of friends, she can see how relationships work. Treat her as an equal human being, not as the victim of abuse, bullying, or depression.
4. Allow her to meet your emotional needs. Allow her to step out of her world and do what she can to help. The chance to meet another’s emotional needs will not totally fix the problem, but it will make her feel important and connect with you on a level she may never have before. Don’t put your deepest, darkest secrets on her; start with the minor struggles, preferably ones she can relate to.
5. Encourage professional help. For some, seeing a therapist, counselor, or pastor will work. Others, depending on the amount of baggage, may need a psychotherapist, dialectical behavioral therapy, or inpatient treatment. In severe cases, attachment therapy may be necessary, but in that case, it is between a girl and her parents (usually adoptive). Mercy Ministries is a faith-based, six-month program that provides girls with treatment free of charge. Encourage the girl to pursue professional help, but don’t pressure her. Getting professional help must be the girl’s choice.
6. Fast and pray once a month. This includes partial, absolute, and media fasts. This is something no one should know you’re doing. Don’t mention it to the girl; don’t mention it to anyone. Your prayers for a hurting person will be the most powerful help you can offer.