This is a complex topic and getting appropriate information is important. The priority is to accept that stopping it is not the first priority! Dealing with the cause and negotiating safer alternatives are a better option in the long term. Pressure to stop can increase the likelihood of self-harm happening.
The National Self Harm Network website www.nshn.co.uk also offers quite a few distractions and alternatives. A few examples are:
• Drawing on yourself in red marker.
• Snapping an elastic band on your wrist.
• Making ice cubes with red food colouring to rub where you want to self-harm.
• Squeezing ice cubes.
• Thinking about not wanting scars in the summer.
• Thinking about not wanting to go into hospital.
• Setting yourself a target such as 10 minutes and promising yourself not to harm in this time. Once you get to the 10 minute point set a new target of 15 minutes, and so on.
• Biting into a chilli.
Experienced Carers advise allowing the person to take care of the self-harm injury themselves whenever possible.
“It was suggested to me after several cutting incidents that I should not always help clear up the mess, dress the wound etc. – this idea horrified me at first, as being against all a mother’s instincts, but it did actually help to stand back – it seemed to take some of the drama out of the situation.”
Cling film is useful for cuts as it keeps them clean until treated. Burns should be cooled in tepid (not ice) water and again covered in cling film until treated.
The overall feeling is that it is safer to have a kit with sterile blades, plasters and bandages available – hard as it may be to accept this. Having the option readily available decreases stress levels and, hopefully, the self-harming too.
The following long list from the National Self Harm Network outlines some do’s and don’ts!
- Things to do
- Use different ways to communicate (such as texting).
- Give them the option to come to talk to you if they want to.
- Do they want to talk about what led to this individual episode (if anything)?
- Ask them what, if anything they would like you to do to help?
- If they are willing to talk encourage them to seek professional help, learn coping strategies and use support groups and support forums.
- Let them remain in control as much as possible (many people who self-harm feel they have lack of control over their lives and feelings)
- Learn all you can about self-harm
- Show them that you care and can see the person beyond the selfharm. Be positive and try to focus on their strengths.
- Offer distractions. Talk about things not related to self-harm, watch a film together, go for a
walk, but respect requests for time on their own.
- Get help for dealing with and understanding your own feelings.
- Only help as much as you feel able too. You need to look after your own wellbeing too.
Things to avoid
- Don’t suggest this is something that should be kept secret and wrong to talk about or that they have to talk about it.
- Don’t force them into getting help or take control away from them. If they are not ready this may cause them to withdraw from you.
- Don’t assume every episode of self-harm is for the same reason.
- Don’t assume what they need/ want or act without discussing it and being sure they are
comfortable with it.
- Don’t try to make them stop (e.g. by removing tools), give ultimatums or do things that they aren’t comfortable with.
- Never ask them to promise they won’t harm themselves. This only adds pressure.
- Don’t tell them what they are doing is wrong or be judgemental.
- Never jump to conclusions.
- Don’t change your perspective of them as a person. They are an individual, not a ‘self-harmer’!
- Don’t blame yourself or take it personally.
- Don’t get angry with them, shout at them, or show shock after self-harm. You may feel this way, but expressing it may cause more anxiety and make the individual feel guilty.
- Don’t blame them for making you worry, or talk about how much this is impacting on you. This may make them feel even more guilty and lead to further self-harm.
- Don’t assume they always need to talk about the self-harm if they are low, or not allow them any time and space alone.