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What can you do when you find your friends copying other people's self-harming?

Jenny Flannagan photo Jenny Flannagan · 18 Oct, 2021

I used to self harm and I’ve now noticed my friends with scars or copying me by taking sharpeners and scissors etc…how can I help them if I can’t even help myself?

Hi there. That’s a lot of responsibility you’re taking on yourself for what’s happening with your friends, and I guess the first thing I’m wondering is - how do you know? How do you know there is a connection between your friends self-harming and the fact that you used to self-harm? Maybe you all talk about that kind of thing…but often we don’t. We don’t talk about it because it’s hard, it’s awkward, it’s vulnerable, we feel guilty…but when we can bring it out into the open it can help. Could you maybe say to one of your friends what you noticed, and ask if they’re ok or if they’re struggling that the moment?
The other thing I noticed about what you said is that your self-harming is in the past. You managed to stop. You ask ‘how can I help them if I can’t even help myself?’ - but you have helped yourself. That’s not an easy journey to make, and I hope you feel good about having made it. Maybe you’ve found new ways to cope, maybe you’ve had some support to help you stop. However you’ve got there you’re actually in am amazing position to be able to talk to your friends about what you’re noticing. You understand why someone might start self-harming, and also how to find other ways to manage. You’ll know too why your friends aren’t talking about it, and how lonely a battle it can be. If you felt you could be brave enough to share some of your struggle and your journey it could be incredibly helpful for your friends.
Self-harm thrives in secrecy. Often it is tied up with feelings of shame - we feel ashamed we self-harm, or we feel in some way we deserve it and want to hide how bad we feel about ourselves. When we bring things out in the open it can really disarm the shame. When we have the experience of being listened to and understood, when we hear people tell us that they don’t see us that way, when we are supported and cared for - those things can make a big difference.
So I wonder if instead of feeling guilty and responsible for what’s happening you could see things in a difference way. Your friends are struggling, and you’re in an amazing place to be able to help them, because of the things you’ve been through. Your experience of self-harm doesn’t make you the bad guy, but maybe the only one with the insight to be able to help.

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