If you are a boyfriend, girlfriend, or just a friend of someone who self-injures it is important that you take care of yourself first. People who self-injure often put friends (intentionally or not) in helpless situations. A common request of a self-injurer is to ask a friend not to tell anyone else about their self-injury. They may hold you 'hostage' with the threat, "if you tell..... I'll cut myself". You may think you always have to be available so that they do not self-injure. Friends tend to want to help the self-injurer in any way that they can, even if the self-injurer does not want the help. Knowing how much, and how often to intervene can be overwhelming. Setting boundaries within the relationship or deciding when to let go can also be stressful.
Q. My friend told me she was injuring, but asked me to keep it a secret. What should I do?
A.Tell your friend that you cannot keep their self-injury secret. Explain to them that it puts you in an uncomfortable position. Tell them you will confide in people that you think can help (teachers, school counselor, school nurse, clergy, your parents, therapist, family doctor....) and that you won't gossip or spread rumors. Know your limits.
Q: I'm spending so much time trying to keep my friend safe that I've been neglecting my own life and needs. Help!
A: It is totally understandable that you don't want anything bad to happen to your friend. The problem is that you do not have the knowledge or ability to keep your friend safe. Being a caring friend is very important, but you and your friend need to recognize your limits. Your friend needs professional help to help him or her better understand why they self-injure and how to deal with their emotions in a healthier way.
Q: I want to break up with my girl/boyfriend, but when I say I want to leave they threaten to hurt themselves! How can I get out of this relationship safely?
A: Self-injurers often have a fear of abandonment, so a break-up with someone who has been important to them often will result in an intense emotional state. This is frightening and uncomfortable for many self-injurers who will then resort to their most effective coping strategy - self-injury. Your friend might try to blame you, but both of you need to understand that the only person who has control over his or her behavior is the self-injurer themselves. The self-injurer may say, "if you leave me I'll injure." However, you should not stay in the relationship as a result of threats. A healthy relationship can never result from this type of "force" relationship. Tell them that you hope they will take responsibility for their own feelings and behavior, and get the help they need to get through the emotions that surround a loss. Let them know that you are willing to help them look for information regarding treatment options. Remember, a healthy relationship is one of honesty, compromise and communication.
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