By Julia Foley
Here are the three questions that people who struggle with self-harm don’t want to be asked.
“Oh my god, are those cuts on your arms? They better not be!”
I was asked this question by my cousin at a family event in front of other family members. It made me feel absolutely horrified, to say the least. Shamefully, I tucked my arm away, even though it was hardly in plain sight in the first place. Then I tried to quickly change the subject and ignore her question completely.
My sisters tried to defend me, one of them quickly announcing, “They’re old, don’t worry about it.”
To be truthful, they were old wounds so I didn’t think they were that noticeable in the first place.
My cousin’s older sister chimed in saying, “OK let’s not talk about this right now. Let’s just drop it.”
The level of shame and embarrassment I felt from that question sent me into emotional distress. For the remainder of the day I was in distress, and ended up having to leave the family event completely. The situation would have been different if she had quietly pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I noticed your arm. Are you OK?” Or, she could not have not said anything at all. That is most preferable, although sometimes it’s unavoidable.
“Aren’t you hot in that sweatshirt?”
Now, I don’t expect everyone in the world to know that when someone is wearing a long sleeve shirt or a sweatshirt during 90 degree weather, they might just be struggling with self-harm. So I’m here to tell you, YES, THEY’RE PROBABLY STRUGGLING WITH SELF-HARM.
Phew. Ok. Got that one out of the way.
It’s just the absolute worst. My answer is always, “Oh, well, it was cold in the air conditioning and now I’m just too lazy to take it off.”
Even though I’m actually dying because it’s blazing hot outside. However, I don’t want to scare you away with my cuts or make you think I’m a crazy person. Because the one time I decided to be brave and walk around in public without covering them up, I got some very strange and even some cold looks from people.
So now you know. Please don’t ask that question.
“Why do you do that to yourself? Doesn’t it hurt?”
Alright. This one isn’t as bad as the previous two, but it’s still uncomfortable to answer!
“Yes, Tim, sometimes it does hurt. But the pain feels good.”
For those of you who do not know, self-harming is a coping technique people use to deal with extreme emotional distress. When someone inflicts pain on themselves, the brain releases a rush of neurotransmitters called endorphins. That’s just the fancy scientific word for happy or feel-good chemicals. Self-harming can have an extreme calming effect, even though it is difficult for many people to understand.
People who self-harm do not want to be called out about it or made to feel embarrassed or ashamed about it.
If you notice someone is struggling with self-harm, the safest thing to do is to gently (and without judgment) ask if they’re OK, and then take it from there. And most importantly, avoid asking these three questions. They seem to be the most common. Be sensitive with any other comments that may come off as insensitive or hurtful to the person struggling.