How to Help a Friend Who Self-Harms

October 5, 2020 Martyna Halas

Seeing your self-harming friend suffer in silence can't be easy. However, sometimes trying to help can only make things worse. Approaching your friend with patience, kindness, and understanding is vital.

My Friend Self-Harms. What Can I Do?

There are many reasons why people self-harm and their motivations are often complex. If you decide to approach your friend and ask about that person's self-harm, you must stay non-judgmental and open-minded. You're about to discover your friend's biggest secret, and even though it might not make sense to you, your friend is using self-harm to cope with negative emotions.

Before you start the conversation, make sure you're mentally in the right place. Confronting your friend might be upsetting to both of you. Your friend might resist, get defensive, or even react with anger. Therefore, do it only if you're sure that you can remain patient and calm.

How to Ask About Your Friend's Self-Harm

Asking about your friend's self-harm scars straight away might come across as harsh, and it might result in that person using excuses as to why it's not what it looks like. Therefore, a good first question would be something like: "I can see you've been in a lot of pain recently. Do you want to tell me what's going on?"

It's a more open-ended question and might encourage your friend to open up without directly addressing the self-harm.

If you decide to address your friend's scars, do it gently. For instance, you could say: "I noticed your scars. I want you to know that I am here for you."

This way, you signal that you're not going to judge and that you're willing to listen. 

Remember that you can't, and you shouldn't manage your friend's self-harm on your own. It might be best to suggest professional help -- but again, do it gently. You could say: "I am here for you, but I may not be able to help you alone. Let's get you some support. I can come with you if you want." 

Admitting that professional help is necessary can be a scary thing, but knowing that you will be there every step of the way might convince your friend to seek deserved support.

What Not to Say to a Friend Who Self-Harms

Lastly, even if you have good intentions, be careful with what you say to someone who self-harms. For instance, never say: "It's not that bad."

You don't know the intensity of your friend's pain; you don't live inside your friend's head.

Also, never react with: "Why would anyone self-harm? How could you do such a thing? I don't understand."

Your friend is likely dealing with extreme feelings that your friend may not understand. It's not that person's responsibility to explain how it works. Keep an open mind, be supportive, and be sympathetic to your friend's pain. That's all you can do, and it's already a lot.

Do you have a friend who self-harms? How do you help? Let me know in the comments. 

APA Reference
Halas, M. (2020, October 5). How to Help a Friend Who Self-Harms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Martyna Halas

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