What Do You Say When You Hurt Yourself on Purpose?

October 6, 2022 Kim Berkley

It's one thing to tell someone you've hurt yourself accidentally. But what do you say when you hurt yourself on purpose? What's the best way to tell someone you self-harm—and who should you tell first?

When You Hurt Yourself, Who Do You Tell?

Everybody's situation is different—as such, there is no one right answer here that will work for everyone. Some people have supportive family members who they can turn to for help, but others are not so lucky. Likewise, not everyone has access to the same mental health resources.

However, I can offer some tips for choosing the right person, or people, to tell first.

Try to choose someone who will:

  • Reserve judgment and offer you an empathetic ear
  • Respect your boundaries and privacy (but can also be counted on to take action and help you in an emergency)
  • Offer help and support without enabling you (and will be open to learning the difference)
  • Have your best interests at heart, always

In my case, the first person I turned to was a friend—someone who knew me extremely well and who I knew I could count on not to disclose my secret to others unless I became a danger to myself (or others). Later on, I was able to open up to a therapist, my parents, and—eventually—all of the lovely readers of this blog.

When Should You Tell Someone You Self-Harm?

Honestly, the sooner you can find someone to talk to, the better. The more support you have, the smoother the road to recovery will be. Take it from someone who walked it alone for far too long—it's not impossible to heal on your own, but the process is much easier when you have at least one person in your corner cheering you on. The more, the merrier.

This is especially true if you can connect with a mental health professional. Having the right medical support can be incredibly useful and help eliminate some (if not all) of the trial and error involved in discovering your best options for healing.

But even if you're not able or ready to talk to a therapist yet, simply having someone you can talk to about what you're going through—whether a friend, family member, or fellow member of your local or online support group—can make a big difference in your life. It's incredibly motivating to know you're not alone, and it's comforting to know that should a crisis occur, someone will have your back.

What Do You Say When You Hurt Yourself On Purpose?

Once you decide who to tell and when, the biggest hurdle becomes deciding how to tell them. What, exactly, do you say when you hurt yourself on purpose? How do you tell someone you love—or perhaps a stranger, such as a new therapist—about your self-harm?

Again, there's no specific wording or format here that will work for everyone. I can't give you a script to memorize because your story belongs only to you—as such, it's up to you and you alone to tell it.

Here are some tips, however, that will hopefully help you figure out how to do that for yourself:

  • Try to wait until a calm, quiet moment to have this conversation—this will help lessen the stress of the situation.
  • Don't memorize a script, but do think ahead about how much you're ready to share.
  • Be as open and honest as you can about both the facts of your situation and how you feel.
  • Clearly state what you want from the other person, whether you want them to listen, give advice, or help you get treatment (or something else).

It's been so many years since I first came out about my self-harm that I no longer remember what I said. But when I came out to my parents much more recently, I began the conversation (one of the hardest of my life) with something along the lines of, "I have something I need to talk to you about. It isn't easy for me to say, and it won't be easy for you to hear, but it's important to me that you hear it from me."

Feel free to steal that and adapt it to suit your situation better—or to ignore it entirely in favor of something that feels more authentic. As I said, this is your story—it's up to you to tell it in your own words.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2022, October 6). What Do You Say When You Hurt Yourself on Purpose?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Kim Berkley

Find Kim on Instagram, Facebook and her blog.

August, 23 2023 at 10:37 am

I am 42 and self harming. It's nothing major but something I've done in phases since my teens. I've never told anyone. Now I'm scared in case I tell someone and they get social services involved because I've got children. Should I worry about that, or is it unlikely?

David Burns
December, 29 2022 at 11:16 am

Thank You for the guidelines that may get me started to open up a little about my self-harm. I'm still struggling to find someone to talk with about self-harm and how to manage it. I started this when I was a teenager and I'm now 68. I'm not sure if it's really self-harm but just anxiety relief. Although the urge has begun to intensify a little, I think it's best to control this in some way.

January, 7 2023 at 4:43 pm

Hi David,
I'm so glad I could be of any help. I'm no therapist, but I would say that if you are hurting yourself physically to cope with something, it probably is "real" self-harm. In any case, it's good that you're working to address it and trying to reach out to folks, especially if the urges feel stronger now. Even just commenting here is a good step in the right direction!
We have some resources on this page that you might find helpful:…
If you have more questions or comments, feel free to reply here or elsewhere on the blog. Good luck, and don't give up!

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