How to convince someone to stop cutting?

In this guide we will attempt to understand what it means when people hurt themselves and what you can do to convince someone to stop cutting. 

How to convince someone to stop cutting?

If you have noticed that someone you know has been cutting themself, it can be difficult to understand and might even unsettle you. 

Here are some steps you can take to help them:

  • Understand boundaries
  • Educate yourself
  • Set aside private time to talk
  • Share your concern
  • Respectful curiosity
  • Avoid promises
  • Encourage them to talk
  • Be there for them
  • Help them find alternatives to cope with their emotions
  • Help them seek treatment

It doesn’t matter if they are your friend or an acquaintance, you might begin to wonder what is troubling them, what you can do about it, or whether you should just keep mum about it. 

Self harm in the form of cutting may not be an indication of possible suicide but it does come with a lot of risks and sometimes it can be fatal. It is a clear indication that there is an emotional distress that the person is struggling with. 

If you know someone is cutting themselves, understand that you can’t really save them or make them feel better about their lives but it is vital that you do not be silent or disregard the behaviour. 

Let us take a moment to understand what is Self-harm so that you can being to understand how to help them. 

What is Self-Harm?

Self harm refers to ‘Nonsuicidal self-injury’. It is a maladaptive way for someone to cope with emotional distress, and typically it is not meant as a suicide attempt. 

Self harm in the form of cutting is deliberate and self-inflicted. The method and ways someone self-injures themselves can vary, which can sometimes make it difficult to recognize.

A person might cut themselves on their hands, wrists, stomach, and thighs. But it can also include behaviours such as hitting themselves, burning, scratting, pulling out their hair, or even throwing themselves against walls.

Emotional distress is the main factor that has been linked to self harm, let us take a closer look at why people tend to hurt themselves.

Reasons why they are cutting themselves

There is no direct and universal agreement on the reason why people tend to self-harm by cutting themselves or any other methods. 

There no easy answer to it however, it is typically because of intrapersonal reasons such as:

Self harm can be an attempt to alleviate overwhelming negative emotions that they cannot express.

To relieve a sense of emotional numbness

To punish themselves due to self directed anger

Less commonly, self harm can also be because of interpersonal reasons:

As a way to cope with anger towards others

To influence other people 

To show a sign of emotional distress that they are no able to express otherwise

Self-Harm and Suicide


Self harm is not an indication that a person has attempted or is about to attempt suicide. Studies find that self harm is a way to cope with difficult feelings and situations, and at times as a way to avoid suicide. 

However, it is important to know that self harm increases the risk of suicide. The more the person engages in self harm, they almost become tolerant and less inhibited towards future self harm behaviors which then escalated to suicide. 

What you can do 

Here are some of the things you can do to help someone who is hurting themselves and even try to convince them to stop cutting. 

Understand boundaries

As concerned as you are for them, you have to understand that you cannot convince them not to do something that they do to survive. You cannot expect them to simply be convinced of never cutting themselves again after you talk to them. 

You also need to understand that you are not responsible to save them, you can help them and offer support but you have to understand that you cannot take on the role of their rescuer. 

However, you can do many things to help them seek professional help themselves and offer your support.

Educate yourself

Educate your self about what self-harm is and why it happens. Understand that self-harm can impact any person at any age and under any circumstances. 

When it comes to self-harm here are some of the red flags to look out for:

  • Unexplained, frequent injuries, including cuts and burns, and excuses for their causes
  • Attempts to conceal the injuries (e.g., wearing long sleeves or pants on a hot day)
  • Difficulty handling emotions
  • Tumultuous relationships or avoidance of relationships
  • Self-isolation from others, such as school or social gatherings
  • A low sense of self or self-esteem
  • Scars on the skin in patterns or shapes

Set aside private time to talk

Once you have understood what self harm is and why it happens, set aside a time for a private meeting with them. Do not instigate a conversation in public or a social situation. 

Let the meeting be in a private location without much distractions and let there be enough time to discuss the issue.

Share your concern 

Start by sharing what you have noticed and telling him/her that you are concerned. Let your friend know you want him/her to talk to you so you can help. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about your friend’s self-injury

Let them know that you won’t judge them. Be empathetic and open – listen and try to understand. 

Respectful curiosity

Be respectful in the way you broach the subject, do not express extreme concern nor take the matter lightly when you talk about it.   

Let your inquiry allow your friend to talk about their experiences and allow them space to tell them what self0harm means to them. 

And as they tell you, listen carefully and without judgement. Let them understand that you are present and actually invested in lending an ear and support. 

Avoid promises

Do not make promises of secrecy. Do not tell them that you will remain quiet about it, rather explain to them that because you are concerned about their safety, you would like to help them get professional help and that might involve disclosing this issue to others who are there to help.

Do not ask them to promise you that they will stop. Asking someone to promise you they will stop hurting themselves might be even more distressing to them. This ask might also make them feel like they don’t have control over the action anymore. Unfortunately, if they hurt themselves, they will end up with an additional guilt of disappointing you.

Encourage them to talk

If your friend still will not talk to you, let him/her know that whenever he/she is ready, he/she can come to you for support. 

Encourage your friend to talk to someone else if he/she doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you be it with a parent, teacher, mental health professional or another trusted adult. You can offer to go with your friend to get help or talk to someone for him/her. 

Be there for them

Be there to talk with them when he/she needs it. You want them to know that you support him/her. When they want to talk to you, listen or when they want you to help them get help, express your support.

Be clear in the way you define the ways in which you are willing to help your friend, the more helpful and consistent you will be. You will also find that maintaining clear, consistent and predictable boundaries.

Help them find alternatives to self-injury.

You can find some really useful alternatives such as doodling, spending time on things they love doing when they feel the urge to hurt themselves. You can assist them as they try out new ways to help them and when they fail, your non-judgemental support can help them try again. 

Help them seek treatment

Self-harm isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. Treating self-injury behavior takes time and hard work. But, with the right support, recovery is possible.

They will need to get in touch with a therapist or a licensed psychologist to get evaluated for their reasons and causes of self harm and the emotional distress they are under.

Sometimes people find it hard to approach these services, supporting your friend by sharing contacts or even driving them to the clinic or waiting with them can be a way to support them provided that it doesn’t affect your well-being. 

Psychotherapy or talk therapy to help address and manage underlying issues and learn healthy coping skills can be a way to help themselves along with Medication can help treat an underlying mental illness.

Inpatient or partial hospitalizations and intensive outpatient programs could also be an option for them in case there is need for safer measures. 

Conclusion

In this guide we have discussed what is self harm and the various reasons why people tend to engage in the practice of cutting themselves. We have also discussed some of the things you can do to help someone who is engaging in this behavior. 

References

www.bannerhealth.com

www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/

Frequently asked questions related to “how to convince someone to stop cutting themselves”

How do you treat NSSI?

Several interventions such as dialectical behaviour therapy, emotion regulation group therapy, manual-assisted cognitive therapy, medications are some strategies to help treat NSSI and have been found to be effective.

What percentage of adolescents engage in nonsuicidal self injury in the US?

In the United States recent community studies have found that one-third to one-half of adolescents have engaged in some type of nonsuicidal self injury (NSSI). 

Which of the following is an example of nonsuicidal self injury (NSSI )?

NSSI refers to the intentional destruction of one’s own body tissue without suicidal intent and for the purpose of dealing with emotional distress. 

Common examples include cutting, burning, scratching, and banging or hitting, and most people who self-injure have used multiple methods.

Why would a child bite themselves?

Likewise, such children may bite themselves out of boredom. Generally, such behaviors will not purposefully do damage.

There are instances when healthy children bite themselves out of frustration coupled with an inability to express emotions by an alternative means. 

What does it mean when a child hurts themselves?

Children  who injure themselves may be dealing with feelings that they cannot cope with, or hard situations they think cannot change. 

They may feel desperate for relief from these feelings and emotions. These teens sometimes have other mental health problems that add to their emotional pain.

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