Friend just told me she is self-harming


my friend is from an abusive family, she sys she is often beaten and verbally abused. social workers and police have been involved. she has finally left the house for now and is in university residence since she is now 18. no one really believes her though, her siblings won’t talk and her parents say she’s just making it up

but she just tole me that she has been self-harming. she says she feels guilty because she feels like she has caused her parents grief and that they do still try to help her with certain things, like driving her places, paying for school, buying her things, ETC… she is seeing a counsellor but apparently the counsellor told her that a little bit of self-harm is no big deal and “at least she’s not trying to kill herself”. I found that shockingly unprofessional of a response, but I don’t really know what to say to her, she didn’t really want to listen to me, she said she had under control, which I am sure she doesn’t. I finally got her to agree that we would discuss it more over the weekend. any suggestions of what I could say?

I honestly understand the guilt, I have some similar issues, as some of you know (though it’s not nearly as bad as hers). how do you understand a dynamic where people help with you a lot of physical things (rides, shopping, food, EtC), but meanwhile act like ypu are a burden, and call you names, swear at you, get physical, when they are angry? you end up feeling like maybe you are ungrateful for the htings that they do help with. is there a justification for this kind of behaviour?

also, for her sake, and a bit of mine, what are some good tips to convince your parents that it’s a good idea for you to move out? without causing an all-out war? it’s kind of cultural that it’s akin to abandoning your family


I would agree with the counselor, actually. It’s not a pleasant or particularly healthy thing, but there’s a distinct difference between say, cutting, and suicidal behaviors. The important thing is that she’s in the care of professionals. The best thing to do is be supportive of that process, be a present ear/shoulder/friend, and pray. I wouldn’t think intervening in other ways would be prudent at this stage. You and your friend have my prayers.



While there is some distance between self-harm and suicide, self-harm indicates that there is significant anxiety / depression going on that left unchecked could escalate into suicidal ideation and then escalate from there. I do not, therefore, think the counselors response was totally appropriate!

I’d seek out a different counseling. I’d also tell my medical doctor and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist so that I can discuss medicines that might help.

She’s an adult, so I can’t really help with a parent issue. She’ll just have to be open and honest about what she wants.


she said her friend’s mom gave her some meds to take, which I am seriously hoping they were not prescription, which are not meant for her.

I agree, that self-harm easily leads to suicide and the fact that the counsellor said she could continue just does not sit well with me at all


I didn’t say it easily led to suicide, to be clear.

I said the underlying anxiety and depression, if left unchecked, can lead to suicidal ideation. This is still not “suicide”. There is a great distance between suicidal ideation and suicide itself. What I’m talking about here is usually a long process.


I do work voluntary work with people who self harm and/or who have suicidal thoughts. Self harm is complex. It can be an indicator of possible progression to suicide, but it can also be the coping mechanism that prevents that progression. Many people who self harm also have suicidal thoughts, but only a small number will act on them. In the large majority of cases, people find their way through.

I think the most important thing is that she has someone who she she can trust and talk to. Someone who is non-judgmental, not easily shocked, and who is naturally more inclined to listening than advising.

It is very natural to want to find/suggest solutions for a friend, but a simple supportive, non-judgmental, listening ear is more likely to help them find their own way through this. The simple fact of her knowing there is someone who cares, who will quietly and patiently listen, and can be trusted to maintain confidence counts for a lot.

Prayers are with you both.

P.S. Here is the advice that Samaritans (an organisation in the UK that supports people who are distressed, suicidal or self harming) gives to friends of people who self harm:

  • DO NOT tell the person what to do – allow them to have control over what they want to happen.
  • DO NOT tell them to stop. Although this seems counter intuitive, it is very difficult and takes time and support to stop – the person will need to find other safer ways of coping first.
  • DO offer to listen to them and give them time and space to talk. Offer to help if they need it.
  • DO offer to support them in seeking help if that is what they want.
  • DO continue to be their friend.
  • Seek help for yourself if you need support.


You’re asking several questions here I’ll make a suggestion regarding the above quote first. I love a son of mine but I didn’t want to live with him when he was over thirty. He needed to move out, grow and develop and become an autonomous human being by which he can fulfill his part in Gods plan. So his presence also stifled my development too, I needed to transistion also. He has gained a lot from this separation and so have I. I wanted him to become and he was too content to change.

I have some ideas about self harming too but I’ll post them later if I think they may help. Thank you.


I think that first and foremost, you shouldn’t be interfering in this girl’s interaction with her counsellor. If you feel the counsellor is not helping her, you could encourage her to see a different counsellor, get a second opinion, etc. but you shouldn’t be substituting your own judgment for the counsellor’s, as you’re not her counsellor.

With respect to “convincing your family” about moving out: Adults need to make decisions to do things such as move out, regardless of how the family feels about it. The reality is you’re probably not going to be able to “convince” your family that it’s a great idea if they aren’t already on board with it. You just need to do it and then let them deal with it. Part of being an adult is knowing that Mom and Dad aren’t always going to approve of what you decide to do and making your own decisions anyway.


Speaking as someone who used to self-harm many decades ago, and knew other people who did, thank you for your experienced and reasonable perspective on this issue.


I would take both these statements with a grain of salt.

Do you have any physical proof she is seeing a professional, or is it hearsay.


I didn’t really interfere with anything, but the impression I got from her was that her counsellor told her she could continue therefore she thinks it’s perfectly ok and normal. I am worried she is going to seriously hurt her self, even if it’s not suicide. I know it’s not going to stop overnight, I just don’t think the proper attitude is that it’s just some casual thing she can do for fun.


well, she was previously placed in foster care when she was underage a few years ago, so this is not a new issue, it’s been going on for a long time.

do I have physical proof? no, because I don’t live with her or go to her university, but I don’t have any reason not too believe her


The person who works in this field posted some information above. The counsellor could very well be following these guidelines, which to me are quite reasonable.

Also, we are only getting the girl’s side of the story, not the counsellor’s.

Like I said, if you think the counsellor is not doing their job, then maybe suggest a second opinion. But it would be wrong to say, “What a bad counsellor! I can’t believe she would tell you that when this is clearly so serious!” It would cause the person to distrust their counsellor, who has training in this area and is trying to best help.


What I mean is she could be telling you those two statements to allay your fears, even though they aren’t true.

I can’t see a counsellor saying it’s better then suicide and ok to engage in at a low level. I think your friend is trying to justify the self harm


I suspect this is somewhat of a misrepresentation.

I have some background of self-harm myself, although it has been several years by now. The reality is that directly addressing self-harm is often unproductive. So a lot of professionals won’t necessarily work on “stopping self-harm” directly if the individual is deemed not likely to cause permanent harm. The reason is that self-harm is a coping mechanism, and attempting to get rid of it without providing the person with a healthy environment and coping mechanisms tends to either fail or cause it to be replaced with other unhealthy mechanisms.

The point isn’t that self-harm is acceptable, but that the initial goal is to give the person other things to do rather than simply focusing on not self-harming.


I’ve never self harmed. Do you mind telling us why you did it and if it hurt? And assuming it hurt, why that wouldn’t have been a deterrent from doing it again?


Coping mechanism.

It hurt a bit, yes. Physical pain provided some release when life hurt more.

I think I would like to leave it at that. I haven’t done it for almost 30 years and it’s best left back there.


yeah, I know, I don’t actually know what the counsellor said, maybe it was even completely different. that’s why I said apparently, and put it in quotation marks. this is really the first time she has mentioned this, beer, or how bad it is reallyfore yesterday, I didn’t know she was having this issue, I knew about the home life being bad but didn’t realize it had gotten to this point, though she said she only started doing it a few months ago, so it’s a fairly new development.

I mainly just want to help her, I don’t know do what degree the self-harm is either or how bad it really is, it’s not even about suicide, but she could accidentally injure herself seriously


yes, I agree, but my friend didn’t mention any of that. She just said that her counsellor said she was allowed to do it. she didn’t talk about any other coping mechanisms. I was trying to suggest it but she just sort of shut down the conversation

either that’s the way she understands it, or she is saying it to justify it, or she doen’st want me to bother her about stopping



If you approach her wanting her to listen to you, rather than you listening to her, then as much as you care, you’re very likely to be shut out. People who self harm can often feel they don’t have sufficient control over their lives, and someone wanting to control the one thing they do have control over (the self harm) is not usually welcome. What can be welcome is someone who simply asks how they are feeling at the moment, and if there is anything they can do to help (without saying what that help should be). That way, you let them stay in control, rather than you trying to control (as well intentioned as it is). If she currently sees you as another person telling her what she should and should not be doing then I would tread gently with her, and just let her know you are there to help if she wants it.

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