How to Support Your Sibling Who Self-Harms
Even though I’ve spent many years counseling people through dark times and messy life situations, it still breaks my heart to hear about people cutting themselves. Not only because it causes so much physical pain, but because it’s an attempt to release the pressure of mental and emotional anguish that never solves the problems someone is having.
Overcoming self-harm when you decide you don’t want to do it anymore is hard enough, but when someone you care about is cutting, it’s even more difficult to deal with the surrounding fear and anxiety. I recently got this message from someone about their sibling:
“I don’t think my sister knows that I’ve noticed this, but I’ve seen marks on her wrists recently. She hasn’t been her usual self for a while, but I have no idea how to bring up self-harm with her, or what I can do to help her stop cutting. She and I are very close, and I just want her to be okay. What should I say?”
If you have a sibling cutting themselves, it’s completely understandable that you are fearful or concerned about their self-harm. I know it comes from a place of love, and I hope you see how powerful and meaningful that is. I hope that these suggestions will give you some ideas about how to have this important conversation and give you a greater sense of hope for your sibling, their well-being, and your relationship.
Be Honest and Clear
If you’ve noticed signs of self-harm, you should be honest with your sibling about your care and concern for them. It’s okay to be direct. Let them know:
- You’ve seen that they’re hurting
- You’ve seen signs of harm on their body, and you’re worried
- There is hope for them to break free from the painful cycle of self-harm
- You want to support and help them when they’re ready to get help
It may be difficult for them to hear that you know about this part of their lives. If they get upset, do your best not to take their strong reaction personally. If they are open to talking about it, make yourself available. If they are not ready yet, give them time and space. Their knowing that you’re a safe place to go when they’re ready to talk will likely help them feel more comfortable opening up when the time comes.
Don’t Judge or Shame
You might believe with all your heart that self-harm and cutting are wrong, and you might be frustrated with your sibling for harming themselves. But it’s important not to come across as judgmental, or as shaming your brother or sister for their self-harming. It’s very likely that shame and self-judgment are driving their behavior. It’s completely understandable that you’re upset. But it’s better to talk about those tough feelings with someone you can trust to support you rather than your sibling who is harming themselves.
Ask Questions and Listen to Answers
Your sibling probably already feels misunderstood by others. They may not even understand why they harm themselves. It could help to ask questions out of genuine curiosity.
Patiently asking questions can help you be more empathetic, and it can help your sibling make connections between their self-harming behavior and the tough things going on in their life. You might ask things like:
- Why do you think you cut yourself?
- What’s causing you emotional, mental, or spiritual pain right now?
- Do you find that you cut when you’re worried about or overwhelmed by those things?
Your role in this conversation is to listen. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to know how to stop their self-harm. You simply need to let them know you’re there, you’re listening, and that you understand that life gets overwhelming sometimes.
Trust Them and Guard Their Trust
It’s important to show your sibling you believe them. Don’t minimize their pain or make the things that lead to their cutting seem like they’re not a big deal. Trust them to tell you the truth about why they’re hurting. And be sure to guard that trust by respecting their privacy. Don’t share your conversations with your sibling with others, or talk about their self-harm on social media.
Along with showing your trust in them, let your sibling know you believe in them:
- You believe they want a life free of the pain of cutting and self-harm.
- You believe they can find the support they need.
- You believe they have the strength to stop self-harming, especially with the right support.
Don’t Try to Change Them or Make Them Stop Cutting
One of the key things to remember is that self-harm becomes an addictive behavior for most people who do it. Why?
- Since someone who self-harms gets temporary relief from doing so, it’s hard for someone who cuts themselves to stop doing it.
- The self-harm itself doesn’t solve the problems that cause your sibling to cut themselves, so they do it as long as their emotional pain persists.
If you understand this, you can see why self-harm is an addictive cycle. There are things you can do to support your sibling as they make efforts to help them break this cycle:
- Point them toward self-harm recovery groups
- Share helpful self-harm resources with them
- Remind them they are loved and listened to
- Spend time with them doing things you enjoy
- Offer to check in about how their recovery is going
All of these are very meaningful and powerful ways you can support a sibling who self harms. It ultimately has to be their decision to stop, but your love and care will make a positive impact no matter what. Try to find peace in all the ways you’re already supporting your sibling.
Keep Loving Them
There’s no doubt about it. If you’re looking for ways to help your sibling stop cutting, you love them very much. Keep loving them! It may be extra important to show sensitivity, forgiveness, and grace to your sibling during this time as they try to find a way forward in their life, and away from self-harming behavior. Reminding them someone cares may go a long way toward reminding them they’re not alone, and that there are places they can still find joy and happiness in life.
When I have a family member who is really struggling, it helps me to think about God’s love for us. God is always forgiving, He sustains us through life, and He gives us many meaningful relationships. Your sibling is going through a tough time. I hope you find some peace and comfort in knowing that God loves you and your sibling. He is bigger than all the problems and pain you’re experiencing, and He will be there whenever you or your sibling need His power and strength.
Make Sure You Feel Supported
Whenever I meet someone who makes big efforts to support others, I always tell them to be sure they’re supported, too. Sticking by someone while they work to recover from self-harm is tough, even if they’re a sibling. You have somewhere to go, and someone to talk to, about the tough feelings you’re having.
You can reach out to TheHopeLine anytime for confidential chat or email mentoring so you can feel encouraged as you try to encourage your sibling. Talk to a HopeCoach today about your sibling harming themselves, your struggles to help them, and anything else that’s on your heart. We’re here to listen and help without judgment whenever you need someone in your corner.
We have a partner resource for your loved one called, Door of Hope. They provide emotional support, guidance and resources for young adults who struggle with self-injury. You can call, text, or email a recovery coach to help them start breaking free from self-harm today!
Photo by IIONA VIRGIN