Millions of people struggle with self-harm every single day. Their reasons are as varied and unique as they are. it's a dangerous tendency that people absolutely can overcome, but it requires a lot of work and support. Having said that, the self-harming person has to be willing to accept that help.
What do you do when you catch a loved one hurting themselves but they refuse to acknowledge it?
That's the position one Reddit found himself in when he posted asking for advice:
My girlfriend Lacy and I have been dating 2 years. She's a lovely person and we make a great couple.
Two weeks ago Lacy and I went downhill skiing. I'm an experienced skier and she had only been once before. I admit I pushed her abilities and lo and behold, she wiped out pretty hard. She wasn't seriously hurt or anything and got right back up with a smile on her face.
Her legs got pretty bruised up from the fall (she was wearing only thin workout leggings since it was quite warm out). It looks like someone splashed green paint on her, if that makes sense. And she has a particularly nasty big purple one on her thigh.
Lacy has always been the type to show off injuries. For as long as I've known her she has always showed me even the tiniest of bruises either for sympathy or attention (like she would say it was shaped as Texas or something). She has some body image issues and I know that she really likes the attention so I will usually give it to her no problem.
Yesterday though I came home from work early (power went out at my building). I walked in pretty quietly as I usually do and went straight to our bedroom. I could hear music coming from it and wanted to greet her.
I basically opened the door and saw her with a hammer in her hands mid hit. The hammer hit her bruised leg the moment I walked in. It was absolutely surreal and I admit - I freaked out a bit. I went to her and took the hammer and started asking her what she was doing?
She freaked out right back and told me that she was rubbing the blood vessels or something to make the bruises go away faster. I knew this was bullshit right away since you don't "rub" by smacking yourself with a fricken hammer.
She left after I told her I didn't believe her and texted me shortly after to say she was going home for a few days.
I sat down on the bed with that hammer in my hands for like an hour completely floored. I know it sounds crazy but she hit herself hard. I've seen those bruises every day and now that I've seen her do this I am thinking that it was weird that they haven't gotten even the slightest bit lighter despite it being two weeks now.
I know she has some issues but I would never have thought she would hurt herself.
Reddit, I'm freaked out. She will be back tomorrow. How do I talk to her about this?
Users were surprisingly open with their responses. People gave advice and even shared stories of their own self-harming experiences. If that sort of thing is difficult or triggering for you to read, you may want to move on to another article. For the rest of you, here are some of the top responses. Some have been edited for content or clarity.
I am 45. I can tell you from experience and seeing it many times. Telling her parents will help her if she is inclined to accept advice and help from her parents. However, your relationship will take a hit. Especially if she truly believes her self harm is not a big deal and is deluding herself. You may be seen as someone that is willing to turn her in. In a word, betrayal.
The most important thing is to talk to her substantively before you tell her parents.
If she does seek professional help that should lesson any possible feelings of betrayal. If she knows she has a problem and her initial reaction of being caught was just knee-jerk denial to save face, you will have an easier time in your relationship if you do tell her parents. Particularly so if her parents support her in getting help and she is welcoming of it.
Best of luck and wishing you the best.
So Much Attention
I remember when I was younger I loved being ill, and I was jealous of my brother who had all sorts of health problems and he got so much attention for it (but he didn't get ALL the attention, my parents loved me and my brothers equally which is why it's odd that I did these things). If I ever got sick I loved being put on medication because I'd get more special attention for it. I'd also do stupid stuff like eating raw chicken in the hopes of getting salmonella. I think for me it came down to extremely low self esteem which is in my opinion probably the same for this guy's girlfriend.
I've done this before. I make injuries worse or create injuries specifically with a hammer. I didn't think many people did that. On this thread there are some people who think she's doing it for attention others are jumping to Munchhausen's or self harming. It doesn't really matter which of these it is - she needs help. But more than anything she needs you to be understanding right now.
When I do it there is no reason. I can't actually explain it and if you ask me why I would say it was because I had to. So when you bring it up support her talk to her and don't treat her like there is something disgusting or unfixable about her. Having someone talk to you, pay attention to you, and treat you like a normal human being goes a long way even without psychiatric help.
When I was ~20 I was with a girl who had an eating disorder, which I witnessed getting worse, but which she denied.
I was young and quite unsure how to handle it myself, so I spoke to her parents about it. It wasn't a mistake, and I don't regret it, because they took the right steps and she has since got a lot better, but she never really trusted me again after that, and it destroyed our relationship.
Very bittersweet for me, because I loved her oh so much and it tore us apart, but at the same time telling her parents meant that she got the help she needed.
Center Of Attention
When I was about 11 I hurt my ankle playing soccer and had to wear a leg brace. At the time I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I was shy and had very few friends but everyone would come up to ask about it. I was the centre of attention and I loved it. I would go out of my way to try and make it worse so that the attention would continue. This included things like hitting it.
It sounds like your girlfriend has some self esteem issues. In your post you mentioned how you give her quite a bit of attention when she is injured and how she goes out of her way to show you. This is probably adding to the problem. She is probably embarrassed that she has gotten caught and is doing her best to deny it happened. Unfortunately, I am not too sure what you can do. I grew out of it as I became an adult and less obsessed with what other people thought but it was a long process.
Don't back down in the situation though. Be firm (not mean though) about what you have seen and let her know that you are concerned about her. She needs to know that it is unacceptable and dangerous. She may continue to deny. I would suggest asking if she would considering seeing a therapist with you. If you talk to her parents you might want to ask them for advice versus "telling" on her. I am not suggesting you would do that but I just don't want it to seem like you are ganging up on her. If you can't get her to admit to it then you might have to reconsider you relationship. It is sad but if she refuses help, let alone the fact that there is a problem, then you can't do much.
Beyond Your Expertise
I think you need to ask yourself do you want to help her or do you want to enable her? I used to be like your girlfriend, and I honestly did it for attention and sympathy. Eventually, I grew out of it but I do live with triggers every time I hurt myself. However, your girlfriend could have some serious self-esteem issues that go beyond your expertise or beyond it just being a phase.
Sit her down, tell her you care about her, but what's she's doing to herself is not healthy or okay. She may flip out, but stay patient. If she admits everything, then wonderful; find her some help. If she denies denies denies, you need to think really hard what's best for you because her problem may become an even bigger one that leads to consequences for you.
Encourage Her To Get Help
You poor thing, it's very sad that you had to witness this, and now have to bare with the burden of seeing it.
Your girlfriend certainly sounds as if she's a self-harmer. It comes in all forms; not simply 'cutting' yourself. As you've said, she receives attention from injuries, which gives her affirmation and sympathy, making her feel cared for.
How very sad, to want to hurt yourself in order to feel good from the responses. How sad also, that you must feel responsible for how to fix this.
My only advice is to firstly, never give her attention for any future injuries, no matter how minor. It's unfortunately fuelling and enabling her greatly. Do not be her enabler, as her boyfriend you are her main source of attention.
Then start teaching her how to love herself naturally for who she is, not from self-infliction. Slowly, subtly...hold her, love her. Don't feel as if you need to give her extra attention, though.
Mainly, try to encourage her to get help. Someone professional to talk to; even the suggestion itself will possibly help her see fit. Just try your hardest not to enable a single act she does further.
Cold And Practical
I'm fully expecting to be down voted to oblivion for being a cold and vicious a$$hole but I hope you at least read this advice.
This is sad and difficult and sounds like something she's going to be dealing with, or fighting, for the rest of her life. Regardless of whether or not she gets help, and regardless of whether or not the help actually helps, stuff like this doesn't just disappear completely. The underlying whatever that was a part of her her, making her self harm, doesn't get chopped out of the brain. Wouldn't you want to know that you could trust someone even at their most stressed or needy?
This is harsh but I've seen how the people on this site write about their mental illnesses. It sounds like nothing that I would ever want to deal with--normal people aren't constantly triggered by things. It is exhausting dealing with people with Problems with a capital p. And what if you have kids? Neurotic people don't just come to be from their environment, it's genetic too. You can spot certain trends in families and some people and families are bad at dealing with the things that life throws at them. What breaks one person will not break another. I'd rather be with the latter than the former.
You can give it any word you want--sensitive, troubled, delicate--but some people are not strong when life throws them curve balls. That's just how it is. Everyone has a certain threshold for handling stress and I personally wouldn't want to be with someone with such a weak threshold. Hitting herself with a hammer? Jesus H. Christ.
I'm not being empathetic here. I'm being cold. But in a real sense, you have to be practical. She sounds like the last person that I would ever want to trust. I have family members who have Problems and, while the hand that life dealt them sucks and I can empathize with them to a point, you should see what a royal fuckup they make of their lives and the lives of the people around them. I'm speaking from the perspective of that experience, btw. It's kind of turned me off of people with mental problems because all I have seen them do is take. There's not much give. That in itself might be part of the illness, but pretending that a mental illness isn't part of someone is like me pretending that my extra bony and weird-looking backbone isn't a part of me too.
I don't think I would date a person whose entire family had cancer, either. It's too much of a risk.
Please seek help for her, if you love her and want to stay with her, support her. I have a person in my life that did this type of thing, her boyfriend ignored it. They got married and got pregnant. During the pregnancy she was constantly I'll, due to whatever she was ingesting for attention.
Once the baby was born the baby started having sicknesses. She was giving the child something to make it sick. All to get attention.
Seek help for her and yes, tell her parents.
I used to do this. I was very ill with un-diagnosed clinical depression and psychosis, and it was my way of dealing with the pain and showing everyone I could "handle" physical pain. It was also a way of punishing myself for how ungrateful and sh!tty I was feeling. This girl absolutely needs professional help. She is not OK. It puts you in a really tough situation, but I really hope you're able to help her see that this behavior isn't normal and go get some help together.