These four tips on helping a boyfriend who self-harms are inspired by a reader who was brave enough to say “my boyfriend cuts himself.” Can you help him stop cutting? Possibly – but there is only so much you can do. The first step is to look past what he says he wants and focus on what’s best for him. And that might involve getting help from a parent, teacher, coach or counselor.
Are you the parent of someone who cuts? Read Helping Teens Who Cut: Understanding and Ending Self-Injury by Michael Hollander – a leading authority on self-injury. He spells out the facts about cutting and self-harm, helps parents know what to do to make it stop. You’ll learn how overwhelming emotions lead some teens to hurt themselves, and how proven treatments – such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – can help your child stop cutting. You’ll also learn practical communication and problem-solving skills that can reduce family stress, making it easier to care for yourself and your teen during the recovery process.
If you are a teen who cuts, look at Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens Who Cut and Self Injure by Lawrence Shapiro PhD. It’ll help you explore why you self-injure and give you lots of ideas how you can stop. The book will help you learn new skills for dealing with issues in your life, reduce your stress, and reach out to others when you need to.
Here’s what my reader said, and why I wrote these tips for helping a boyfriend who self-harms and cuts. She said: “I’m 16 years old and so is my boyfriend. I’ve recently seen a new side of him. He finally opened up to me. He has depression, anxiety, and is suicidal. He self-harms to get by. I asked for his lighters and he gave them to me. It’s been a week since he’s burned. … He had a breakdown, and cried and cried. He even tried to cut, but I took it away. He made me promise not to tell anyone because he didn’t want to end up back in [a mental institution] again. I don’t want to tell anyone because I don’t want him to feel I betrayed him and not open up to me anymore, but I would feel so guilty for not speaking up if something happened to him. He’s never happy anymore and it seems there’s nothing I can do. Please help me.” ~ Danielle, on How to Cope With Depression in a Relationship.
And, remember that he told you that he is mutilating himself because he wants to stop. He can’t contain the pain any longer; he is reaching you to you for help. How will you help him?
4 Ways to Help a Boyfriend Who Self-Harms
The most important tip for helping someone who cuts is to talk to an adult who understands self-harm. Cutting is often a way to cope with emotional pain, and you need to help your boyfriend find healthier ways to deal with that pain.
It’s complicated, though, because you can’t change him or fix him unless he takes responsibility for his own actions and life. If you’re scared he’ll leave you, you might want to learn about overcoming fear of abandonment.
Realize how serious and possibly life-threatening depression and cutting can be
Depression has been described as the “black dog” – it’s a heavy thick black blanket that clouds your thinking, feeling, thoughts, energy, and behavior. Depression drains your boyfriend’s energy, optimism, and motivation. He can’t just “snap out of it” by sheer force of will – he needs HELP.
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You need to treat your boyfriend’s depression, cutting, and other self-harming behaviors like a life-threatening illness. Learn about it, from books like Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation. Read websites like HelpGuide’s Teen Depression. Google the Distress Line – it’s confidential and free. In reaching out for help and information, you’ll learn ways to help a boyfriend who self-harms, and find tips that you can’t think of yourself.
Tell someone you trust that your boyfriend is cutting himself
Even if you promised your boyfriend that you wouldn’t tell, you HAVE to talk to an adult you trust. If he doesn’t get help, your boyfriend will keep cutting or burning himself – and may even do worse. What if he attempts suicide? What if his cuts or burns cause permanent, serious damage? I know you’ll feel guilty and like you betrayed him if you tell others, but you can’t keep this to yourself. It’s not good for you or him to keep it a secret.
It’s almost like a parent with a child: the parent doesn’t like to discipline the child or hurt him, but the parent has to do what she thinks is best. The parent has to put aside how the child might feel, and do what she thinks is right.
If you want to break up with him but are worried what he’ll do or say, read What to Do When Your Boyfriend Says He’ll Kill Himself If You Leave.
Accept short-term pain for long-term gain
When you tell an adult you trust that your boyfriend is anxious, depressed, and self-harming, your boyfriend may not want to speak to you again. He may call you names, say he hates you, or not want to speak to you again. That is the price you’ll have to pay to help him.
Helping someone who is in pain, who is depressed, or who hurts himself won’t be easy. But, the short-term pain of “betraying” him is worth the long-term gain of him getting help – and of you knowing that you did the right thing by attempting to get help for him.
Realize that you can’t solve your boyfriend’s problems
You can take away his lighter or knife, but it won’t help him get to the root of the problem. You can have sex with him, but it won’t make him feel better in the long run. You can keep his secrets, but it won’t show him that you care. In fact, keeping it a secret that you have a depressed boyfriend who cuts and self-harms shows him that you don’t care enough!
The only way to help a boyfriend with anxiety and self-harming behaviors is to connect him with an adult who cares, who can help him find healthy ways to deal with his pain.
The best way to help a depressed boyfriend is to talk to a guidance counselor at school, a depression helpline, or even a social worker.
If you have any comments or suggestions on how to help a depressed boyfriend who cuts or self-harms, please respond below. I welcome your thoughts, but I can’t offer personal advice.
Research from Lund University in Sweden suggests that self-harm is common among young people. Many have at one time scratched, punctured or cut themselves or hit their head forcefully against a wall, and the behavior is almost as common among boys as girls. If you need more information on cutting, self-harm, or self-injury, please get in-person help. Talk to someone who can give you personal guidance and support. Don’t rely on the internet, especially if you’re boyfriend is actively cutting himself.