Coming outAdmitting to the people in your life that you self-injure is analogous in many ways to the process of coming out as gay or bi. This list of things to consider when deciding to tell those you love about your way of coping with stress is adapted from a coming-out list in Bass and Kaufman 1996.
The assumption here is that you'll tell people about your SI in a conversation, but that's not the only way to come out. Some people have found that writing down everything they want to say and presenting it to someone has worked for them. If you choose this approach, follow the general guidelines below and be sure you remain available for discussion after the person has read what you've told them. If you want to come out to someone via email, I'd suggest you follow up immediately with a chat session or a telephone call.
Be willing to give the other person some time to digest, though -- if you follow up with them and they say "I'd like to think about this for a while," give them space. Ask them to let you know when they're ready to talk, and let it go.
- Be sensitive to the other person's feelings
It can be nearly as hard for them to hear it as it is for you to tell them. Realize that they're probably wondering what they did wrong or how they could have prevented you from feeling so much pain or why you turned out "sick." You don't have to accept their value judgments about your SI, but be open to hearing what they have to say about it. You might learn something, and you can teach them a great deal.
- Explain that coming out is an act of love
Let them know that your deciding to tell them about self-injury is a sign of your love for and trust in them. Usually, a person decides to tell someone about his/her SI because s/he loves them, wants or needs their loving support, and is tired of keeping a whole part of her/himself from them. The desire to be open and to trust outweighs the fear of rejection or hatred or disgust. Let the person you're telling about your self-harm know you're not trying to punish. manipulate, or guilt-trip them.
- Pick a place that is private and a time that is unhurried
This is serious stuff. Find a time when everyone involved is available for a long conversation. Do it in a place where everyone's comfortable and there's no need to worry about being overheard. If you're rushed or hurried or afraid other people nearby will hear and react, you're not going to be able to give your full attention to the conversation and neither will anyone else.
- Don't tell others in anger
Don't use your SI as a weapon: "Oh, yeah, well look, you made me cut/burn/scratch/hit!" To get the love and understanding you're seeking, you may have to give some in return. Whether or not the person you have decided to share your secret with has contributed to the problems that led to your SI is irrelevant to the coming-out conversation. If you start getting angry and blaming, you're going to put the other person on the defensive and they'll get angry. The whole process will bog down and be hideously unpleasant and unproductive. Using SI as a weapon also increases the likelihood that the person you're coming out to will react in exactly the ways you're hoping they won't.
- Consider enlisting an ally
If you have a friend or therapist who understands your SI you might want to ask them to sit in on the conversation. A neutral third person can help keep things calm.
- Provide as much information as you can
This is crucial.The more someone knows about something, the less they fear it. Many people have never heard of self-injury or have heard weird sensationalized tabloid reports. Be prepared to give the person books or names of books, articles, photocopies, printouts, addresses of web sites, etc. Gather as much information as you can so you can answer their questions accurately and honestly.
- Be willing (and prepared) to answer their questions
You may have to educate them about SI. Encourage them to ask whatever questions they may have. If they ask a question you don't have an answer to,say "I don't know" or "I can't say" or even "I prefer not to get into that right now." Be as open as you can. You might want to anticipate questions they'll ask and get an idea of how you want to answer those before you come out. You can ask other people who've come out what they were asked to get some ideas.
You should also have a good idea in your mind of what you want to do about the self-injury -- they're going to ask. Do you want treatment? What sort? If not, what's the rationale for not treating it? Do you want them to help you stop or control it? How can they help? What's too intrusive and what isn't? Now is a good time to start setting boundaries.
- It's not necessary to bring up the most disturbing topics in the first conversation
Don't start by describing in technicolor detail the time you needed 43 stitches and a transfusion. It's probably best to avoid graphic descriptions of what you do; if asked, just say "I cut myself on the wrist" or "I hit the walls until I get bruises" or whatever. Try not to freak them out; you can give details (if necessary) in some other conversation.
- Trust your own judgment
Do what feels natural to you. You know yourself and your family and friends far better than I ever will.
Be willing to talk to the people you're coming out to about your reactions, and ask them to let you know what they're thinking. Communication goes both ways.
March 22, 2010
oh and a little tidbit more...
so there is this really great thing that I was reading the other day...it is a post on a website (http://www.palace.net/llama/psych/living.html) which talks about how to "come out" about self-harm...i have read it a few times already but I want to read it over again soon...but for now I am going to share the "coming out" part of it on here...i really like that part in particular...but there are others that are equally good....so anyone reading my blog can also read the post...i think it is definitely a good one....plus if you want to read more please go to the link...