Common Reactions

Even trained doctors, nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists can have an unsympathetic reaction to self-injury. It is not surprising that even professionals can be repulsed by this seemingly unnatural act.  Though destructive in nature, self-injury must be viewed as the coping mechanism it actually is before a sympathetic understanding can be reached.

First, give yourself a break. Remember that even mental health professionals struggle with a feeling of repulsion when presented with this behavior. Take a minute to let yourself feel upset and even disgusted. Once you have had a chance to feel your original reaction, remind yourself of the complicated nature of self-injury. The student has often suffered from various difficulties in their life histories. Self-injury has become an effective coping mechanism for him or her and you need to approach them sympathetically and with a listening ear. Do not judge their behavior or state that they should stop.

“…It is recommended that responses to NSSI convey a low-key, dispassionate demeanor, as emotion-laden reactions may leave the student feeling embarrassed and apprehensive about seeking help in the future. Professionals working with these youth are therefore strongly advised not to overreact or underreact to a student’s NSSI.” 

Shapiro, Heath, and Roberts, 2013 citing Walsh (2006) and Walsh and Muehlenkamp (2013). From School Psychology Forum, Research in Practice: Nonsuicidal Self-Injury