Cutting again after a friend’s silent treatment

Dear Alice,

My best friend and I got into a fight. It's been a month and he won't speak to me. He says that he needs time, but that's the one thing I can't give him. I feel so hopeless and I've gone back to cutting after being clean for 11 months. I'm just so sad all the time and it just hurts — so much more than I know how to describe. And I know I shouldn't allow my happiness to be dependent on another person, but it is because he was the only one that actually cared. And I just don't know what to do. I can't bring myself to go to see psychological services and I tried calling hotlines, but I just can't go through with it. I'm trying to move on, but I just want the pain to stop. I miss him so much. And I apologized profusely, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care and I can't handle it. I'm just so upset and I just need help. I don't know what to do.

Dear Reader,

When a close friend gives you the cold shoulder, it can feel frustrating and easy to fall on coping mechanisms that feel familiar. It may feel difficult to move on but asking for help is a great first step. You mention that you believe this friend is the only one that actually cared. When it comes to feeling overwhelmed to the point of self-harm, having a strong social support system can be incredibly beneficial. Finding additional ways to self-soothe in the moment of distress as well as building a broader system of support, especially when you feel that you’ve lost the one you had, may feel intimidating. However, by finding other people that you can lean on in times of crisis, you may feel less overwhelmed and find ways to cope with stress that don't cause harm.

Social support systems are resources you can use to reach out for help when you're feeling overwhelmed, especially if you're worried about self-injury. Since building social support networks can take time, it can be helpful to think about how you can handle these feelings in the moment. Although cutting in the moment may help relieve the distress you're feeling from the fight with your friend, there are other methods of soothing yourself that are less harmful. You could try picking a different activity when you feel like cutting. If you cut…

  • To express pain and intense emotions, you might try expressing your feelings in a journal, writing down negative feelings on a piece of paper and ripping it up, listening to music that expresses what you’re feeling, painting or drawing, or composing a poem.
  • To calm and soothe yourself, you could try taking a bath or hot shower, petting a dog or cat, or getting a massage.
  • When you’re feeling disconnected and numb, you could take a cold shower, briefly hold an ice cube in the nook of your arm, chew something with a strong taste, or call a friend or chat online (and you don’t have to talk about cutting).
  • To release tension or vent anger, then exercising vigorously, punching a cushion, squeezing a stress ball, ripping something up, or making lots of noise (playing an instrument, screaming into a pillow) could help.

Some people try other ways to mimic the cutting sensation by putting rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs and snapping them instead of cutting or hitting, but this is still a form of self-injury. It may be better to deal with emotional issues, and trying to delay self-injuring behaviors until the feeling passes, rather than finding less injurious methods. Avoiding places or objects that promote self-injury will also help support you in stopping again, which might mean avoiding internet sites or even friends that glorify intentionally injuring yourself.

As you work towards managing these more immediate feelings, you may also think about how to expand your social support beyond this one person. Having one friend that you can turn to for support is a good start, but a great next step would be to build relationships for social support beyond that one person. To explore this further, you may consider thinking about why you feel this friend was the only one that cared? What actions did this friend take to make you feel that way? Are there other people you interact with that you've gone to for support in the past? Having a social support system is tied to more resilience during difficult times, and they can also provide advice and guidance when you’re not sure what to do. Social support systems may be made up of friends, family, and peers or colleagues that you can lean on for emotional or other forms of support. It seems like your best friend was a good source of support for you previously, but having more people in your social support system may help alleviate some of your stress if conflict with a friend arises.

Relationships in a social support system require work. Honest communication, respecting boundaries, and reciprocal support helps these relationships grow. However, sometimes these relationships change over time and no longer meet the needs of the people in them. Perhaps your friend wasn't able to provide you the support you needed, or maybe they felt that they weren't receiving the same type of support they provided you. It may be difficult for you to distance yourself from this person, but by building a support system with others, you may find someone you can talk to about friendship disputes if they happen again.

Since you mention you're a university student, it might be a good idea to reach out to some classmates outside of class time to get to know them better and see if you share interests. It might even turn into a new friendship! Here are some other ideas for building up your support network:

  • Volunteer with an organization that is meaningful to you. It's a great way to get to know people who share your values.
  • Take classes with a gym or athletic center, or join a local sports team or club. You'll meet new people plus improve your physical health in the process.
  • Start a new club on campus. You might find people who share your interests, no matter how niche they are!
  • Find an online community for support. Just be sure to practice safe internet habits, especially if agreeing to meet with people in-person.

It was brave of you to reach out, and you have many options to create coping skills to deal with your pain. Building a social support system for yourself and finding safer alternatives to cutting may help you better cope with your feelings about your friend. You mention you’ve tried calling hotlines, but you couldn’t go through with it. Though you've had trouble reaching out for support in the past, writing this question was a great way to start that process. Knowing this, you may find it worthwhile to try reaching out to some of these other sources of support again. If you're not sure where to turn, you may be able to ask an advisor, a resident assistant (RA), or student affairs staff at your school to help clarify how you can access these services. If you’re not comfortable with those resources, you may also consider the website for S.A.F.E. Alternatives or a hotline specific to cutting, 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288).

For more information about self-harm, check out the related questions.

Last updated Dec 25, 2020
Originally published Nov 02, 2012

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