By Kira Doar, AWARE® Program Director
Sometimes, Rachel texts me saying she doesn’t know what she’d do to herself if I ever break up with her. She says if anything happens to her, it will be my fault and I’ll have to live with the consequences forever.
In one of our It’s Not Love® workshop stories, our character’s partner, Rachel, threatens to hurt herself if he, Ben, ever leaves her. Students frequently highlight this point during discussions as an example of emotional abuse since Rachel is using that threat to manipulate Ben’s feelings for her. Even if they are able to recognize and label the unhealthy behavior in the story, confronting a similar scenario in their own lives is very scary and overwhelming. It’s also challenging to navigate this situation as a trusted adult who a young person has turned to for help when their partner threatens self-harm.
While it’s not necessary to be an expert on suicidality, it is important to know about helpful resources and how to support young people in your role as an influential adult in their lives. Here are some ways to support a young person whose partner has threatened to hurt themselves during a break up.
- Believe them and take it seriously. Do not write off the partner’s threats with statements like, “They’re just being dramatic,” or, “They’ll never actually do it.” Encourage the young person to take it seriously as well. When their partner makes the threat, tell them to validate how the partner is feeling and then reach out to a suicide crisis hotline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)). If the partner says they have specific plans for how and when they will try to kill themselves, call 911.
- Encourage them to prioritize their own safety. Let the young person know that they have to keep themselves emotionally and physically safe. If the partner does not make the threat in person, instead of intervening on their own, the young person should reach out to a trusted adult in their partner’s life to let them know what’s happening and to go check on them. This could be a parent, but also a coach, youth director, or teacher. It may be tempting to take back the break up to make the threat end. Remind the young person how that would be a temporary solution and does not address the unhealthy behavior in the relationship. Taking back the break up can put the young person back in danger.
- Tell them it is not their fault. Tell the young person that they are not responsible for their partner’s actions and are not to blame if something bad happens to their partner.
- Let them know they are not alone. This is a traumatic event for anyone, but especially for a young person who may not know of anyone else who has gone through a similar situation. Let them know that you’re there if they need to talk and encourage them to reach out for additional support from a professional or other trusted adult in their life.