I am looking for a word or short idiom that describes the situation when subliminally suggesting, or even slightly persuading, to someone that they do something that would hurt that person themself. An example of such an act can be found in the TV show House of Cards, where Francis Underwood casually places a razor blade on a bathtub's rim while his colleague Peter Russo takes a bath.

My first idea of a matching phrase was "to hold a pistol to someone's head", but I don't think it properly describes such a situation.

  • "Passive aggressive" perhaps? (i.e. the act of leaving subliminal aggressive suggestions). Otherwise you need to clarify your question.
    – user22542
    Apr 27, 2022 at 18:12

6 Answers 6


Egging someone on addresses the situation where verbal persuasion is used.

egg [someone] on [phrasal verb]:

to urge or encourage (someone) to do something that is usually foolish or dangerous

  • He continued to take off his clothes while the crowd egged him on.


  • The girl walked along the top of a narrow uneven wall, seemingly not worried about the 30ft drop below her, after being egged on by a group of three friends who watched from the ground.

[Jordan Seward; Daily Mail Jun 1 2020]

  • Thanks, I think this comes quite close. However, "to egg on" does not imply the subliminal and subtle way in which Francis places the razor. This aspect was not so clear from my original question, which I have edited. Nov 26, 2021 at 8:51

I'm not sure that there is an established idiom as such.

Given the lack of an established form you might need to include a clarification that the hand one has in the act is at at least one remove, so perhaps using a form of

He didn't x, he just did Y

Where X is the act of self harm and Y is the literal or metaphorical 'assist' so perhaps, riffing off your examples, 'I didn't slit his wrists, I just laid his shaving kit out for him.' or 'She didn't hold a gun to his head, she just showed him how to take the safety off'.


I am not sure it fits exactly what you have in mind, but the story of the Pied Piper is often used as a metaphor for leading people to harm themselves. The story is summarized as follows by Wikipedia:

The legend dates back to the Middle Ages, the earliest references describing a piper, dressed in multicolored ("pied") clothing, who was a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizens refuse to pay for this service as promised, he retaliates by using his instrument's magical power on their children, leading them away as he had the rats. This version of the story spread as folklore and has appeared in the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Brothers Grimm, and Robert Browning, among others.

Collins Dictionary offers this extended sense of the term:

a leader whom people willingly follow, often, specif., one who leads others into danger or trouble by means of elaborate, false promises

This expression got significant play in the news with the revelation that Hillary Clinton's campaign had sought to promote "Pied Piper candidates" running for the Republican primary -- most notably Donald Trump -- on the theory that they would not appeal to the general electorate, and would therefore be easier to beat than other candidates.


I think this partly works… Frank Underwood deliberately put Peter Russo in harm’s way.

put (someone) in harm's way.
To cause someone else to be in a place, condition, or situation that might result in one's harm or peril.

If we don't evacuate right away, we'll be putting all these bystanders in harm's way.

Geez, I'm not putting the kids in harm's way by letting them play in the back yard—stop being so overprotective.


An idiom might be to

Fall on one's sword

fall on (one's) sword

To accept the responsibility or blame for a problem or mistake. Likened to the former practice of a soldier using his sword to take his own life for such a misdeed. The CEO fell on his sword when widespread corruption in the company was exposed.

Source: TFD

While the notion is more at taking responsibility for a problem, it would fit if Francis was intending for Peter to harm himself because of a misdeed.

Francis (placing the razor in Peter's sight): You need to fall on your sword.

Run me through

While TFD and other sources like Grammarist cite Ancient Rome, the Old Testament has this story about King Saul when he was mortally wounded.

Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.

(1 Samuel 31:4, NIV)

Here is the likely origin story for "falling on your own sword." While Saul's suicide is the ultimate in Saul's self-harm, he asks his armor-bearer to "run me through." It is archaic.

Francis (placing the razor in Peter's sight): Peter, you need to run yourself through.

Off yourself

A slang idiom from Urban Dictionary is to off yourself.

Off yourself

Killing yourself, committing suicide "dude you are so lame, you need to off yourself"

Francis (placing the razor in Peter's sight): Peter, you need to off yourself.

  • 1
    You seem to have misunderstood the question. The OP isn't looking for an idiom for self harm, but for actions that enable another person's self harm.
    – Spagirl
    Nov 25, 2021 at 14:49
  • Yes, I may have misunderstood. Judging by the other answers I am thinking that the question might have been phrased better.
    – rajah9
    Nov 25, 2021 at 16:48
  • Thanks for your comprehensive reply. @Spagirl is right. Also, I have modified the question slightly to make it hopefully clearer. Nov 26, 2021 at 8:52
  • Thank you for your edit. You are looking for the act of subliminally suggesting self-harm. Once your question is unlocked, might you perhaps give a sentence with a fill-in-the-blank?
    – rajah9
    Nov 26, 2021 at 13:05
  • 1
    And a small comment to the downvoters ... you may want to use this tool sparingly. It is for saying the answer is not useful. I suggest that you simply not upvote or downvote if the responder has made a good-faith effort to answer the question as s/he comprehended it, but you disagree with the comprehension of the question.
    – rajah9
    Nov 26, 2021 at 13:13

One person is putting another

between the devil and the deep blue sea (idiom)

In a difficult situation where there are two equally unpleasant choices.

Once again the affable Scot, who had already suspended the institutions twice in four months, was on the cusp of another deadline and between the devil and the deep blue sea. Lexico

'Between the Devil and the deep blue sea' also comes from a ship's devil, meaning that there was only the thickness of the ship's hull plank. Terry Breverton; The Pirate Dictionary

This expression has existed since at least the 1600s. This expression doesn’t have to do with the devil of the Bible but to a seam around a ship’s hull near the water.

When a sailor attempted to caulk this seam in heavy seas, he was in serious danger of failing overboard and drowning. Of course, if he didn’t caulk the seam, the ship could fill with water and sink. writingexplained.org

You were between the devil and the deep blue sea. If you go forward, you'll likely be shot. If you go back, you'll be court martialled and shot. So what the hell do you do? What can you do? You just go forward, because the only bloke you can get your knife into is the bloke you're facing. Neill Gilhooley; A History of the Ninth (Highlander's) Royal Scots

Large was informed that he had no reason to distrust us and he said he was between the devil and the deep blue sea, as it was either a question of doing time or finishing up like Lenny. The defendant was asked if he meant Lenny Murphy and he stated that he did. He was asked what he knew about Murphy's death... Matin Dillon; The Shankill Butchers

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