This is a different kind of blog. It is more of a guide for parents who have learned that their young person is self harming.
As a parent it can often be shattering to find out that your child is self harming. You can become engulfed in an avalanche of emotions; perhaps anger, denial, guilt, fear, sense of failure, shame and shock to name but a few. These are completely normal responses, especially if it is the first time you have heard the expression self harm. However it makes you feel, the main thing is that you remain calm and let them know that you're there to help and support them.
This document hopefully will help you to start to understand what is happening for your young person. This may help you to process what is happening and to offer unconditional love, support and understanding - even if you don't quite 'get it'. Your role is not to jump to conclusions or provide solutions nor give the impression that their self harming has created a problem for you. Comments like "what have you done to yourself?" are not helpful.
Firstly, self harm is a common problem and not unique to young people. Most of us and some time have participated in self harm of some sort, such as overeating, smoking, taking drugs or drinking (there are many other forms too), but they haven't really had the label self harm stuck to them.
Here we're focusing on the need to deliberately injure oneself.
What is self harm?
Ultimately it is a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with and expressing a deep emotional distress (the reasons may not fully be known by the individual.)
Self injury can include;
Taking too many tablets
Banging heads or bruising ourselves
It is NOT
A suicide attempt
A fad or trend
Why self harm?
The exact reasons why young people self harm aren't always easy to work out, and are often unknown to themselves. They do it to enable uncomfortable internal feelings to be released. It provides a quick relief from the build up of panic, anxiety, stress or tension. It may reduce these uncomfortable feelings and temporarily provide a sense of control in life, a sense of calm and provide a space which enables clearer thinking.
For some it is a way of being able to cope, for others it can provide a way of cleansing - getting rid of feelings of perhaps shame or guilt. For others it can be a way of confirming that they exist, a way of feeling alive, the physical pain is easier to deal with than the emotional.
There are many reason why young people may self harm, these could include;
Relationship problems with friends or family
Low self esteem
A way of punishing themselves for things they done or been accused of doing
Too much pressure to do well at school
Lack of control over their lives
As a parent this can be very hard to read and digest. Reading this has probably been emotional and has raised lots of questions. There is support available for your young person and for you.
Your young person might benefit from talking with someone; often they feel able to talk with a counsellor, as they provide a safe space to explore what is happening for them without judgement, and explore alternative ways to cope.
For a parent counselling could also help (ethically this would have to be a different one from whom your child.) It helps to talk with your partner, friends or other family members. Try not to take it personally or blame yourself. Concentrate on showing that you understand and want to help.
Understanding that self harm provides a temporary relief, and supporting alternative ways to cope can empower your young person to address some of the underlying issues. Removing scissors or razors is not effective because if anyone wants to hurt themselves they will find a way, it also shows them that you respect and trust them, which will help build their confidence and self esteem.
Alternative coping strategies can include;
Encouraging your young person to write a journal/diary
Listen to music
Hold an ice cube in their hand until it melts
Write down negative feelings then rip up the paper
Go for a walk
Take a bath/shower
Talk with friends or family, or seek counselling.
Scream into a pillow, or punch a cushion
They might already have found something that works for them, ask them.
If you as the parent are still finding it difficult, please make an appointment with a counsellor, they can offer a safe place for you too.
I am a counsellor who wants to empower individuals to be the best version of themselves.