Dealing with a teen that self harms.
Self-harming is when people cause themselves physical pain in the hope that it will alter their mood state. Some people harm themselves because they feel disconnected and isolated from everybody, and hurting themselves is the only way they feel real or connected. People who cut often start cutting in their young teens.
If your teen is self-harming then you may feel frustrated, guilty, confused and hopeless about the situation and how to deal with it.
Self-harm may make internal pain visible on the surface. It is showing that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
People who harm themselves
• May have difficulty expressing their feelings verbally
• May dislike themselves and have a low self-esteem
• May be feeling angry, lonely, have shame and guilt and feel they have no control over their life.
Self-harming can become an addictive behaviour, which can be just as hard to give up as an addictive drug. When people get into a cycle of self-harming behaviour, it can become their main way of dealing with problems, and can start to have a very negative impact on their lives. If your teen is self-harming, they are not doing it for attention. Research suggests that about two-thirds of young people who self-harm don’t even tell anyone, so they can’t be looking for attention.
It is important to recognise that self-harming is not well understood in society, and is not seen as an acceptable way of coping with problems. People that self harm will also have to deal with the disapproval of other people who don’t understand what they are going through, and who make hurtful comments like, “Pull yourself together”, or “Ignore her, she’s only doing it for attention.”
Finding out that your teen is deliberately self-harming can be very distressing. It is hard to understand why someone would want to do this. Don’t take it personally, your child is not doing it to make you feel bad or guilty. Often parents are the last to find out their daughter or son is self-harming.
• Educate yourself. Find out as much information as you can, and talk to a professional about what you can do to support your child.
• Do not ignore her/his behaviour as it is very serious.
• Be supportive. Let your child know that you are there if she/he wants to talk.
• Self harming can be treated.
Even if the thought of your child self-harming causes you to feel really distressed, try to understand what the issues behind the feelings may be, and how you can support him/her to find more positive ways of coping with the pain.
• Encourage your teen to write in a journal, recording how they feel and the reasons why they might want to harm themselves. Be aware that your child may not want to share this with you so it is important to them that you allow them this privacy, until such time as they are ready to share with you.
• Encourage your teen to look at the reasons why they are hurting themselves, remembering that self-harming is something a person chooses to do, but it is not an effective way of dealing with a problem. The problem will stay until it is dealt with once and for all.
You can suggest that your child changes their method of self-harming by
• Trying something like holding ice cubes in their hand. The cold causes pain but is not dangerous to their health and does not leave them with scars. A young person self harming can also be encouraged to use a red pen instead of actually cutting. With this pen, they can draw on the cuts when they feel the urge but it will eliminate the permanent scars. They could also eat chillies when the self harm urges arise. All of these techniques have been tried and tested by professionals and are highly recommended tools for eliminating self harm from your teens life.
• Working off stress or anxiety with exercise.
• Learning to communicate effectively with how they are feeling.
• Making a list of reasons why they are going to stop cutting, and setting themselves some realistic goals to help them stop.
There are people who can help, who want to hear what you and your teen have to say. They can help them understand that self-harming is destructive and stops them from dealing with their pain.
It is critical that you persist in letting your teen know that you trust and support them to find a way through this experience, no matter how long it takes and no matter how many setbacks there are along the way. If your child believes that you trust them, they will more readily trust in themselves to find a way through.