A mother and daughter. Text reads: 16 things parents should know about raising a child who self-harms

16 Things Parents Should Know About Raising a Child Who Self-Harms

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The discovery that your child — your baby — has been engaging in self-harm often comes with a flood of questions: “Why is this happening? Is this something I could have stopped? What did I do wrong? What can I do now?”

While a good first step is to take a breath; a second step might be to learn from people who’ve been there — people with a history of self-harm. To get you started, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they would tell parents with a child who self-harms. There answers are important and insightful, and might help you moving forward as you and your child tackle this journey together.

Editor’s note: This piece is based on the experience of individuals and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. For more information, you can also check out this guide for parents and family from Self-Harm Outreach and Support.

Here’s what people in our community told us:

1. “Making the child feel guilty or telling them they’ve hurt you, will make it worse. I hurt myself because I wanted to punish myself. Being told I was hurting other people made it worse.”

2. “Self-harming does not always equate to wanting to die — it could be a coping method. Instead of punishing them, offer an alternative such as pens, elastic bands or ice cubes to be used instead. Try not to be too harsh or judgmental — they’re probably hurting themselves enough mentally and/or physically and need an ally.”

3. “It’s not a phase. It’s not a cry for attention. It’s a release of pain. Your child is in pain. Treat them like they’re in pain, not like they’re ‘crazy’ or bad. And don’t pretend you didn’t see it or that it’s not going to happen again because it might.”

4. “As a parent, take self-harm seriously. Don’t shame, be supportive and firm in the child getting professional help. The cutting is a way of communicating what the child cannot put in to words. And the most important thing: take your child in your arms and tell them a thousand times you will never, ever give up in them.”

5. “It’s not just cutting; self-harm can be any self-abuse including starvation and reckless behavior with the intent to cause injury. It’s something to manifest pain and frustration into reality. Don’t talk them out of it; talk with them to learn why and find better channels of release.”

6. “Getting angry at them will not help the situation. They are already doing it because they dislike themselves or have some mental health issues they don’t know how to cope with. Anger may only make them want to do it more because they feel even more worthless, and now know they cannot express their struggles to you.”

7. “Take them to see a licensed professional as soon as possible. Your love and support will help tremendously, but this is a sign that they need professional help as well. If you chalk it up to ‘going through a phase,’ the behavior (due to constant emotional pain) may persist or worsen as it did for me as a child.”

8. “Don’t mistake them for an ‘attention seeker!’ They are doing it because they need help, because they want help, so help them. Don’t blame them, don’t be angry when they don’t stop; just help them. If someone had helped me, I may not be in the situation I’m in today. So please, it may not be what you want to see or hear, but help them.”

9. “Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about it, but accept it if they choose not to. The greatest thing my mom has done is check in with me frequently. She’s supportive when I need to talk and she respects my need for privacy when I don’t feel up to talking. Create a supportive environment that welcomes conversations about it; it’s not something to be ashamed about. Don’t create a stigma at home — we get enough of that at school and from the media.”

10. “Just listen. Don’t respond unless they ask for your opinion. Reassure them you want to support them and you are there – without judgment. Don’t push them into therapy if they aren’t ready. They need to have control over it because they likely feel that they don’t have control over anything else in their lives right now. Be there. Don’t judge. Be empathetic. Love them.”

11. “Please do not use telling the doctor or hospitalization as an ultimatum threat. That only teaches your child to fear the help they need. Walk with them through the pain. Give them a hug. Learn about their mental illness. Ask questions. Become your child’s advocate and ally.”

12. “Treat your children like people. Yes, they might be young people, but that doesn’t mean their emotions or illnesses aren’t real. Take it seriously, but be compassionate. Help your child get the help they need, and work with them, their therapists and their psychiatrists (if they need medication) to help them through what they are going through.”

13. “Don’t make them promise to stop because you’ll never know how disappointed they will feel with themselves if they’ve broken that promise. Don’t get angry or upset because they can’t explain why; more often than not they don’t even know why. And finally, just be open and understanding. Do not judge.”

14. “Your child is still your child. While self-harm is serious and worrying, don’t fear your child. Don’t pull away or get angry. But rather continue to be there and try and show you care and you’re open for when they’re ready to open up.”

15. “Just because we don’t tell you doesn’t mean we don’t trust you or are trying to shut you out. We might just be too ashamed.”

16. “I never told my parents that I hurt myself. I hid it. I was ashamed of it… I still am. I self-harm because I feel like I don’t know how to express my feelings. I feel shame about feeling or not being able to control my feelings. After a while, self-harm became something I needed, just like a drug addict. To be able to stop self-harming, I need trust, compassion, love and understanding. I need a safe space to be able to talk, or cry… I’m going to beat myself up about it more than you are. Please… just hear me, listen to me, hold me and let me know that it’s OK, even if it’s not in that moment. I need hope.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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I Don't Self-Harm Because I Want 'Attention'

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You know how people say you are an “attention seeker” when they talk about self-harm? I’m really sick of hearing this stuff and I’m done with ignoring it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting self-harm and I’ve been self-harm free for almost four years now, but it just keeps bugging me when I hear people say this.

I read it on the internet, I hear it in videos and all around me. But people need to realize how wrong this statement is.

If I was “seeking attention,” would I be hiding my scars?

If I was “seeking attention,” would I be ashamed about it?

If I was “seeking attention” would I never tell people about it?

If I was “seeking attention” would I tell people to stay out of it and mind their own business?

If I was “seeking attention” would I still be in therapy every week?

If I was “seeking attention” would I still be struggling with this every single day?

I don’t self-harm for attention.

I truly hope people will see this as a truth one day, because no one needs to hear they are “seeking attention” when they can’t help it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

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'What You See' and 'How I Actually Feel' Are Two Very Different Things

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I’ve been battling my mental health since I was in my early teens. Some of my closest friends and family have yet to see me during an episode. Last night was one of those episodes.

One night, I cried for what felt like hours. I had a tightness in my chest that made me feel like my heart and lungs were being squeezed together with a rubber band. I broke a drinking glass because my hands were so shaky I couldn’t hold on to it when I tried to get a drink of water. I only fell asleep when my body couldn’t handle the attack anymore. My body finally needed a break.

And then the next day, I went to work like nothing happened.

You see a smile, you see a laugh. You see life and color. You feel energy radiating off my body like heat. A look and a demeanor I had to pull from the depths of my inner being just to make sure you don’t lose interest in having a conversation with me. Or feel as if I didn’t have an interest in talking to you.

You see an “effortless” look I spent 40 minutes creating after fighting with myself for two hours to get out of bed.

You might see tired eyes or hear a force in my voice when I say “good morning” at the start of our day. But you’ll brush it off thinking I had a long night or I might be slightly hungover.

The truth is, I didn’t drink last night. To be quite honest, I was in bed before 9 p.m. I even had a nap in the afternoon.

You don’t see me take my medication in the morning — the medication that regulates a lot of my behavior. It helps me sleep, it helps me perform daily activities and I even keep it across from me in my bedroom so I have to get out of bed in the morning to take it.

You don’t see me come home and change into my pajamas after only being out of the house for a few hours. I climb back into bed almost immediately because being out even just to grab lunch or groceries is exhausting and I need a break.

I have scars from the times I hurt myself just to fight through the pain I felt inside and you ask about them when you see me at work, but I tell you they’re from a long time ago. You don’t know the most recent one only happened two weeks ago. You hug me and tell me you’re happy I fought through it and I’m still here.

I’ve hidden the fact someone I loved dearly had to talk me out of killing myself just a month before Christmas, even after he broke my heart. I had to call in sick to work as I sat in the emergency room parking lot on several different occasions, too afraid to go in and admit I need help. The bravest thing I ever did for myself was walk into my doctor’s office and tell him I’m scared as he set up an appointment with his referencing psychiatrist. I go back in two weeks for a “feedback” appointment to find out what’s next for me and where to go from there. It’s hard to believe one person can learn so much about you from only two hours. But I feel like he opened up a door no one’s opened before, asking questions  no one has been able to ask me in the past.

Every day I tell myself it’s OK to have bad days and it is OK for others to know I’m having a bad day, even if they don’t completely understand. But some days it’s OK to hide how you’re feeling, just to avoid questions or what might come with showing how you really feel. It can be overwhelming at times. You don’t see everything I do to hide my mental illness, but you also don’t see everything I’m currently doing to keep my mental illness from controlling my life and my relationships. And that’s completely OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Ralwel.

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The Scars I See

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I see scars. They are faint, but they are there. I was ashamed of them for a very long time. Never showing them, always feeling self-conscious and afraid of what others may think. After all, the scars I see are not from tripping and scraping my knee. They are not from the accidental cuts you get while chopping onions. They are self-inflicted.

They say you are your own worst critic, that you see every flaw within yourself, even ones others don’t know exist. In the past, I saw each scar as a flaw. A time when I messed up. A time when I stooped to the lowest of the lows. A time when I failed.

But now… I see scars. And I am not ashamed. I am not afraid. Because these scars have the power to show me how strong I am. To tell me that yes, I had moments, but then I got back up. That for seven years I was not able to abstain from creating these marks, but now here I am. It’s been almost two years that I’ve held myself back. I’ve held myself up. I’ve won the fight.

When a soldier comes back from war, he may be wounded. He may feel weak at times. But those wounds tell stories of his bravery.

My scars… are like battle scars. Each one tells a story, criss-crossing in little patterns on my arm like a connect the dots puzzle. Screaming at people, telling them I am not a weak person. I am a strong fighter.

And I will not give up.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Ingram Publishing

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A Comic for People Who Don't Know What to Do When a Loved One Self-Harms

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Approaching a loved one about your struggles with self-harm can be one of the scariest things a person has to do. Likewise, when someone approaches you about their self-harm, you might be equally as intimidated, unsure of actions to take or how to react.

If you want a simple way to show your loved ones what they can do, look no further. Marzi, a comic known for her Introvert Doodle series, created a simple comic that shows the dos and don’ts of talking to your loved one about self-harm.

Pass it on:

Comic that shows what to do when a loved one self-harms.

DON’T:

– Be dismissive.

– Totally freak out.

– Promise to keep it a secret.

– Treat them differently. They’re still the same person you know and love.

DO: 

– Calmly assess the situation.

– Listen.

– Seek professional help (even minor injuries equals major red flag).

– Offer love and support.

You can find Marzi’s book, “Introvert Doodles,” here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Image via Introvert Doodles

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18 Important Tweets to Pass Along on Self-Injury Awareness Day

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On Self-Injury Awareness Day — March 1 — many people who are in recovery from self-harm and people who are still struggling with it every day, talk about a topic often kept hidden under long-sleeve shirts and shame. But there’s nothing shameful about self-harm, and people who are still hiding should know recovery is possible and that they’re allowed to speak about their pain.

To show there is hope for people who self-harm, we collected some tweets that offer support, tips for people who are trying to stop and a whole lot of love.

Here are some of our favorites:

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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