What I Wish My Parents Knew About My Struggle With Self-Harm
Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.
Your children probably mean the world to you. So when you see your child hurting him or herself, you may be completely lost as to what to do. As a young person who self-harms and recently told her parents and didn’t like their reaction, I wish to give you my advice on what I wish my parents had done for me instead.
But first, some context. I have been self-harming for around six months now, and I made the decision to tell my parents about a month ago. I had played that conversation over in my head from the day I started self-harming. I imagined every possible outcome of that conversation — good, bad and the absolute worse. But what I never imagined would happen was that my parents would just ignore it.
When I told my mother what I had been doing, her reaction was one word: Why? I tried to explain the little I understood about it myself, and got no reaction. My mother took away my knife and that was the end of the conversation.
That conversation I had played out in my head a thousand times — with results varying from them getting me professional help to them signing me up for a Christian “get better” summer camp. What I hadn’t imagined was that their reaction would simply be — nothing. And thinking back, I would have preferred they had kicked me out of the house than pretend nothing had happened. Because for me, nothing at all hurts more than any kind of punishment. With punishment, at least I would know where I stood.
Parents, if your child opens up to you about their self-harm, please give them a reaction. Obviously, a caring reaction would be 100 percent better, but please, under no circumstances leave it alone after being notified of the problem. Sit them down, talk to them. If you really don’t know what to say, then ask them what you can do to help. What they often need you to do for them is to help them come to a solution to what’s going on in their head. Offer an ear, a hug and support. This will mean the world to them, as little as it may seem on paper.
After I told them, my parents acted as if nothing had happened. As if what I had just told them was a conversation that had never existed. They thought I had just stopped. That by not having the knife, the problem was gone. That this problem was just skin deep. I felt as if my parents didn’t care. That what I was doing to myself was a trivial fact, one that was unimportant and didn’t matter. I have been told by some of my friends that this may just be their way of dealing with it. That they don’t know what to say to me, and so they don’t say anything just in case they might make matters worse. But how that feels to me is that they don’t care.
Parents, if your child opens up to you, don’t assume the behavior has just stopped after that. That the problem has just gone away. Please remind them you are there for them, if they want to talk or need some help you will help them as much as they need. Don’t just leave it for them to come to you, because the likelihood is they are waiting for you. Don’t push them, but don’t stand back and wait.
I have not stopped self-harming since I told my parents, like they think. I have just hidden it more. Because — and I believe all parents need to know this first and foremost — I can’t just stop because I’ve been asked to. My parents told me to “not do it anymore” when I told them, and they thought this was the end of the matter. But this isn’t something I can control. If I could just stop then I wouldn’t have started. Being told, “Can you not do it for me?” isn’t helpful and won’t change what I do. In fact, it just drives me further away from reaching out. I hurt myself while still in earshot of them, and neither of them are aware. They don’t think the hours I spend in my room alone are filled with sharp objects and self-hate. And from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t feel like they care.
This is devastating to me. The two people I care about most are also the two people who understand what’s going on the least. And what hurts me, even more, is that I found out my parents have known about my self-harm for at least four months now. I slipped up in hiding my marks, and although I gave excuses as to how I got them, it would seem my parents knew what the truth was. And yet I got no comfort, no offer of help, not even a second ask to tell them the truth. And then I didn’t hear about it again.
Parents, if you suspect your child is self-harming, please reach out. Know they may not want to talk, but let them know you are there for them and that you will do everything you can to help them. If they think you know, and you choose not to say anything, I believe it will cause more harm than good. Because I spent ages treading on egg shells around them because I wasn’t sure if they knew or not. And to then later find out — after I had convinced myself that they had believed my lie and forgotten about it — that they had known. They had known for so long and not said a word. And that has made me feel like they don’t care what I am doing. I know this may not be the case, and that they are just afraid to reach out to me, but this is how it feels. And I don’t wish anyone to have to think that.
I am not writing this to whine about my story, but in order to help parents and people struggling alike. Because if young people have at least someone they feel they can talk to, it could make the world of a difference.
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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Thinkstock photo via finwal.