9 Facts I Wish I'd Known When I Discovered My Son Was Self-Harming

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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.

As a parent, I wanted to protect my child from all the bad things that might come into his life, but how could I protect him from himself? I discovered my son’s self-injurious behavior when he was 14. I knew practically nothing about self-harm then, but as the years went on I learned a great deal. Here is what I wish I had known.

1. It’s not attention seeking behavior, but rather a cry for help.

I thought harming himself was a way to get attention, sort of a rebellious teenage “badge.” I quickly learned my child was not trying to get attention; he was screaming for help. Self-harm was the only way he knew how to communicate his intense pain. By doing so, he was releasing endorphins into his brain, much like a drug. These endorphins helped to relieve some of his emotional trauma and actually made him feel better. However, the feeling doesn’t last, and then the self-harmer is left with physical scars and a feeling of shame.

2. It’s not a suicide attempt; it is a coping skill for dealing with intense and overwhelming emotions.

It’s called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). NSSI is used as a coping skill to deal with an emotional overload. My son often said he self-harmed to stop himself from completing suicide. This is a prevalent method used for those dealing with suicidal ideation; it is an attempt to alleviate the feeling of wanting to die. The big difference here is intent. The intent of NSSI is to escape the severe emotional pain, but still remain alive. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. Many self-harmers have attempted suicide and even intentionally or accidentally completed suicide. One of the other dangers of NSSI is that it can become obsessive, compulsive and even addictive. Stopping once you have experienced the endorphin release can be difficult and can take years to overcome.

3. Talking about self-harm with your child will not put the idea in their head.

If you have a reason to believe your child is thinking about self-harming, talking to them will not give them the idea. Most likely they have heard about it from friends, classmates or online, and if they have already self-harmed, discussing it won’t make it worse. If they haven’t heard of it, it is important to have an intelligent and accurate conversation about what self-harm is, why people engage in it, and why you think it isn’t the right path to choose. This conversation should include all of the positive coping skills that are available.

Talking about self-injury is important. Do this privately, with compassion and without judgment. Chances are your child already feels confused. Knowing they can come to you and talk, without being judged, can make all the difference in what choices they make in the future.

4. Ignoring it will not make it go away.

When things get difficult in our lives we often want to bury our heads in the sand, hoping the problem will go away. This does not work. Do not ignore your child’s self-injurious behavior. It will not go away on its own. Be the parent you need to need to be for your child. You can help them through this difficult time in their lives and both of you can come out on the other side stronger than you were before.

5. Going to the hospital or doctor every time is not necessary.

This is a time when you need to be objective as a parent. If you think your child’s self-injury is out of control and they are in danger of completing suicide, take them to the hospital. If your child has hurt themselves severely, take them to the hospital. Beyond this there is no right or wrong answer as to when you should take your child to the doctor or the hospital after an episode of self-injury. Discuss their actions with your medical professional or counselor. You must use your best parental judgment and decide what is best for your child in that moment. No two situations are the same and nobody can make that decision for you.

6. Getting angry at your child does not help.

Oh, I have been there. After years of helping my son overcome his desire to self-harm, when I thought he had “beaten” the addiction, he did it again. Oh yeah, I was angry, but it didn’t help. It didn’t even make me feel better; I only suffered remorse later. How could I be angry at my boy who was struggling with intense pain? Getting angry doesn’t help anyone.

7. Validate your child’s feelings instead of trying to fix the problem.

As parents, we want to “fix” problems. Often the best thing to do in this situation is to validate their feelings. Validation does not mean you agree with their choice of self-harm; instead, it’s telling them it is OK to have these feelings and you still love them. This will help your child feel accepted, understood and heard.

8. Finding the right therapist is imperative.

This is truly a tough one. Can you even find the right therapist? Some people say no, but I do believe there are competent therapists out there. Don’t be afraid to interview them in advance and ask questions about their therapeutic process. A parent alone cannot do everything for their child, especially if that child is unwell. There comes a time when you must relinquish control and realize you do not have all the skills needed to help your child move to a healthy place.

9. It’s not your fault.

There is a propensity in society to blame the parents for the “faults” of their children. In a few small cases this may be appropriate, but they are few. When it comes to self-harm and mental illness, it’s not your fault. Do not blame yourself. You did not want this for your child, nobody does.

The majority of parents are giving their children the best care and opportunities they can. Do not judge others in their parenting, instead, offer empathy and compassion. You never know when you might find yourself in a similar situation.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

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 Jupiterimages

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Why I Don't Hide My Self-Harm Scars in the Summer

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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.

I live with chronic major depressive disorder (MDD), social anxiety and complex trauma. These conditions sometimes lead to me using the ineffective coping skill of self-harm. I have some scars because of that behavior and a lot of times I feel insecure about them when they’re more easily visible.

People tend to stare at my arms, especially in the summer because I’ll wear shorter sleeves. I can feel their eyes and I can see people turn their heads for a second glance. No one has ever said anything to me and I’m happier with them keeping their thoughts to themselves. I’ll assume in my head that they might be judging me and then I remind myself that, even if they are, there’s nothing I could do to keep others from judging. Sometimes I’ll remind myself that some might be empathetic, while others may be judging me negatively and that’s most likely because they don’t understand. I did what I did and I have to live with the consequences. I’ve accepted that I used the behavior to get through some tough times and I know the truth behind each scar. I don’t need to share my story with every single, random stranger who sees my arms. I’ll wait for when someone asks me how I walk around showing my arms or tells me they understand. I’ll share my story with those who it might help.

For those who may have some self-harm scars also, I would like to tell you that they don’t define who you are. It’s OK that they’re there. You don’t need to be ashamed of your scars, even though there’s stigma behind the behavior. It was a negative coping skill used to help you through something; it’s OK. It means you actually lived through whatever dark moment was there. You still matter.

I still feel insecure in the summer about my scars. I still choose to wear shorter sleeves and let my arms feel the sun because that is what I want for myself. I don’t need to shame myself into hiding just because there is a stigma around self-harm. In fact, maybe one day I can educate others about the behavior.

 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 littlehenrabi

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What I Would Say to My 12-Year-Old Self Struggling With Self-Harm

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Four years ago, I posted a self-harm awareness picture on my Instagram and I’m sure no one took a second glance at it. No one could have suspected that I myself had self-inflicted scars on my own body, that I wanted people to understand me, that I wanted somebody to help me.

My high school health curriculum covered a lot of important topics: sex ed, nutrition, physical health. We even had a unit about mental health, a unit that included a plethora of necessary information for teenagers, but barely anything at all about the secretive epidemic of self-injury. I knew one thing for sure: there were students all around me, silently struggling and covering up their pain with long clothes, bright smiles and makeup.

So to anyone struggling right now, I know right now it may seem like you are trapped in a tidal wave of emotions, jostling every last stable piece of your life. And if you are anything like I was, you might be thinking no one cares, maybe they won’t love you if they find out or maybe they’ll never be able to look at you the same. Consider this: maybe they’ll love you for who you are and maybe they’ll be there to help.

If I could say anything to my 12-year-old self, it would be this:

I know right now, you can’t see the horizon. You might be in a forest, on a beach, in a field. Your view is blocked by treetops, by dark clouds, by tall grasses. You’re running, unseeing towards where you think this elusive horizon might be, expecting it to relieve you of your pain upon arrival. Sometimes you run slowly, tripping over rocks or branches and sometimes you run swiftly, your footsteps leaving clean prints on the ground. You catch glimpses of that horizon line, but just as soon as you see it, trees, clouds, grass blocks it from your sight. You run and you run and you run and with each step, your heart grows heavier. But then one day you finally see it. You break into the clearing, a vibrant sunset with violet, rose, fuchsia, right there in front of you. Your friends and family are there too, waiting with open arms. The pain doesn’t go away, at least not at first. But soon enough you’ll be standing under that sunset too, waiting to embrace others as they come running into that clearing.

The most important thing is that you keep going, keep breathing, keep living. It won’t be easy, but it’s not supposed to be. Sometimes the things that are the hardest are the most worthwhile. You think you’re alone, but you’re not. There are hands all around you, outstretched, ready to lift you up whenever that horizon seems too far away. The people you know will be there for you in ways you never could have expected. All you have to do is ask.

A good friend once told me that nothing is permanent, not even how we feel. The way you feel is valid, but it is so important to understand you won’t always feel this way. One day your life will be different. Hope is real. It is as real as your future is.

And now, four years later, my scars have healed. I have learned to open up to those around me, and I did find help.

The stigma and personal nature of self-harm unfortunately lends itself to a dangerous lack of widespread awareness, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all do our part, no matter how big or small. Donate to a mental health charity, start conversations, step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to your friends to see how they’re doing, smile at people you’ve never talked to before, ask how someone is and genuinely listen to what they have to say. We never know who is struggling. If you’ve already reached the horizon, stretch out your arms waiting to embrace those who are on their way. And if you’re still trudging through that forest or beach or field, take a deep breath and then keeping going. Always keep going.

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.

Unsplash photo via Dominik Martin.

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What Happens When Someone Comments on My Self-Harm Scars

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I gazed upon the shaky lines that plagued my thighs and wrists with an overwhelming sense of regret and pride.

Some lines are quite faded now, but many are still visible to the human eye. Meaning that I’m constantly reminded they are present and will always be present. The lines are a part of who I am. They do not define me, but they represent a long journey I have traveled.

They represent 3 a.m. self-loathing sessions, and 3 p.m. panic attacks. They are a direct reflection of how I treated myself and how I treated others.

I never mention the purplish red marks that rest distinctly on my pale body. It’s one thing when someone else hurts you. But it is a whole other story when you are the “bad guy.”

Some days, I forget they reside on my flesh. Other days, elongated glances remind me that to some, I am someone to be feared. I desperately wish I would not freeze so I could just plead with them that I am not a monster — I was only fighting the one in my head.

Then, on my least favorite days, someone decides to comment on the horizontal lines, usually in front of others. Immediately my face is flushed and my heart drops. My mind races and the urge comes flooding back. Those are the days when I am reminded I am unlike the others. I hide secrets and demons.

Those are the hard days. The days that usually fade swiftly into a pitch black night. Those are the nights I cuddle up next to shame and isolation. Those nights I binge watch the mistakes I have made. I dwell in the darkness I once crawled out of.

My past reminds me of the ocean. Dark. Deep. Unpredictable. Overwhelming. Consistent in all of the above.

I would helplessly watch as the waves crashed over me, as I gasped for untainted air until drowning became my oxygen and treading through hell became my hobby.

There I floated — young, exhausted, lifeless.

Yet to the outside world, I was anything but dead. I was very much alive. So much so that my overall well-being or safety was never a question. Why would the girl who has it all be a danger to herself?

I suppose we forget that we are our own worst enemies sometimes.

I do not resent conversing about my dark past, only if I believe the person truly cares about my bright future. I deeply despise telling my stories to those who are obnoxiously nosey, rather than genuinely intrigued about who I am.

The thing is, I may have horizontal lines from battles I have lost.

But the sweet victory I bask in is vertical.

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 Silmen.

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The Story of My Self-Harm Scars

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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.

He found a scar and asked if I did it to myself.

He has asked that before but man, I am a world class liar.

I could get anyone to believe it was a clumsy catch in the kitchen or a fall because I cannot walk without stumbling, or even say I just don’t remember a trip when I had too much to drink. I could tell him anything and get him to believe that scar was some silly accident and nothing more.

Explaining self-mutilation is one of the hardest parts when opening up about this illness.

Sometimes, I wonder to myself if people see the scars and think it was just a clumsy accident, or does it run through their minds that I harmed myself? I wonder if they silently have thought about trying it themselves, or if they already have.

How hard is it to understand the thought process of the disease if you’re thinking from a perfectly healthy mind?

Why would you physically harm yourself and cause permanent damage that is so visible?

Is it a cry for help?

Is it just to make sure you’re alive?

Is it to make the outside just as “ugly” as you feel the inside is?

I was once asked what the inside of my mind looks like.

It looks like dark, deep scratches on gray walls. It looks like a deep hole and you’re stuck at the bottom looking up at the clouds covering the light at the end of the long, long tunnel.

That’s what the inside of my head looks like when it gets bad.

When it gets good?

There are flowers over the deep scratches. The flowers are every lie I tell myself and everyone else. The flowers are the smiles I plant on my face when things start to go well because duh, I have to be happy when “great” things happen. The flowers represent everyone who loves me and rely on me in their life. They shine on my good days.

But after the good days, bad days always follow.

So why the self-harm? It starts with comparing physical pain to emotional and mental pain. It’s the feeling of being emotionally drained, like that after a loss of someone or the loss of a job. That emotional exhaustion that leaves your body feeling like it got hit by a truck right after you ran a marathon up a mountain in freezing rain.

Everything hurts for no reason at all.

You feel all this pain inside and out, but there is absolutely no sign of your pain.

So you harm yourself.

Whether it is because you feel like you cause so much pain to others that you must feel pain too, or you’re just trying to make the outside match the inside, you harm yourself.

And for a brief moment, there is relief. Just like drugs, it wears off. Then what?

Well, then you get professional help or you do it again.

But the thing is, no matter how many times I harm myself, I found myself back at square one. 

I also found myself lying to my therapist about it. I was terrified that, if she knew, she would lock me up in a hospital or worse, tell someone else. An act that feels so natural to me, disgusts others.  

But it is all part of my story. I’ve made peace with my scars and now they mix with the beautiful art that is also forever inked into my skin.

Soon, the scars will be completely covered by ink in the shape of flowers, vines and birds.   

The scars will be part of the past. 

Just adding to the story that is my life.

Follow this journey on Loving Jaimie

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.

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What I Need Most When I'm Struggling With Self-Harm

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Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) was actually the first day of March, and I only found out about it after the event via Twitter. It was from just the one tweet, so maybe a little more awareness wouldn’t go amiss.

I did learn one thing when I first set out to educate myself about SIAD. A user-led charity called LifeSIGNS (Self-injury Guidance and Network Support) has supported this day for several years, and is the number one resource for SIAD material. I was wondering how a day like this works and they pretty much answered my question in one succinct sentence: “Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.”

As most of my writing is from experience and not research, I thought I would give my tuppence worth of input (albeit a bit late for the day itself) for self-injury (self-harm) awareness.

I know from experience that the question most asked by people who don’t self-harm is: Why? Why do we injure ourselves? I also know, from experience, that this is one of the hardest questions to answer. It feels impossible to put into words how being so cruel and destructive to ourselves can possibly help an already dire situation.

For me, self-harm expelled feelings and expressed them. It made the feelings and the pain tangible and explicable. More often than not, I was unable to articulate the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing, and self-injury was me attempting to externalize all I had internalized. I was overpowered, and afraid. I needed a voice, but I could not speak.

Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.

I can’t speak for everyone who self-injures, but I know there have been certain things that have helped me in times of unbearable distress, and other things that absolutely didn’t help.

To be unaware or uneducated, with regards to self-injury is not, in itself, a bad thing — it is what it is. If you have never come across it, you have no need to learn and become aware. But being unaware can be terribly negative and unhelpful if you are suddenly faced with it and have no real clue what it is you are dealing with. I have come across some very well-meaning people — usually professionals — who have tried to help in ways that have only served to compound my sense of isolation, and reinforce my fears of forever being misunderstood.

I have been advised to count the number of red cars that drive past my window when I felt the urge to self-harm, in an attempt to distract myself. I have been told that my self-harming is “selfish” and “manipulative,” even though I had struggled for years without ever telling a soul. I have been told I am “weak-willed,” and even that I am “playing games” by self-injuring.

On the rare occasion that I have had to seek medical attention as a result of an episode of self-harm, I have been kept waiting for several hours, the explanation being that there were people much more important than me to see and I was at the bottom of the list. I have sat in a waiting room, listening to medical staff, feet away from me, talking about me as though I wasn’t there, telling their colleagues that there is “No point stitching her, she’s covered in scars. One more won’t make any difference.”

I give these examples as an idea of the damage that can be done if people are not aware of, or educated on, the issue of self-injury. I had, in each of these instances, trusted someone with the most vulnerable and frightened part of myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed to be where I was, and yet I needed help. My sense of self-worth was at rock bottom when I reached out for help, and it was, on these occasions, pretty much annihilated completely.

I didn’t ever need someone to “fix” me, “cure” me or rescue me. Of course, that would have been nice, but usually it was not what I needed. I didn’t even need someone to understand. In fact, I think it would be unreasonable of me to expect someone to understand something I cannot explain.

What I needed was someone to be with me in my pain and shame. I needed someone who didn’t judge, didn’t assume and didn’t reject me. Someone who kept loving me when I felt utterly unlovable. I needed someone who would care, without enabling, or colluding with, my destructive behaviors, and who would also be honest with me when they needed to – honest, but gentle with it; never condemning or critical.

If you want to help a self-harmer in their time of deepest darkness and greatest need, you don’t have to have any answers — you just have to care. And please don’t forget to care for yourself as well.

As frustrating or painful as it is to witness the impact of self-injury on someone you love or care for, please be as patient as you can. I do not know a single person who uses self-harm as a coping mechanism who isn’t desperate to find a different way to cope. Silence is often much more comforting than platitudes and promises you can’t keep, and being by somebody’s side when they need you most is more powerful and far-reaching than you may ever know.

I appreciate this may be a tough topic to read about for many people — it certainly is a tough topic to write about (despite my initial enthusiasm at feeling I had been handed a blog-topic on a plate). I have few answers or explanations to offer as an insight into self-injury, but I do know what has helped me and what hasn’t helped me in the past.

Whether you are a self-harmer or not, there is always hope. Sometimes the self-harmer needs a friend or carer to believe this for them, and sometimes the friend or carer needs someone to offer living proof that this is true. It is true.

If you or someone you know needs professional help, I urge you to seek it immediately, and in the meantime, the likes of me will do our utmost to raise awareness of self-injury within all walks of life.

Follow this journey 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.

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

Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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