Supporting a Daughter that is Self-harming

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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 daughter 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 daughter is self-harming, she is 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 daughter is deliberately self-harming can be very distressing. It is hard to understand why someone would want to do this. Don’t take it persocx nally, your child is not doing it to make you feel bad or guilty. Often parents are the last to find out their daughter 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 behaviour as it is very serious.
  • Be supportive. Let your child know that you are there if she 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 her to find more positive ways of coping with the pain.

  • Encourage your daughter to write in a journal, recording how she feels and the reasons why she might want to harm herself. Be aware that your child may not want to share this with you so it is important to her that you allow her this privacy, until such time as she is ready to share with you.
  • Encourage your daughter to look at the reasons why she is hurting herself, 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 her method of self-harming by

  • Trying something like holding ice cubes in her hand. The cold causes pain but is not dangerous to her health and does not leave her with scars.
  • Working off her stress or anxiety with exercise.
  • Learning to communicate effectively with how she is feeling.
  • Making a list of reasons why she is going to stop cutting, and setting herself some realistic goals to help her stop.

There are people who can help, who want to hear what you and your daughter have to say. They can help her understand that self-harming is destructive and stops her from dealing with her pain.It is critical that you persist in letting your daughter know that you trust and support her 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 her, they will more readily trust in themselves to find a way through.


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