10 Jul Cutting Hurts All Of Us Part 2: How Should I React to Someone Who Self-harms?
How loved ones react to a person self-harming can impact their recovery in a positive or negative way. Elizabeth had been an honor student in high school but after her mother died of cancer her sophomore year, Elizabeth did not know how to cope. Her grades slipped and some other students at school described how cutting helped them escape overwhelming feelings. She started spending more and more time alone and resenting her father’s plea for helping with her younger siblings. One afternoon after feeling depressed and angry she went in the bathroom, locked the door, used a clean shaving blade and cut her arm. Seeing the blood made her feel alive again instead of going through the motions of life. Eventually her father found out through the Guidance Counselor at school that she had been struggling with cutting.
Like most parents, Elizabeth’s father felt angry (how could she add to the stress of our family?), sad (she is so broken), helpless (how can I make her stop), failing as a parent (I haven’t paid enough attention to her etc.), manipulated (is she doing this to get my attention?), and concern (I want to help her and take her pain away). While most parents have right to feel all of the above, here are some dos and don’ts for helping your loved one:
- Ignoring the problem further reinforces the self-harmers belief that her feelings and ability to cope with them in a positive way is not important and should be overlooked
- Do not add shame and guilt to her feelings of self-loathing
- Do not scream at them for “foolish behavior”
- Do communicate concern, love, and acceptance of her as a person
- Do not punish her for her behaviors rather set boundaries so that she does not continue to self-harm
- Increase positive family time spent together
- Increase a positive peer support system for her rather than friends that also self-harm
- Do keep communication open and be available emotionally to connect
- Give her choices over the small things so she has a sense of control in her life
- Get her the professional help she needs even if she is opposed to it
If your child is crying out for help with self-harm please get them the help they need today to find better ways to cope with life’s difficulties.
 Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality