My daughter is self-harming

I provide specialist counselling for adults and young people who are stuck in a cycle of self harm and wish to stop.

In this article I focus on how worried parents might talk with their child without shame and anger making things difficult. I have suggested in the article title that only girls self harm; this is not true, self harm is used by girls and boys, young and old, it does not distinguish between age, race or social position.

Do you have an adolescent or teenager in your family that you believe is self-harming? Are you wondering how to raise the issue with them because you are not entirely sure what self-harm is and you are worried that you might say the wrong thing? Have you also a nagging sense that you have somehow failed as a parent and this makes you feel angry towards your child?

We self harm when we need to substitute the emotional or mental pain inside us for a physical, external, pain that for a brief time distracts us from the pain within. We believe we can control the external pain as we are the ones producing it. In a sense, we are attempting to make ourselves feel better. Put simply, if I am feeling bad, and I can’t change my internal thoughts and feelings, then it becomes natural for me to look for an external cure.

Lots of us are gratified by our external world. From the iphone user on The Tube keeping themselves to themselves, to the CEO of a large company enjoying her position of influence, to the Ferrari driver enjoying his car, and enjoying seeing how others enjoy his car too.Our capitalist society supplies us with the tools we need to feel better about ourselves.This is OK, it won’t harm us and as long as we are able to have honest, intimate relationships with humans away from the cars, phones and business, it’s fine.

But, some people take that way of being to extremes. The drinker using alcohol to feel better, the person having multiple relationships or who is preoccupied with sex, the drug user recreationally using their way into dependence, all of these people employ an external source to moderate their feelings or alter their mood in a way that compromises their lives.

Self-harm falls into this category. On the surface it seems different to the other kinds of stimulus as it involves the immediate application of pain, whereas the other forms of external gratification involve seeking immediate pleasure. What all these ways, including self-harm, have in common is that they distract us from what’s happening inside. 

As with all tough strategies to make ourselves feel better, self harmers develop rituals, use self deception and carry out their mood altering in private to avoid the judgement of others. It is tempting for the adult world to distance themselves from self-harming teens but in truth if we do this we allow ourselves to deny the seriousness of the problems that afflict the older generations in our society. as well making young people feel isolated and strange.

So, before you speak with your child about why he or she has marks on her arms, remember that this makes sense to them and they probably want to find another way through.

If you have found this blog useful and you would like to find out how counselling and therapy can help you or someone you love then please get in touch with me, I would be happy to talk you through the process and spend as much time as you need talking about the help you need.