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Self-Harm: Her Experience and Advice to Parents

March 1st, 2016     By Dr. Amanda Whaley NMD is a board-licensed, naturopathic physician in Arizona and the mother of one 14-month-old busy boy.

Self-Injury, Troubled Youth, Understanding Behavior

I think it started small.  I would retreat to the bathroom for a session of “poking” myself with a pin. Why? I couldn’t tell you.  It just felt good.  That started after my parents divorced and my mom and I moved out of the house I was growing up in.

Their divorce wasn’t particularly eventful.  They didn’t even yell at each other.  Even at age 14, I could tell they didn’t love each other.  After my dad told me he was divorcing my mom, life just sort of “went-on.”  Nobody talked to me, or explained anything. Never mind my whole life being turned upside down, I was expected to continue to be the straight-A go-getter I always was, I guess.

The “poking” didn’t turn in to cutting until I was in college.  At least, that’s when I remember starting.  I did it the same way.  Retreating to the bathroom and having a session after a particularly difficult test, a fight with my boyfriend, a stressful day at work or a rough conversation with one of my parents.  I definitely had a lot of anger, but still, no one talked to me about it.  Cutting seemed to be how I took control.  Now, I realize that I did not have the tools I needed to communicate what I was feeling.

I would hide the cuts on my wrist under a bracelet.  Sometimes I cut in inconspicuous areas like my upper arm, my ankle or my stomach.  Not deep, but they bled.  I still have scars.  I found out, after I had been cutting for a while, that my parents knew I was doing it.  Still, no one said anything.  No one addressed it.

Self-harm can include cutting, scratching, burning, picking at wounds and hitting or punching objects. Red flags include:

  • Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs or chest.
  • Bloodstains on clothing, towels or bedding; or blood-soaked tissues.
  • Sharp objects or cutting instruments such as razors, knives or needles in the person’s belongings.
  • Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
  • Wanting to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
  • Isolation and irritability.

Looking back now as a parent, I think it would have meant the world for my own parents to stop for a minute, sit down and talk to me. If we don’t talk to our kids, someone or something will fill that void. It is up to us to guide our young people in healthy ways of dealing with anger, sadness, emptiness and massive change. If you don’t know where to start, just start somewhere.  I think you will find you aren’t so far apart.  They see things we don’t realize and perceive emotions on a level we probably don’t understand.  Talk, communicate, listen and share.  It could mean the world to your kids, too!

For more information on self-harm, check out the self-harm guide located on the Boys Town website.

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