When it comes to self-harm, everyone tends to have a lot of questions. Why would you hurt yourself? Doesn’t it, well, hurt? Are they just trying to get attention? Where did they learn this? How does it help? Does it mean they have depression? Anxiety? Aggression?
Parents of self-harming teens may also ask questions like “What can I do? Was it my fault? Will they ever be able to lead a normal life?” It’s a scary and lonely world, but at least there are a few things you can do to be a supportive parent and help your teen through this difficult time.
The first step is always understanding. How is your teen self-harming? Why do teens self-harm? How long has your teen been self-harming? Talk to your teen as much as possible without pushing them. Be sure to express love and concern, but make no demands about stopping the behavior. It’s critical to understand that this is usually a coping mechanism, and can even be addictive. Learn all you can about self-harm and the science surrounding it. This is an appropriate time to seek professional help for a diagnosis of depression (situational or clinical) or anxiety if you don’t already have one, and to find a therapist to guide your teen in the process.
Identifying YOUR Teen’s Triggers
Self-harm is very personal and reactive. Your teen is likely self-harming in response to one, or several, triggers. Identifying those triggers is a key step in the healing process, so begin immediately to observe and talk about your teen’s life with them. If your teen will speak with you, it can be easy to determine some of the more obvious triggers. If your teen will not speak with you, you may need to rely on observation and context clues. Look for changes in their mood, heightened stress, and their reaction to different stimuli in their life.
Common Triggers Include:
Fear of abandonment
Drug & alcohol use
Criticism or ridicule
Anger or frustration
Once you have identified at least one trigger you can begin watching for it, and planning for reorientation. Help your teen reset or replace the self-harming behavior with other coping mechanisms such as cold showers or exercise. You can work on decreasing the triggers in their life and increasing the healthy, happy things they experience.
If you fear your child is self-harming, waste no time in getting professional help. Self-harm is an indicator of depression and increased risk of future suicide. Get help for your teen with a therapist or rehabilitative boarding school to protect their future.