Self-mutilation amongst teenagers

My eldest daughter, now 15, resorted to self-mutilation about a year ago.  It started off with minor little cuts that wasn’t deep enough to cause permanent scarring, but eventually the cuts became deeper and has now made ugly scars not only on her arms, but on her legs too.  Cutting wasn’t the only option for her, as she also started engraving little pictures as well as words and names.  The most recent being burn marks, three next to each other on her wrist which have left the ugliest purple scars.  The Pastors that have looked at the scars have said that it’s spiritual and she claims that it stands for three words:  “I love you.”

The psychologist that was seeing to her, explained self-mutilation as an addiction, like drugs.  As a parent when you first notice this, it angers you and I know I for one thought that my daughter was an absolute idiot for hurting herself like that.  What enjoyment could they possibly get out of doing this?  To me it felt like this is a fashion amongst teens, because when I would sit with her and talk about it, I would get a list of names (other children in the school) that also cut themselves like that.

It was horrific when you sit listening to these stories and for some reason or the other, she could never really tell me why she was doing this.  In my personal opinion there wasn’t any reason for her to do this either. 

When you read up on this subject, they will tell you that teens resort to this because they are feeling sad, distressed, anxious, and confused or their emotions might be so extreme that they can’t handle it all.  Unfortunately under these circumstances, you don’t find out immediately, because the person doing it will also be hiding it.

I think the last thing any parent would expect is for their children to be doing something like that.  Self-mutilating could be done regularly and in other instances the teens will only resort to this if they need immediate release of built-up tension. 

Last year when it all started my daughter was doing it on a fairly regular basis and when I started noticing it, she would do it in the classroom at school in front of all the other children.  I eventually started looking at it as a form of attention seeking, but I had also looked at her on the days that she did this and she seemed distant in a faraway place.  It just seemed as if she didn’t care anymore.

I suppose one thing during all of this that I did learn, was that everyone deals with stress and anxiety differently to the next person.  Take for instance two students doing a practical test at school, one will be excited about it and the other one might be feeling a little bit on the nauseous side. 

Self-mutilation is unfortunately a bad coping mechanism, just like drinking, smoking and drug abuse.  If you have a child suffering with this, I can suggest that they have to get professional help and exercising or meditating is also very good coping mechanisms.

I have been trying to tell my daughter on several times that cutting yourself is nothing but a quick fix and it will not solve any problems in the long run.  As parents we felt that our daughter was mentally ill and it’s normal under these circumstances, but this is not the case at all.  I suppose it would have been easier if she was mentally unstable, as then you would at least have a proper answer as to why she is doing this.

People that injure themselves to get rid of all their stress and anxiety also aren’t’ necessarily suicidal.  They aren’t ending their life, they are trying to find a way to get through the day without feeling like they are in this dark hole.

It is still very important to seek help for your child and know that this is something that you can’t do on your own.  Seek assistance from a minister, a rabbi, a guidance counsellor, health care practitioner, psychologist or a social worker. 

And remember that you aren’t the only parent that is going through this.  Unfortunately there are people out there that aren’t even aware of the fact that their children might be doing this.  I would like to think that I could be your pillar through this, no matter who you are.

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