Browsing the archives for the behavior tag

10 Tips for Parenting through Self Injury

family, Love, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

It has been a couple of months since I wrote about my teen daughter’s cutting, and what it was like to be a parent surviving through self-injury. Now I see parents arrive here at MereWisdom.org from time to time with searches that break my heart – for I typed so many of the same things trying to find answers. For these visitors, I offer the following wisdom gained from making a million mistakes in responding to my daughter’s self harm.

Victoria in a New Place
For those looking for people who are getting through this, I would point you to my daughter’s site where she wrote to share some of her story of Survival of a Self Injurer. Worthy of note and celebration in this is that she now has nine months free of self-injury, one day at a time.

Caring for Myself and Family

1 – There is nothing I can do to save her or protect her completely – The belief that if I just try harder to protect her, to limit her choices, and keep her safe to get her through this without being able to harm herself further is, in the end, a lie. I had to accept my powerlessness to stop her from harming herself before I could stop dying inside from whether she has or has not self-injured today. It’s her behavior and only she can make different choices.

2 – I did not cause it – I struggled with my own guilt for a long time. A long, long time of second guessing myself, thinking that my own faults and failures ends up, really, only another form of the false beliefs in item one, above.

3 – Her Self-Injury is not the most important thing in my life – She is more important to me than what she does. My son is equally important to me, and can’t be ignored because of constant crises in her life. Self-injury can pull a family out of a normal orbit into a tight orbit only around the self injury. This reinforces the self-injury from my experience, and it harms everyone else now out of orbit.

4 – I needed help for myself and my family and not just my daughter – It’s her behavior, but it affects all of us. More importantly as the family increasingly becomes centered on the self-injury, the more the family systems break down and require conscious rebuilding. Normal systems and family behavior that act as balancing forces for our children and ourselves become reinforcing factors for out of control behavior instead. And as we broke down, it was invisible to us. Outside help is critical.

5 – Learn to live in Daytight Compartments – The notion of “One Day at a Time” is almost a cliche in dealing with these situations, but there is some truth to the idea that just for today I can endure and do the things that I could never do for the rest of my life. For me, the idea of daytight compartments, like watertight compartments on a ship, helped me get through tough times.

Responding to Self Injury

6 – Talk about it – One of the things I did right in this was insist from day one that we would not act ashamed about it and talk freely about self-injury. It is always ok to ask if injuries need immediate treatment, for example. It’s ok to talk about feelings – from my feelings about specific events to her feelings before or after cutting. It’s also ok to talk about other things besides self-injury – there is a whole life taking place at the same time.

7 – Set Boundaries on Behavior – I mentioned above that trying to control her behavior stems from a false belief that somehow I can do it for her. This is one of the broken systems that reinforces negative behavior, rather than balancing or opposing it. Natural consequences are much better. One of the first consequences we had was that all cuts had to be examined by a medical professional within 24 hours.

8 – Build a Team – My daughter’s recovery team became her school nurse, her family doctor, her psychologist and later a psychiatrist. Each of them got a copy of the Bill of Rights for People Who Self-Harm and it made a very real difference in the level of care she received.

9 – Stay the Parent – My daughter at one point was using her self-injury as a point of leverage to take control of the family. She would threaten to cut herself to get herself out of situations, and these tools helped get us past that point. She would threaten, and I would respond that I can’t stop her if she chooses self-injury but then medical care is required, and if self-injury was a part of any behavior contract, then those consequences would happen as well.

10 – Love her enough to respect her decisions – This is the hardest one, and a recent bit of learned wisdom. I think this is because the same need I have to protect her from harm is also in play to keep her from harm by way of her consequences of her actions. This is still an ongoing struggle for me as it is a great theory until I see behavior that is likely to cause problems for yars to come or legal issues and so on. In our case, it meant loving her enough to respect decisions even when the consequences included not living at home for a while, hospitalization, school settings that took her away from music, and so on.

4 Comments

Love and the Vulnerable Heart

Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

In the mid-90’s I became convinced during a relationship crisis that while I knew the words of love, and I may know something about the touches of love, my behavior was still so unlovely that I had no clue what love was about. So I decided to become a student of Love, and this had many miraculous effects upon my life.

So when a friend admitted earlier this month that they had no idea what love was, I remembered getting to that same point and becoming teachable about love. And while it has been a while, and my life is much richer, and I have made many mistakes and therefor learned many lessons – I have never tried to articulate any of the things I have learned about love.

So this is the first in sharing these lessons of mine.

Rose

And the first thing I have learned about love is that it needs a vulnerable heart to work. Or rather, I have to be vulnerable if I am to love at all. If I try to protect myself against the pain and possible heartbreak of betrayal or apathy, then my heart becomes hardened and I cannot be moved as I can when I stay vulnerable.

There is a paradox here that is at work. But being vulnerable to being hurt may give us the wings we need to rise to a point where the hurt means something less devastating when it comes. I’m not saying less painful – in fact so far I find the pain is more acute when I don’t protect myself. But there is something about the healing that is different and doesn’t create the same hardened scar tissue.

I appreciate the paradox since I often spend my days finding vulnerabilities in systems and then doing whatever it takes to remove those same vulnerabilities. So workwise, I have always been taught that being vulnerable is bad.

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
–Madeleine L’Engle

Now, sometimes a vulnerability cannot be removed without breaking the system. For example, an unplugged computer in an empty and locked room is less vulnerable than one connected to the Internet. And it is equally unusable.

So we also have the idea of risk, and the ability to accept certain amounts of risk through an aware decision. If I plug that computer back into the wall, turn it on, and open the room, it becomes much more usable – and in some situations I may reduce the harm that can be done and then still accept the risk of certain amounts of vulnerability.

And in love, this is an important idea to me. For love to work, I have to accept the vulnerability that comes from opening myself to another and not guarding myself against harm by that same person. And what makes the Risk worthwhile is that the sort of vulnerable openness that comes from dropping our guard is an essential part of developing true intimacy with another person.

“I have been sick, really sick, on flights in the last few weeks. And, I have been amazed by the kindness of strangers. There is, indeed, something about vulnerability that helps us to connect with people — even when we’re holding one of those little bags from the seat pocket of an airplane.”
— Jan Denise

I mentioned earlier that when I came to this personal crisis, that I knew something of the words and touches of love but not much about the authentic behavior of love. For me, that sort of intimacy is both the thing I desire most and something I fear terribly because of how open to harm vulnerable I must become.

As I try to stay teachable on these things, I also keep looking for symptoms in my life of getting it right or wrong so I can make adjustments. And the biggest one that I see in my life about my willingness to become vulnerable, is that when I avoid the potential harm of the vulnerability of being authentic, then I start managing my image and how I look and seem to others. My perfectionism starts to rise up as well and so I get less done, I spend more time spinning details so you think of me as I would like, and so on. All of this stems from avoiding that vulnerability.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
–M. Scott Peck

Let me note this importance of vulnerability isn’t just about the love between lovers, but also between parents and children, and also between close friends. Some see it within the workplace as well as in dating.

In fact, it seems to also be true in terms of labors of love as well. It seems that the posts where I am open and write about the things deep inside – that is the posts where I am most vulnerable to how they might be received – these are the ones that can touch people the most, that generate the most thankful e-mails and messages in twitter. And I am not the only one seeing this in blogging.

This is the first thing I learned about love. Should I share more about this journey? Feel free to speak words of comfort in the comments….

4 Comments

The Vulnerable Heart

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

At last night’s Lifeway meeting (our alternative peer group), the topic was on the importance of staying vulnerable. Several people shared, but as a parent of an addicted teen I have my own experiences I can share. One of them was last night after the meeting and again today.

Victoria's Heart

Last night I found that my daughter has been stealing spare change from my room. Not a huge cause for concern, we have consequences to help take care of that. But then she came to my room and gave me a long hug and kiss and I sent her back to her room to bed. After she left, I realized that she had manipulated me and the situation to steal my keys during her visit so she could get into my computer room and the Internet.

So today she has disconnected her stereo and her computer and gone back under consequences by placing them in the storeroom so I can lock them up until she starts moving in the right direction again. It’s hard to just let the consequences be the only consequences – I am hurt by her behavior. It brings back old tapes and reminds me of a time in my past when loving actions were a lure to get my guard to drop so that cutting remarks could pierce more deeply.

There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis I tried to share last night in the meeting and did not do a very good job paraphrasing it. Taking a few minutes to look, this is what he said that spoke so clearly to me:

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” -C.S. Lewis

I choose today to keep loving my daughter – to stay vulnerable to her. I choose to remind myself that feelings are not facts and that her consequences in the form of loss of her stereo and computer take care of the situation in full and to trust this program that has helped my family so much. For me to distance myself from her in the name of guarding my heart is to send a message that it is her I have a problem with, and not her behavior.

This is incorrect. It is her that I love and her behavior that I will not accept.

1 Comment