Browsing the archives for the control 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.

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How to Reboot Life Systems

Change, Life as it is

I spend quite a bit of time around computer and communications systems, both at home and at work. As a result, I occasionally have a system get stuck or need to be reset – that is restored to a known working situation with the system in a healthy state. Sometimes starting with a clean slate it all it takes to get past a problem, other times, it simply creates a starting point to solve problem.

Telecommunications Junction

I also have my life systems sometimes get stuck as well – because of a system crash such as a lack of housekeeping input causing the living-comfortably-at-home system to halt because of unacceptable disarray. Or as another example, I may be overwhelmed when I have too many challenges to handle at any one time, and this may affect any number of systems in home. This is where having a good methodology to reboot the hung systems is handy.

Most computers have simple ways to restart them when you need to. It may be a couple of mouse clicks, or a keystroke combination such at CTRL-ALT-DEL, that does it – but its a simple process that is often a first step in getting things working again. Unlike a blue screen of death I usually don’t have an external notice that systems are not working, rather it comes from listening to my own state of satisfaction. When systems in my life are working properly, I feel a sense of contentment – when a reboot is necessary it’s usually through a growing discontent with something I am doing or not doing.

I have a couple systems of living that are very helpful to me. I can’t say I do them perfectly – or even just very well, for that matter – but they are both good life systems, because they both have reboot methods built into them. They are David Allen‘s Getting Things Done (GTD) and the FlyLady‘s processes for decluttering and getting rid of CHAOS. (For those who don’t know the FlyLady, CHAOS is an acronym for Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

In the book, Getting Things Done, David Allen writes:

Think about the last time you felt highly productive. You probably had a sense of being in control; you were not stressed out; you were highly focused on what you were doing; time tended to disappear; and you felt you were making noticeable progress towards a meaningful outcome….

And if you get seriously far out of that state – and start to feel out of control, stressed out, unfocused, bored and stuck – do you have the ability to get back into it? That’s where the methodology of Getting Things Done will have the greatest impact on your life, by showing you how to get back to “mind like water” wit all your resources and faculties functioning at a maximum level.

Falling off the wagon on any new system of living is easy – I’m doing it all the time it seems. But knowing how to get back on track is the key though. With GTD, I know I need to get my list out (I use MonkeyGTD for my lists) and renegotiate my own commitments to myself and to start gathering and processing again. That’s the beauty – it is that easy to start making prgress – to reboot to a known working state.

And for days like today when I feel overwhelmed by my home and the work it needs, Flylady always starts at the same place. What is the condition of my kitchen sink? And today was no exception – I went to the kitchen and started on the sink. Soon it was clean, and the cleanliness started spilling over to the surrounding countertops until my kitchen was done, and that lead me to working on other parts of the house. I know that next I will be working for 15 minutes a day and also working on being mindful of my bedtime and waking routines.

The point is, I didn’t have to wonder what to do to get rebooted and get systems back to a known running state. Before FlyLady, I would have wandered the house feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to start working on so much to do. Before GTD, I would just leap into the closest fire and leap from one out-of-control mess to another, burnout and watch things crash again.

I wish I was always in control of all areas of my life. The good news it that instead of needing a systems that always stay in a steady state of harmony, I can make do with just knowing how to correct my course whenever I start to drift.

How do you reboot the portions of your life that seem to get hung up?

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