Browsing the archives for the parent 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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Fear and Courage

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

I have a confession to make. I am not only an expert at making mistakes, I am also an expert on fear. Many of my friends describe me as being courageous, which describes my decisions and my choices, but usually my over-riding feeling at such times is fear.

Anyone who has worked with me for very long has heard me talk about fear. I may refer to the acronym of F.E.A.R. as False Evidence Appearing Real. In fact, if you listen to conversations between myself and my closest friends, one of the first things we we do is ask and listen to just what the other person fears, and then ask what evidence they have that this feared outcome will occur. Then we plan how to face it.

Long Have I Watched the Streets of Galveston

Many years ago, I was not as aware of fear, because I used to flee from it. I made safe choices, or at least the least frightening ones. I did some occasionally daring deeds and had some successes – but that was because I feared what might happen if I didn’t dare more than what might happen if I did. Some might say it motivated me, but the truth is that it drove me. And just like a hot air balloonist hardly feels any wind, I never felt any fear, for it was carrying me where it went. Have you ever rode your bike on a clear spring day feeling no wind, until you turned back and rode against a headwind? Fear didn’t motivate me, it drove me.

Those safe and fear-driven choices had their own consequences. My creativity all but vanished, for to create anything is to risk it being ridiculed. My relationships suffered, for I was careful in what I said and shared and did not stand up for much of anything. Even playing suffered, for while I had many hobbies to occupy me, I was too inhibited to risk reaching for joy.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
— Ambrose Redmoon

In time it was those relationships that got me to face fear. The way I was living was not producing the results I wanted so I started changing. I started doing it for them, then I started doing it for my own relationship with myself.

It’s frightening to go places where we have never been before. As a result, reaching for more joy than ever before or becoming a parent or dealing with a sudden emergency all cause fear. And it’s worse if you are intelligent and creative, because you have the mind capable of imagining a million little disasters and their outcomes.

After a while, I found that when i felt sudden fear, it often meant I should go back to that thought or situation and poke it with a stick and face it. I still feel it – that choking sensation of fear – but it doesn’t drive me any more. I get to choose where I want to go in life.

For years, this was written in my office and in my home:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
— Dune, Frank Herbert

I am a single father of two teens so trust me, I still know and experience fear on an intimate and real basis. Even now I am afraid as I write this how I might appear egotistical or sanctimonious, and still have all of it terribly wrong. Or worse yet, what if nobody reads this and I am ignored?

I’m still going to post this when I am done. The truth is that in facing fear, I feel it more – this is true is writing for publication, public speaking, being a parent, reaching for unknown joy or anything else worth doing. Fear may be a wall too high to climb and too wide to go around – but it is only tissue paper thin. I just have to step through it.

Courage is being scared to death— and saddling up anyway.
— John Wayne

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