Browsing the archives for the self injury 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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Being a Dad through Self-Injury

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

All I had to do was type that title, and I felt fear. So I will face those feelings and tell you that I am going to touch on my journey as a father of a child who self-injured herself repeatedly. Whether you call it cutting or self-mutilation or whatever, I am talking about when you find your child or teen is hurting themselves.

Play with Me

I was looking through some old notes and journals from years ago, and I found an entry from five years ago this month:

My daughter cut herself again Wednesday, getting suspended by her school for bringing the knife to school, and getting busted for the cutting. Lots of emotions around this including ones of guilt, or that it is my fault for being so fucked up emotionally.

But one impulse is the Warrior impulse. She is in danger, I must protect her. But there is no tangible entity for me to attack. The Warrior is frustrated. I want to turn it off, the emotions are painful. But this is a good impulse, it comes from the right part of me, and trying to deal with it without trying to crush it has been hard.

My punching bag got a big workout last night. A recent acquisition, done in part to give me a safe outlet for my emotions. And yet when I was done, I was just hanging onto the bag, praying, and I remember hugging the bag as if it was my higher power.

That was my world back then, and I have made many mistakes since then and I have learned many things, and so in hoping to help someone else going through this same situation, here are some of the things I have learned. I am unable to tell my daughter’s story, all I can do is tell my own as a parent.

It’s not a short story, so I will probably have to just list my mistakes and what I got right. We are talking about a story that started a half-dozen years ago at least and still continues today. It was a progressive problem moving from scratches to cuts to needing stitches to an incidents requiring a surgeon to put her back together.

Here’s a summary of some of my mistakes:

  • Treated it like it was all her problem instead of working on family system and my part in it
  • Thinking I caused it, that I could control it, or at least cure it
  • Let “her not cutting” become one of the biggest goals for myself
  • Accepted unacceptable and abusive behavior towards me under the foolish notion that I could endure it and at least she wasn’t cutting herself

Here’s some of what I did correctly:

  • Set consequences requiring medical attention each time as it allowed natural consequences to take place
  • Refused to be ashamed or treat any of this as a secret – keeping communication open
  • Attended parenting support classes for troubled teams
  • Created a “care team” of her doctor, school nurse, and psychologist – getting them talking to each other
  • Learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and i can’t cure it
  • Got my daughter into local “Alternate Peer Groups”
  • Let her suffer consequences; while loving her and holding her hand as much as possible

There’s a song that was a big part of this journey for both my daughter and myself and we would often listen to it together. In her longer runs of trying to turn away from this behavior, she would often walk around singing it to give herself courage. Here are some of the words (and here is a blip.fm playlist with it).

Hero (Red Pill Remix)
Superchick

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
Shes in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

This is one of those blog entries that was hard to write, but I kept thinking about where I was years ago and how alone and cut off I felt. I mean I had to be a failure as a dad to not protect my daughter, right? And now years later I can turn to the frightened father I was and say,

“You are not a failure for having a daughter go through this, and as long as you can keep loving her (no matter how much you hate what she does to herself), you are doing well. The only way you can fail is to stop caring.

But you do have to get some distance from it, you have to demonstrate self-care in the face of self-destruction. You have to enforce rules and let consequences be what they are – even if it hurts. If she chooses the consequences, you must respect her decision. But as long as you keep loving her, she will see you over there and it will help her.”

Yeah, that’s what I need to tell any dad going through this. I shared that image above of me holding onto my punching bag, like my higher power. Ultimately I had to let him take care of my daughter and trust in that care. Its something I am still working on every day.

My daughter called while I was writing this, and she encouraged me – even reminded me that I mentioned writing something for other parents long ago. She also told me that she has not self-injured for over six months now – one of the longest stretches of time she has ever put together day by day. I say that in part so you can help celebrate, and also in part because it’s a daily victory.

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