Q: ” Today I came home from work early and found my 15-year old daughter in the kitchen in just her panties and a tee-shirt. She has not let me see her undressed since before last summer. Her thighs were bleeding. It took me a few seconds to process what I had seen as I first was just yelling “Have you hurt yourself? What has happened? What has happened?” She rushed past me and ran into her bedroom, slammed the door and just yelled back, “It’s nothing, it’s nothing!”
I pushed into the room and saw her trying to wipe her legs … I then realized that that bleeding had come from cutting. Her thighs are covered with long cuts. She has been hysterical all evening and won’t really talk to her dad and me. I have got her to tell me that she has been doing this for at least 6 months – and I am so ashamed of myself. I had no idea. I know that she has had some problems, but I though they were only normal teenage girl ones. I had NO idea that they were this serious.
What do I do? I said she has to see a psychologist, but tonight she is refusing. She says it’s none of my business and she doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Why does she not want help? What does cutting mean? Why is she doing this? We are a normal family, nothing terrible has happened to her, that I know of. I thought that as parents, we were doing ok working through her moments of sadness – I never ever ever expected this. Can someone who has had a daughter who has gone through this, please explain to me what is going on? I actually don’t know how to start dealing with this, I’m so worried for my baby and am in a panic.”
A: ” I’m a reformed self harmer. About the same age when I started. Precipitated by actual events (of the kind that one child may shrug off, while another battles with). Cutting is intensely personal. Intimate even. While it’s arguably good that you now know about it, her private space for release has been ripped open and she will be responding to that with anger and resentment. Please try to show your love rather than your concern. Your being worried will only add to her internal struggle. For me it was all about language – not having the words to express torturously conflicting feelings and fundamental, ongoing, unresolved pain. I remained undiscovered, and ‘grew out of it’ – what I now understand as maturing enough to learn how to express myself in other ways. Yes it is likely depression at its core – but maybe not what you think of as depressed. I don’t know about copycat type cutting – am sure that’s a whole different kettle of fish. But to me the thighs say it’s self driven. Just my opinion. If it were my child, I’d shower her with love and support, it was when I realized deep down that I was not alone and that this was just one of a myriad possible coping mechanisms, that I managed to stop the cutting. I started all sorts of other unhealthy coping mechanisms which could hopefully be avoided with professional intervention when she is ready. My associated battles did not really stop until years later when I finally embraced long term treatment for depression/anxiety. So my two cents – don’t focus on getting her to stop. Focus on giving her other tools. Build her up. Life coaching, speaking skills, confidence building. Trigger that adrenaline in other ways. She needs the shock that it brings her every time she does it. Try Adventure. Fear (think screamy horror movies). Embrace those intense emotions. Lots of interesting theories about over regulation of our lives, how to trigger that desperately needed physical stimulation/shock/release with cold water, for example. Go for sea swims. She needs to FEEL – physically and emotionally.”
” The good news is you were there to see what you needed to see. It can no longer be hidden. Your lass needs help… She says she doesn’t but she does. Cutting is unfortunately more common amongst teenagers than you would imagine…. But she needs help… She needs to find words to describe her pain…. Talk it through to remove its power and make peace with herself. Keep talking to her, keep loving her and don’t forget that those kind of moments allow us to ‘catch’ our children because we have a chance to see what’s really going on.”
” Cutting has become very popular among girls, as bizarre as it may seem to us. However there are also girls who are experiencing other trauma that resort to cutting so that they “can feel the pain” instead of feeling numb. Establish which it is as soon as possible and get some help for you, and for your girl.”
” It is natural to feel afraid for your child in this situation… It is further aggregated by their desire to push us away as parents. Your consistent presence however is going to be important. Being there when our kids say go away speaks volumes as to the magnitude of our love no matter how ugly it gets.
Practically you need to have her clinically assessed with a psychologist whom can determine the risk to life affiliated with the self harm. In the event of their being a risk to life and/or a suspected mental health challenge or disorder then she will be referred to an inpatient psychiatric unit.
In the event that the cutting is in fact a social experiment or trend, continued sessions with a psychologist will help her develop positive coping mechanisms to underline this one.
Trust your gut… If you sense that the risk to life is urgent then equip her with the Lifeline number and take her to an inpatient unit immediately.
It is always advisable to try and get your child to talk and go willingly but it is also normal if the child doesn’t wish to engage willingly… In which case you do what you identify as within her best interest as a parent of a minor.”
” Contact Glenbook Practice if in Cape Town www.glenbrookpractice.co.za . There is help otherwise Akeso.”
” I have been through this with my own daughter, about 4 years ago and it went on for about a year.
One thing that I remember the most on the first night was being so very angry…..angry at her and angry at myself and so very confused and wanting answers straight away. Just such shock and fear.
But when I look back on the moment all I see is a very scared, confused and embarrassed child who did not how to express her emotions to herself, let alone me. She was horrified that I had found out and full of shame.
Please, please remember that no matter what anyone tells you, kids do NOT do this for attention. They do need help to find the tools that will teach them how to cope with their emotions and once they find these tools, it really gives them a better sense of self control.
And …nothing you have done or havent done has anything to do with what she is doing to herself.”
” I was your daughter, although nobody ever knew or found out. I stopped, without help, in my mid teens, but started again at the age of 42 due to MAJOR emotional trauma. I was diagnosed with BPD, it all made sense. Psychiatrists don’t generally diagnose BPD before the age of 18 due to hormones etc.
With regard to the cutting….. It took my emotional pain away and made me focus on physical pain……. I still do i.t”
” I am just a Mom, but my son has been through a lot and has had lots of counselling. If all you do tonight is just ‘breathe’, then that is good enough. Do not force her to see someone. It must be her choice, otherwise it will just upset her more. Give her support and love and tell her you there for her when she is ready to talk. In the mean time go and see a counsellor and see what you as her Mom can do to get her through this until she is ready to go for help herself.”
” Take a breath. Go to her with a cup of tea and a cuddle. Tell her to take a breath, too, and that you can calmly talk about it tomorrow. Tonight has been exhausting and you are just so heartbroken that she is feeling this way. Tomorrow sit down and talk. Even if you keep her home from school and you stay home for a mental health day. Watch a movie in your jammies, with hot choc and biscuits and let her just relax and feel safe. This is when she will open up and be open to help. In tonight’s scene, she has completely shut down and gone into fight and flight mode.”
” I have seen this in two very intelligent young women I have known in different countries. In both cases, they started cutting in late high school stage and I interacted with them when they were university students and I was more senior and in a kind of mentor role. In both cases they were struggling with something emotional and major and both scared me at the time but both have emerged from that darkness and are now both successful and happy and neither cuts anymore. There is light at the end of this and I agree with the suggestions above to encourage her to find help but not to quite force it. If she will talk to you that’s the best start but if not then is there someone else that she could confide in and lean on, a mentor of sorts? Someone she can trust. And maybe therapy will follow. Both the young students I helped got therapy eventually but the first step was to be able to tell me. And both hid it, I knew both very well for years without noticing scars building up. It’s something kids hide till they are ready to talk about it. She did this in the kitchen. She may be ready to talk now. Try gently again tomorrow with an open mind and no forced anything.”
” My son had a habit of cutting himself. It started when he was 15. Your reaction is the most important factor here. As hard as it may be, please do not panic. Do not make this a big issue. Let her know that whenever she is ready you are there to talk. She probably feels judged so it is important to make sure you make her aware that you want to help and listen. but only when she is ready.”
” I know your anguish and feel your panic. Sadly, I have a lot of experience with this. No-one can explain the pain a mom feels when you see you gorgeous child inflicting pain on themselves. I have a 15 year old daughter, my only child and we are doing our best to fight off this terrible addiction. Yes, it is an addiction and help for her is desperately needed.”
“Please please get her help. I do not believe it’s an Emo or drug related problem, but an emotional one.”
” As a clinical psychologist (and mum) I want to encourage you to not disable yourself as a parent and send her to someone she doesn’t want to see. Cutting is often a way to deal with distress, and it is our job as a parent to try to teach our children how to deal with distress…no matter what the cause. Cutting like this is rarely a threat to life, but if left unchecked/invalidated/ “punished” there is the chance it can escalate. I would suggest agreeing not to “send” her anywhere but remind her it is an option if she prefers. The conversation about her feelings and need to do this, however, need to start and you will need support to learn about how to respond as best you can. I agree, you have no reason to be ashamed, but you do need to compassionately and non-judgementally address it. Learn about cutting yourself…read about it. Ask her who else around her is doing it. Be interested in her ideas about coping and her worries. This is one thing you cannot force.”
” I wrote this on my FB page, I hope it helps get some insight:
“Have you ever walked past a beautiful dress, but didn’t buy it? Not because of the cost, but because you knew you just couldn’t pull it off in public.
At some point in the past, you used to love swimming and tanning. Now you stay covered up and away from pools because you can’t manage the staring and the whispers.
Wish you could date again? Find a nice guy and settle down, maybe finally find happiness in love given freely…but you can’t, because you dread getting naked, but fear waking up even more because then they might see all of you.
This has nothing to do with weight….
Your scars are not from an accident. There aren’t medical records to explain away those marks. And when you bleed, you do so in private. You clean and disinfect and doctor yourself, knowing it’s in vain because you’ll be back for more in a few days…..
Dermatillomania is a negative coping mechanism, brought on by severe stress or trauma. It is as addictive as meth, as incurable as Aids, as misunderstood and ridiculed as any other mental condition.
It is classified as self-harm by some, but the release it gives is therapeutic in nature, albeit falsely. It belongs to a group of disorders that includes cutting and hair pulling.
It is a disorder that affects more women than men, but that makes sense when you consider they are, in fact, the weaker sex, and unable to deal with what women have to deal with on the whole.
It is incurable, but can be controlled through severe behavioural therapy and changes. Sometimes those changes just aren’t possible, so you learn to deal.
You need to accept your scars as an integral part of who you are. Those scars brought you to this moment in time, and they’ll carry you beyond, perhaps with fresh scars along the way.
Can you change it?
Can you afford plastic surgery to fix it?
Can you try to change the way you see yourself?
I think so, yes.
Do you want to?
I guess. I suppose. I’ll try…..
How do I do that?
* You get yourself a hobby that brings you joy.
* You learn to exercise, for the dopamine.
* You put yourself first. An empty car doesn’t go anywhere.
* Masturbate. Often. It releases amazing chemicals into your bloodstream.
* And start a voice diary that records your day, every day. You learn to recognise your triggers so you can avoid them.
One last thing… You are not alone. You are not a freak. You are not hysterical. You are not “bad”.
There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who are just like you…….and just like me.
It is my goal to bring awareness to South Africans so they can stop staring, snickering and skinnering.
You pop your pills to cope, snort your drugs, drink your dop down, and I don’t dis you. Have some respect for my coping mechanisms, whether you agree with them or not.”