Finding out your teen is self harming is really scary as a parent. It makes you so sad to see your teen harm their body. You know they are in pain but you don’t know what to do or how to help with your teen’s depression.
Self harming is a destructive, yet unfortunately common, and unhealthy coping mechanism used in times of great distress. When teens are experiencing overwhelming amounts of stress, depression, or anger, self harming provides a quick and temporary release of tension from these feelings. She may feel in control over hurting herself and calm for a moment. Only to continue a cycle of guilt, shame, and sadness.
While self injury is typically nonsuicidal, it comes with the possibility of lethal or deadly consequences that may require immediate medical or clinical attention.
A teen who is self harming experiences a lot of emotional pain. They can experience intense frustration that they are having difficulty expressing in other ways. It can be a very personal experience as the act of self harming can be shameful.
Not only does this behavior cause psychological pain for the individual doing it, but it can affect family members who do not understand. To those who have not self harmed or witnessed self harming before, it may come off as very odd, even scary behavior, especially when it is a family member. You may feel confused, shocked, or even disgusted by this behavior.
Perhaps it plays out like this for you..
It is a warm summer day. You live in an area where it definitely gets hot and humid, so at this time of the year, everyone typically wears short sleeved shirts or shorts to stay cool. Some may even go swimming, play with the sprinklers in the front, or go down to the beach. However, you notice that your teen is wearing all long-sleeved clothing. They have an oversized long sleeve shirt on and thick, long jeans. They are sweating profusely, yet claim that they are not hot.
You offer them a tank top for more comfort, but they decline, further pulling their long sleeves down. You are very confused by this, but let it slide for now.
Later in the day, you are invited to a pool party BBQ at the neighbor’s house. You and the rest of your family are definitely planning on going swimming, as temperatures continue to stay high throughout the day. Earlier, your teen did not want to change while you ran errands together. You attempt again to see if they’d like to go swimming with the neighbors, and bring a swimsuit into the room.
They decline changing into the swimming suit and want to just show up in their baggy, long sleeved clothes.
This makes no sense to you now, as just a few days ago, your teen was very happy to go swimming in their bathing suit. You wonder, are they uncomfortable with how their body looks? You reassure them that they will look great no matter what they wear. Your teen huffs and sighs, restating that they don’t want to change. They show up to the party wearing long sleeves.
At the BBQ, they seem to be socially withdrawn. Instead of interacting with the other teenagers there, they are sitting alone on the side. They have their arms crossed and have a distressed look on their face, as if they are holding back tears. As a joke, someone runs up behind them and throws them in the pool! They hit the water and come up yelling, very angry that this happened. Your child rushes to take off the wet clothes, and you immediately spot deep, fresh cuts on their arms and legs. Horrified, you ask what happened! They quickly said that it was a cat, and run back to your house to change.
You are left with a ton of questions on if it was really an accident. Maybe you weren’t the only one to see the cuts, and others are confronting you with questions that you simply don’t have the answer for. You decide to leave early too, rushing back to the house behind them..
Seeing that your child is self harming is a very heart-breaking experience.
It’s ok to be confused. and have questions. It’s ok to feel like you should’ve seen this coming. The truth is that self harming is easy to hide, and the individuals who self harm develop systems to make sure that this behavior stays hidden.
In teen therapy at Simi Psychological Group, we work with your teen to understand root causes and learn better coping mechanisms. We also value incorporating the whole family and teaching new parenting skills.
It is concerning when your teen is injuring themselves. It is typically private, done behind closed doors, and in a ritualistic manner where it may occur after a stressful situation. Sometimes, teens can reflect on a stressful situation that occurred recently to a long time ago, and feel the urge to self injure themselves. The sad reality is that self injury can provide temporary relief from their emotional pain, creating a sort of addiction in their mind.
Self injury can feel like the only thing that releases their pain. It is what they can control and they can do it at their leisure. Maybe it’s a cyclical process where they feel bad feelings, self harm themselves, feel guilty for self harming, feel ashamed, and then feel the bad feelings again. It can be hard to break this cycle if they do not have proper support or resources when they are feeling triggered.
It’s true that a lot of people may not know how to help their teens or stop them from hurting themselves in the future. However, if you can take away from our 5 ways to help a self harming teen, you will have much more insight and knowledge on how to be the best support system you can be. In Teen therapy in Simi Valley, we have a lot of compassion and empathy for teens who self harm, and want to remind them that there are different ways to address their pain. We help get at the root of their pain so we are addressing the underlying parts as well as the self harming itself.
Now offering online therapy for teens in Los Angeles, Ventura County, and throughout California.
5 WAYS TO HELP A SELF HARMING TEEN: 1. Calmly talk to your teen.
Let’s go back to the scenario. You had just seen your child’s self harm markings, and are very confused on the next step to take. You know what you saw, and you are certain that they did this to themselves. There is no way it was an accident, and that a cat could not have done that damage.
Calmly talk to your teen about what you saw. Make sure to leave out any tones of anger, disgust, or judgment. This will only make them feel more ashamed in themselves, which can potentially trigger another cycle of self harm. You want to make sure that you are not beating around the bush, and you are open and honest about what you saw. A good example of this would be:
“Can you tell me a little bit about how you’re doing? I want you to know that I love and care for you, please explain what’s going through your mind.”
“Can we talk about the cuts? I want to sit down with you and understand more.”
It’s important to be honest about what you saw while being compassionate and asking open ended questions to understand. This opens the door for openness about what is going on. They may not be willing to talk. Getting help for your teen is best to help them open up and talk about how they are feeling.
Self harm is a very sensitive subject and you want to make sure you are not indicating that you are angry or annoyed at this. You want your teen to know that you can recognize these behaviors and you are prepared to help them in this situation. It may take a while for them to own up to it, as it can be embarrassing to admit that one is hurting themselves. They will feel misunderstood, and may get angry at the thought of sharing that experience with you.
Be patient with them. This may look like checking in on them every day to remind them that you want to be there for them. It may take a while for them to voluntarily come to you after they have self harmed, or even when they are thinking of self harming. Show them that they can trust you and you will not judge them for this.
Our therapists in Simi Valley, Ca can help you better connect with your teen and support them through their depression.
5 WAYS TO HELP A SELF-HARMING TEEN: 2. Do your own research.
Self harming may be a new concept for you. You may have been aware that it exists, but you don’t know anything about it. It is important to research it so you can understand it in its entirety.
Signs of self harm include wearing long sleeved clothing in the heat, hiding body parts for multiple days at a time, even with hot weather, or having sharp objects in their possession.
Your teen may be socially withdrawn, have difficulty expressing themselves in relationships, and have general behavioral and emotional problems. It is important to be able to recognize what symptoms your teen is exhibiting.
It is also important to research what ways a teen can harm themselves. Some teens may use razor blades, scissors, lighters, or scratch themselves. You want to make sure that during the time of confronting them about self harm, you are confiscating the items they are using.
Gently ask in a non judgmental way if you can see their self harm markings. Identify if they are burn marks, cuts from blades or scissors, or other markings that could be from other materials. You do not want to irritate your teen and make remarks to make them feel ashamed of themselves. After identifying what they may have used, take those objects out of their possession. Explain that you are doing this to help them stop this behavior altogether, and this is not a punishment.
It’s best to do this alongside a therapist that works with teens in teen therapy. The therapist will be able to guide you in these conversations and safety measures with your teen.
5 WAYS TO HELP A SELF-HARMING TEEN: 3. Do not belittle them.
If your teen feels like you are judging them, or maybe even making fun of them, they will not get any better. In the state of emotional pain they are in, so much that they are wanting to hurt themselves, they will not take it lightly if you judge them. They may even use it as reason to feel more ashamed of themselves.
Self harming is not a natural response to stressful situations and should not be treated as such, or taken lightly. This behavior has addictive qualities that can continue on as they grow up if they do not realize that it is very damaging.
Teens often feel this is a discrete and easy way to release tension, but find out sooner or later that the self injury does nothing good for them. It will take constant support and love to get through to them and oftentimes is a cry for help.
In teen therapy near Thousand Oaks, teens can learn different coping mechanisms to deal with stress and get at the root of their pain.
5 WAYS TO HELP A SELF-HARMING TEEN: 4. Remind them that they are not alone in this.
Of course, no one wants to see their teen do this to themselves. They are beautiful inside and out, and do not deserve to hurt themselves. Communicate to your teen that you are taking this seriously and want to ensure they get the help they need for them and your family.
By doing research on their type of self harm, understanding their trigger moments, and knowing what they use to harm themselves, you are showing them that you are involved. It’s best to work with a therapist to help you and your teen.
Remind them that you are in this together and will be getting the support they need to get through this.
5 WAYS TO HELP A SELF-HARMING TEEN: 5. Get professional help.
You definitely have influence on your child, but can only do so much sometimes. In cases of serious emotional pain, they may still struggle even with you by their side. A teen who is self harming is experiencing pain and is having difficulty knowing how to deal with this pain.
Getting them the help they need will help you and your teen better understand the pain and make changes that are needed.
In teen therapy at Simi Psychological Group in Simi Valley, we will help your teen get at the root of the underlying pain. We recognize the value and importance of involving the entire family so that you are feeling equipped to best help your teen.
Please check out our other blogs to help support your teen here.