The term ‘self harm’ has many definitions. It is usually defined as the intentional causing of injury to oneself. Self harm includes cutting, hitting or burning oneself, binge-eating or starvation, or repeatedly putting oneself in dangerous situations.
So what makes our kids want to self harm? I used to think the driving cause was self loathing and the motivation – attention seeking. But it is usually a way of coping with big emotions, and is often done in secrecy, with every effort made to try and hide the behaviour. And the pay off? Short term release from suffocating emotions in most cases.
My daughter, Jessie, started cutting around the age of 12. It’s such a frightening thing as a mum being confronted with self inflicted bloodied arms needing cleaning and care. Worse when it started being hidden from me, and I’d have the school call me to come and pick her up if she’d taken her jumper off and been reported.
School rules are that all cuts must be covered to discourage other girls copying. Self harm is very much a taboo subject in the school environment. I ended up leaving bandages and tubigrip with the year advisor so she could stay at school. Jessie hated the whole thing, and I agree with her – she felt the bandages only made it more obvious and girls would ask her what happened. I do understand the school’s theory as well, and I don’t think there’s a perfect solution.
I would search every inch of Jessie’s room looking for sharps. She was not allowed scissors, not even at school. The teachers were informed and would lend her scissors if she needed them. I had to take the protractor out of her geometry kit. All my knives and all sharp or pointy kitchen utensils had to be hidden away. She would always find something though, it’s amazing how resourceful she can be. One of her favourites was pulling pencil sharpeners apart and using the blade. This one took me a while to work out as they can be put back together. Her hiding places became more of a challenge to find.
Initially she would become violent towards me and out of control. Police would come, and even if Jessie settled, they would call an ambulance because of her wounds. She would be treated without empathy by the staff in ER. One time we were sent home without a nurse even looking at her cuts, let alone cleaning down her arm. I was disgusted, and made a formal complaint, and that didn’t ever happen again.
It then became a silent battle of wills I guess you could call it. I would search her room and confiscate anything sharp I found or any new pencil sharpeners. She wouldn’t say anything – so no Police enforced trips to hospital – she would just find or make new tools.
Jessie’s counsellor from Child and Youth Mental Health Services (CYMHS) suggested she wear an elastic band around her wrist, and flick it again her skin when she needed to. Another suggestion was ice cubes on the skin. Neither of these things gave Jessie the outlet she needed. As it was explained to me, there is actually a physiological reaction that occurs with self-harm, that briefly increases serotonin levels, giving a feeling of release.
Self harm behaviours have been found to be more prevalent in teenagers who have excessively strong emotions and trouble regulating those emotions and impulse control. Lots of articles I’ve read also state that it is believed that borderline personality disorders are caused by the inability to manage emotions.
These kids are hurting and overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings. With Jessie we started off with a sealed jar of water with lots of glitter in it – her Glitter Jar. When she felt herself becoming really anxious or uptight, she would shake the jar and say to me “my glitter is all over the place” before storming off. I was always amazed the Glitter Jar didn’t ever get smashed along with so many other things. Little tornado she can be! Get in her way and she’ll take you down! Shows how much she appreciated having it, and what an important communication tool it was for her.
That then progressed to using emotion cards to identify her emotion. (Bear cards are awesome if you can find them. Each card is a bear showing a different feeling, and the kids can choose a card whenever they feel the need to.) Giving her language helped diffuse the extremity of the feeling and make the feeling more manageable. We were also given a card with The Four Rooms of Change. It’s kept on the fridge, and we both have our own magnet and use it to let each know what sort of mood we’re in.
REACHOUT.com Australia website provides useful information and links to related articles. The website also gives details for eheadspace, Kids Helpline and Lifeline. They can be contacted by phone or via online chat.
A really important post!
— Kate🧚🏻♀️🍄 (@madnessofkate) November 28, 2017
Yes, it really is, good on Kat for highlighting in this post.
— ClassicEggshell (@ClassicEggshell) November 28, 2017
A good read Kat – glad you reshared it! ❤️
— Davina Lytle (@davinalytle) November 28, 2017
Not quite sure about the rest of ‘your act’ 😉 but you certainly got it together on this one!! Great blog, Kat! Thank you for sharing ❤️
— Anna Martino 🇨🇦 (@annamartino56) December 2, 2017