Self-harm is not something new. It is often that people engage in this practice when they suffer from emotional pain. The external pain inflicted from self-harm alleviates their internal pain. The wounds from self-harm can be at discreet places on the body while internal wounds are not so easily noticeable.
In a case from the United Kingdom, a 14 year-old teenager took her own life. This tragedy resulted from young Molly Russell’s suffering from depression (internal, emotional pain) that led to an act of self-harm (external pain). In addition to depression, Molly was exposed to the “negative effects of online content” in the form of social media posts romanticising self-harm.
At Clinical Psychology Associates, we acknowledge self-harm is a concern for many. This article will inform you on the possible causes of self-harm, how to recognise someone who may be engaging in self-harm, and most of all, how we can help you and your loved ones.
According to Mayo Clinic, self-harm is an intentional act of harming one’s own body such as causing self-injury through cutting or burning. But why do this? The act of self-harm brings about a moment of relief and release to the individual going through the suffering of emotional trauma, rage, or exasperation. However, as the fleeting sensations pass, it can be followed by remorse or even humiliation. In the end, traumatic feelings return to the individual. Thus, self-harm is a temporary relief to suspend suffering. And, it risks escalation of feelings.
In our previous clinical experience, we encountered Johnny (not his real name). Unfortunately, he was in an abusive relationship with an older sibling. Very sadly, his parents did not support him when he turned to them for help. Despite taking courage to report the abuse to his parents, they did not believe him. From this situation, Johnny resorted to self-harm to deal with the abandonment, confusion and trauma he was suffering with. He felt he had nowhere to seek help and nobody to turn to. That is, until a concerned adult recognised the potential signs of self-harm and asked Johnny the important question: “What’s troubling you?”.
All it took was one question to lead Johnny away from harming himself and journey towards healing. Therefore, we recommend you to familiarise themselves with the potential signs of self-harm. With an understanding of why and how self-harm may occur, you can seek intervention early for your loved ones.
Potential Signs of Self-Harm
In many instances, there are signs of trauma that accompanies self-harm. These external cues can help you identify someone who could be engaging in self-harm. If you suspect they are in need of help, reach out and offer a listening ear before jumping to conclusions.
Some cues that may raise concern include: a change in overall mood, taking less care in personal grooming, increased distractedness or aloofness, and significant changes in behaviour. Changes in behaviour can appear as sudden loss of interest in activities that they used to derive joy from, a precipitous drop in performance in school or at work, or even a shift in personality. Occasionally, a sign of trauma can manifest as school aversion when a child is quietly suffering from bullying in school.
On top of behavioural cues, self-harm can also be identified in physical signs. For example, it can manifest as cuts, deep scratches and scars on one’s body. An individual who is suffering from trauma and seeking relief from their internal pain could make use of any edged instrument that can be innocently lying around the home. It could be a box cutter or pen knife. Burns can be from cigarettes, butane lighter or even a heated blade. Carving of text or cryptograms could also appear on discreet places on their body that can be easily covered up, such as the inner-thighs. Self-harm can also manifest visibly as bruises on the body from hitting things. Take note to observe knuckles, legs, feet and elbows for signs of self-inflicted injury. It could be that someone is injury-prone. But, when observed in combined with changes in behaviour and mood, there might be something to be concerned about.
What You Can Do
When there is a concerning situation, we hope to help the one who is suffering. Parents, especially, might be tempted to quickly jump in and deal with the suspected self-harm. But, the best plan of action is to carefully observe your child over time and work together with other adults in their life. With the assistance of teachers and school counsellors, you can be assured your child is supported in the best way possible.
Rather than nipping off the act of self-harm, the goal should be to uncover and deal with the root cause of your child’s trauma. Using this approach, there can be healing for their internal pain so they do not need to resort to inflicting external pain to numb their emotional suffering.
It is key that a child’s parents (and/or caregivers) are on the same page regarding caring for their mental health. Conflicting perspectives on the child’s mental health can make it difficult to seek help and create improvements. It may even cause more trauma on the child’s end.
Communicate with Honesty and Trust
Let trust be the bedrock in your family’s relationships. The best gift for your child is to equip them with tools to handle future difficulties. As parents, you need to be consistent in setting examples for your family. There cannot be one set of rules for the adults and a completely different one that applies to children. Be good role models for your children and teenagers. You are the first and one of the most influential adult figures in their lives.
With trust, it opens doors for honest communication which helps mitigate the ups and downs of growing up. Children and teenagers are often looking for answers and working on building their self-identity. With a strong foundation of trust, they will have someone they can confide in instead of resorting to self-harm to deal with their trauma.
At Clinical Psychology Associates, we are here to help you and your family on your mental wellness journey. We offer clinical therapy for troubled children and teens, group therapy for families and clinical support for sufferers of self-harm. Contact us for more information on how to best approach your child’s potential trauma.
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