Often parents are at a loss when it comes to self-harm and self-injury. At first glance, the behavior of harming oneself seems incredibly foreign and to discover that their child is participating in some form of adolescent self-harm can be difficult to accept.
However, recovery is possible. Yet, the road to get there can be challenging. One parent admitted that it was incredibly difficult to allow her daughter to set the pace of recovery, which is a typical suggestion offered by a therapist or psychologist. She admitted that giving her daughter the space to vent her feelings was frightening. This mother was afraid that when her daughter returned to reflecting on challenging emotions that the self-harm would return.
Yet, this is far from the truth, especially for teens who are using self-harm as a means to cope with intense feelings. Having an outlet to articulate feelings, to get them out of the bag, so to speak, prevents the need to find another way to cope with them. Talking about emotions and expressing them is a healthy form of emotional release.
This mother also had a challenge with trusting the levels of support from friends, family, and the therapist, especially when things got rough. She admitted that learning to trust the process was difficult, especially when it looked like things were getting worse. She learned not to always question her daughter about the self-harming pattern; instead, she eventually allowed her daughter to open important conversations herself.
Once you know that your teen wants recovery as much as you do, trusting her becomes easier. The following are other tips to remember when supporting your teen through the self-harm recovery process:
- Hold on to the belief that recovery is possible
- Remember that there will be ups and downs.
- Know that there will be occasional setbacks.
- Don’t lose hope when it looks like your back to the drawing board.
- Make sure your child knows that she can direct the pace of recovery.
- Make sure your child is choosing recovery because she wants it and not to please others.
- Help your teen stay focused and motivated, yet still be sensitive to her emotional mood.
- Encourage the rest of the family to be sensitive.
- If you’re unsure about how to help your teen in recovery, ask her.
- Let your teen explore with healthy techniques that might reduce harming.
- Make time for your teen and invite her to share about her process.
- Discuss any setbacks calmly and safely explore the reasons behind them.
- Discuss various ways of coping with emotions versus self-harm.
- Facilitate the exploration of consequences of her choices, not only self-harming ones.
- Provide extra support when it appears that circumstances might get in the way of recovery, such as spending time with certain friends, or an unexpected emotional challenge that might further self-harm.
Self-harm is in most cases an outer reflection of an inner experience. Once that inner experience is recognized and healed, self-harm will typically no longer be an unhealthy pattern in your teen’s life. As a parent or caregiver, your presence and support, although she won’t always rely on it, is essential in your teen’s recovery.
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