Self-Injury - by Barb Bergman
This is a story..topic very close to me. One that I have the misfortune  to know first hand.
My 15 year old daughter, is a self-injurer. I was very foolish at first. I didn't see the warning signs. I didn't see what was happening.
Not because I am a bad mother. Not because I am so self-absorbed in my own life that I didn't involve myself in my children's.
Because we all lived in the same house. Choices I made, thinking it was the right choice, praying to God to guide and help me.
I knew what I was enduring from the man that is their father. Her father. I thought I was protecting them from HIM. I believe I did to the very best of my ability.
He didn't abuse them in any way. She became a self-injurer because of things she saw him do to me.
Things she saw from the time she can remember. Things I thought I hid so well, and she knew..she saw, she heard. All this is my demon to carry because I did not protect her like I should have.
Because of that...she would take sharp objects and scratch her arms where her shirt would hide it. Scratch the upper part of her thighs, where no one would see, even when she had on shorts. She hid it well for many years.
I found out about her doing this by pure accident. I was washing clothes and there was a note in her pants pocket. Normally I wouldn't read it, but something made me open it.
As I read tears rolled down my face. I immediately went into her room and got her journal and started to read. Some of you may think this is invading her privacy, but if it would not have been for me doing that. She would not be in therapy now. She would not be dealing with pain and anger she was holding inside.
As I read her journal..tears continued to roll down my face. This was my child, my baby, my life. Talking of hate and anger towards her father. Words of pain towards him for abuse she both saw and heard from him towards me.
Then she wrote about me, and herself..and how she was hurting herself to " make the pain go away". Those words tore my heart to pieces. She wrote of how I was perfect and would I still love her if I knew she was not. I couldn't believe what I was reading. The mistakes I had made, and she saw me as perfect, and worse yet..she thought I wouldn't love her because she was not.
I believe perfection is in the eye of the beholder. I believe that those we love, that hold the keys to open our hearts, are perfect..even their imperfections make them perfect.
I was not about to lose my child. So I read her journal...I called to set up counseling, and I waited for her to come home from school.
My actions and method may not meet the approval of everyone. I may have people say, "if you would have paid attention more"...but to them I can only not judge until you walked in those shoes. Do not assume you know what goes on behind closed doors.
My daughter is continuing therapy...she goes with me and alone. She is no longer hurting herself to cope with anger and pain.
Here are some warnings sign to look for...dos and don'ts...and ways to cope and talk to those who do self-injury.
First...ignoring this will not make it go away. It will not help, pretending this isn't happening...the opposite usually happens. It reinforces the feeling of shame that goes along with the behavior, cause the self-injurer to act out even more.
By talking to the person who is hurting them-self, you remove the shame and start the healing process.
Talking about this is not an easy task. I know this first hand. Even though you may not know what to say at first, starting with basic questions can break that initial ice so the line of communication is then open.
* Do your wounds need immediately attention?
* How do you feel before your self injury? How do you feel after?
 Try retracing the steps or events that lead up to the self injury.
* Did anything specific happen that made you feel you had to hurt yourself?
* Why do you want to hurt yourself?
* How did you learn to hurt yourself?
* What is it like for you to talk to me about hurting yourself?
*  How can I help you with self injury?
Don't keep asking questions if the self-injurer doesn't want to talk, but make sure they know the lines of communication is open. Don not judge, do not degrade or belittle. Even if you have negative thoughts about this, keep it to yourself. This type of of response to their behavior will only cause more shame and guilt, resulting in more self-injuring. You want to help stop this, not become another reason or source for it.
Things you may feel as you talk, or when you find out about self-injuring:
* anger and frustration
 - anger come from the need to scold or tell them to stop.
 - frustration comes from the inability to control this behavior, to stop it.
* empathy, sympathy, sadness
 - Understanding how much another person hurts emotionally is good and bad. It allows you to help. But it also may cause deep psychological pain within you.
 - empathy is the "ability to understand the perspective and situation of another." When you are empathetic you are able to enter the emotional world of another. You take perspective and see the world through the eyes of that person.
 - sympathy: When we feel sympathetic towards another person, we see him or her as someone worth our pity.
< Empathy is a helpful emotion, but sympathy is not.>
 - sadness: sadness you feel for another is sympathy.
There is so much that you can and can not do to help people who self-injury. The most important thing is this. Don't criticize. Don't make them feel more shame or guilt. Don't get angry. Don't pity them.
They need your help, your guidance, your understanding. They don't need your pity, it will only cause more shame.
If you find out your child, or loved one is hurting them-self. Talking to them is the key. No matter how uncomfortable you feel about this, it is 10 times harder for them. Be understanding, listen to them, cry with them if you need. Hug them, hold them and tell them no matter what you love them.

Published April 2005

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