self harming

I found out yesterday that my 13 year old daughter is self harming. I had no idea. She isn’t withdrawn. She laughs and sings daily. I know she doesn’t want me in the bathroom when she’s undressed but what teenager would. She goes to the cinema with friends, plays in the youth orchestra and has something filling every weekend. I feel like I’ve let her down some how but where? Don’t know how to help. She’s been cutting using the blade from a pencil sharpener.

Firstly, don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up. You haven’t let her down in anyway - you didn’t know this was happening so couldn’t help but now you do and you want to do something to help! You sound like a good mum or dad to me! I don’t want to in anyway normalise this behaviour but it is surprisingly common in boys and girls at this age and it isn’t a sign that’s she’s necessarily depressed and about to off herself. She sounds like a bright focussed girl with lots going on in her life. Maybe she is feeling stressed - GCSE options looming, lots going on etc and this feels like a safety valve to let off some of the emotional steam? 2 issues - talk to her and together try to come up with other ways she can release this emotion if it is that - sport? maybe something she hasn’t thought of - running, climbing, martial arts?? It’s good for teenagers to get a little obsessed about something positive like this. Also talk to her about safety - hygeine, blood poisoning and the importance of finding another outlet.

when my now 17 year old bright, popular, happy son was a bright happy popular 13 year old we caught him cutting himself with scissors and I felt exactly as you do but it was a very short lived phase. We opened up communication in a way that I now realise wasn’t there before (busy life gets in the way for all of us) and did what I am suggesting for you - asking him how we could help him find something more positive to give the same feeling of release but in a positive way. We bought him running kit and a set of dumb bells and he now goes for a run every day and lifts weights before bed. If something disrupts this pattern I definitely see a difference in his mood.

Hope it helps. Good luck x

Thanks, I wondered about exercise to hopefully give a positive buzz. Did you ever find out why your son did this, I’ve quietly asked why so I know where I can help but she just shrugs.


Sorry you are going through this, it must be so tough.

I self harmed in my teens (never told anyone this before), and hand on heart I can’t honestly tell you a reason why. But I can tell you that it was not my parents fault, it wasn’t because I was being bullied, and there were not any underlying issues. I think I was just confused, hurting a little bit maybe, and getting to learn about myself. The teenage years are a bit of a rollercoaster, and perhaps it was a bit of a control thing, who knows. But, it was a phase, a pretty short one at that, and it didn’t develop into anything more serious.

I hope your daughter comes through this phase, and you are doing a great job by just being there for her.

Best wishes

Firstly Stan’s Mum is right- don’t panic OR beat yourself up, though this is easier said than done, granted.

Oh, and Traitsy is right too- you’re there, which is the most important aspect of this- and it seems self harming can be non-specific and short lived.

It may be helpful for both you and your daughter if you were as best informed about it before you spoke to her at length.

‘Mind’ have produced an online booklet ‘Understanding Self Harm’ that you may find useful…

You can also call their Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm).

It would probably set your mind at rest to talk to some experts in that field.

The National Self Harm Forum is also very well informed and have a handy ‘do’s and don’ts’ section fro friends and family. (below) is a project dedicated to supporting young people impacted by self-harm. Their site’s very cool and might be something your daughter would be happy to read and engage with- they seem really on the money with regards to speaking to their audience with the right tone and understanding the cultural .

We can hear that you are feeling like you have let your daughter down, and naturally how difficult this situation is for you. If you would like to explore your feelings and talk to someone about this, the Samaritans offers confidential emotional support and can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90.

Hope these prove useful. Let us know how you both get on.

Stewart (admin)

Hi, you`ve got some very good replies full of advice and understanding.

I do hope you can help your daughter with this.

When my, now 35 yr old, daughter was 14, she was bulimic.

it was the most difficult thing for me to know what to do. You see, i was a leader with WW and had lost a lot of weight. it must`ve been something to do with why my lovely, pretty, with a gorgeous personality, girl harmed herself in this way.

All I felt able to do was show her how to eat healthily and enjoy her food.

She took herself to a youth counselling place and we didnt actually talk about it that much.

Now she has recently lost weight again and was offered a job as a slimming consultant and she has turned it down.

To be honest she is too thin again. I have asked her if she is throwing up and she assures me she isnt. She has a 10 yr old daughter who is heavy.

History repeating itself I hope not.

luv Pollx

I had the same with my 15 year-old daughter. She tells me she doesn’t know why she does it.

The school noticed it during PE, and informed the police, who informed Social Services who wrote to me and suggested I take her to the GP.

I took her to the GP who said she needed counselling, but the NHS don’t give it any more due to costs, and suggested the school!

So after going round this huge loop, I contacted the school and asked if they would do it.

So… after weeks of worrying she has been contacted by the school counseller who apparently told her it was it was because I have MS. We have now got into really discussing things and I think I’ve convinced her that it isn’t.

I still check her arms every couple of days, but am told she may now do it where no one else will see (stomach, legs, etc).

I still feel like it’s my fault, even though my logical brain tells me it isn’t …

Hi, sorry back again after a few days off and I see you have lots of great advice from people which is brilliant. To answer your question to me, as Traitsy said, he didn’t really know why he did it (it was upper arms and upper legs) he was just feeling things were getting on top of him and he felt “a bit all over the place”. Being a teenager is horrid really - everyone says they are the best years of your life but I know I wouldn’t want to go back to it!! Sometimes I guess they can have a sense that their life is regimented and all their decisions made for them - even when they get up, go to bed and when and what they eat! If you maybe try and build in some opportunities for her to make some of her own choices - maybe that will help. Let us know how you get on. x

Sorry for going anonymous, but I think you’ll see why when you’ve read the post.

I started self-harming when I was about 11. And still do at 27. (Thought I’d got out of it, but this week says apparently not.) Don’t panic - this doesn’t mean that this is a permanent or long-term thing with your daughter - many people ‘go through a phase’ as it were and will stop of their own accord. First off I’d like to recommend lifesigns - - it’s the site that really helped me when I was younger, and I still go back every now and again when I need to. It also has some really good information for friends and relatives of those that self harm. Please take the time to read them if you can.

Secondly - this is not your fault. Personally I started self-harming when I accidentally hurt myself playing netball and realised that it actually made me feel better emotionally. And for a while it became my go-to coping strategy. I was not abused as a child, my parents were supportive and loving and caring. It has nothing to do with that - sometimes it’s just one of those things. For me, I find it calms me down when I get overwhelmed with things and quite often it’s the silly, ‘imagined’ things, rather than the big issues.

I know it’s hard but if you can at all manage it, try not to do things like checking her arms (I mean, not as a process - the occasional glance is fine). My parents noticed once when I was 16 and if anything I found it more difficult to avoid self-harming because of their reaction. In my opinion the best thing you can do is be supportive and try and work out alternative, healthier coping strategies (like sport, as suggested above). Try not to be judgemental, and no matter how scary it is try not to force her to stop. If it’s been going a while there she will almost invariably slip up and if/when she does a supportive parent will be much more helpful than one who is angry. You can make it clear that you wish she didn’t feel the need to self-harm, but try not to sound angry or disappointed that she does. The feeling of constantly being watched and monitored is awful and counter-productive. It may not be the same for everyone, but generally the best thing you can do is just show her that you love her no matter what, that you’d like to help her but won’t judge her if she struggles to stop immediately. I found the more ashamed I was of self-harm, the more I felt the need to do it. I know it is a big deal for you to get your head round as a parent, but it IS suprisingly common and just being supportive will help a lot. Offer the chance for her to talk about it, by all means, but don’t put too much pressure on her. Essentially - don’t focus on WHAT she’s doing, focus on WHY (if she knows!) and more importantly, focus on alternative strategies without judging if/when it does happen again.

Sorry for the long post - if I think of anything else that helped me, or any other tips I’ll let you know. If you have any questions I’ll try and answer. But to reiterate my first point, lifesigns is the place to go in my opinion. Helped me no end when I was at my worst point.

Hi, thank you for the posts, I’ll check out that web site when I get home. I’m finding it really hard to stop my self from asking to see her arms all the time. I was horrified to see about 50 cuts, some silvered and scarred. I know for the last year I’ve struggled with ms and I just wish I’d seen she was struggling too. From reading your posts and the other sites on self harm I am beginning to understand that it gives a release but when I see the cuts I just think of how much pain there is. Through everything she has been a joy to have and I hope I can help her but I’m scared that she’ll stop the cutting and try drugs etc and may go too far. I’m so worried about her. She says that she’s stopped. I’m fighting the urge to hide everything sharp and its hard to trust her.

first thing first its not your fault she just needs a releases,

last year while we were away on holiday and we were all in shorts I noticed these marks on sons legs, first day I though it must be as he had marks from where her had sat as it was hot in the 90s the next day they were in the same place so when it was just me and him I told him I had a very serious qustion to ask him, when I asked him had he been self harming on his legs he said yes, I asked him are you still doing it now he said no I told him if ever he feels the need to do it again for him to come and tell and we can talk about why he feels the need to self harm he did ask me how could he hide them i told him to stop shaving his legs and let the hairs grow on your legs which he has done you will need to tell your daughter that if she feels the need to do it that she can come to you and talk about it, you have to let her know you will be there for her no matter what. Once she realises you are on her side and she can talk you and you are not the monster who she though you were, she might not feel the need to self harm.

Hi I went through this with my daughter, gone through all the emotions etc, just like you. My daughter says, when she’s hurting inside, or things are not going her way that she can’t control, cutting relieves the pressure, and the pain of cutting was a release? She couldn’t control her emotions, but could control when, how and what with to cut herself, and this empowered her. She was 16, now 24 and has a son. She hasn’t done it since he was born, but says when she is having a hard time with him, she thinks about doing it when he’s in bed, but never does, as when he does go to bed, all dramas are over. The only thing I did do, was I never got angry or shouted or cried, was very chilled about the whole thing ( phyc advice) she told me every time age tone it and showed me, so I was able to see, if it was clean and not too bad god a hospital visit. I kept a little first aid kit, just for her, so she could clean it properly etc, thus keeping her in control. I hope things improve yor you and your daughter soon. Take care xxxxx

Me again, sorry. My daughter was helped by wearing an elastic band around her wrist, apparently it gives the same sting as cutting, this may help? Xxx

I’m the ‘anon’ from up the page that self-harms - the one with the long post (just for reference, I know some people like to know and it can be hard to keep track!)

Shellie46 - sounds like you pretty much did everything right, if that’s possible! Same thing for the last anonymous comment - in fact, everyone here that’s commented seems to have done a pretty awesome job at coping with something which I know must be hard to get your head round. Essentially, just make sure that she knows that you feel her emotions are valid and that you want to support her. Everything else stems from there.

The elastic band is a good idea (I’ve used it in the past), though it comes with a caveat - it’s less permanent than other methods of self harm, but in a way, it’s still part of the same thing. Without going into details, I’d say the majority of my self-harm hasn’t been cutting anyway, and I found at one point I’d used the elastic band so much my arm was all raised up in welts. I guess it’s sort of the nicotine patch of self-harm though - a reasonable ‘middle ground’ before alternative strategies are put in place.

The other thing is that your daughter may not find it easy to talk about - I don’t (in fact this is probably the most I’ve ever ‘talked’ about it, and this only out of the hope I can help someone else!) Something that I have done in the past is write down all the things that I’m struggling with, whether they are ‘real’ problems or ones that I know I’m blowing out of proportion, or just how I see things - it doesn’t matter. Everything goes down on the piece of paper. I then rip it up and throw it away. This has two effects - first, the act of doing that all delays the self-harm which is always an achievement and second, the act of writing down everything can be quite cathartic. On several occasions this has stopped me self-harming altogether, and even when I still do it’s probably not as severe.

I’ve given my daughter all the sites that you’ve suggested and thank you, I’ve read so much and learned more about self harm. I’d never heard of it when I was my daughters age. She won’t talk to me and she’s told me she has stopped now. I’ve just told her to talk to me or write things down, to let me see any more cuts just to make sure its clean and dressed. I’ve left print outs, and web addresses in her room so hopefully she’ll pick them up. Its tough when she doesn’t seem to want any help. With my ms I’ve had to get her to help me so much just with daily things and I feel so bad that I’ve put on her too much.

This helps my son to cut down on his eating by using this technique, he says it turns an inside hurt (in his case hunger) to an external hurt but in a controlled way.