Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Young people’s explanations of self-harm

We spoke to parents and carers, not to young people who self-harm; but in this section we highlight what parents told us young people themselves had said about their reasons for self-harming.

Young people varied in how far they wanted to or could explain their self-harming to their parents (see also ‘Talking about self-harm with the young person’). Charles said his son had been 'reluctant to open up' to his parents, but had spoken to a psychiatrist about his reasons for self-harm. Dot remembered that her daughter had explained clearly her feelings of unhappiness and low mood but 'didn't really know' why she had self-harmed. However, other young people had tried to explain the reasons for self-harming to their parents, including releasing tension and expressing pain; difficulties with their parents; and the influence of other young people.

Releasing tension and expressing pain
Several young people had said that self-harming released tension or unhappiness they were feeling and helped them to cope better with their lives. 
Unhappiness came from not having friends, from being bullied, from feeling different and as though they did not 'fit in'. Some young people had talked about not liking themselves, or their life, and about self-harming to express their pain or to punish themselves. Joanna’s daughter said she was so sad that she wanted to kill herself, ‘so I just wanted to do something to take my mind off killing myself’.
Fiona's son said to her, simply, 'I just hurt so much inside mum and nobody can see it. If I do this people can say, "Oh, that's sore" and understand how much I hurt inside'.

Difficulties with parents
Some young people told their parents that they blamed one or both of them for the feelings that led them to self-harm and some said it was a way of trying to make their parents understand how bad they felt. Jo-Ann's daughter said she couldn't cope with the thought of her mum having a physical relationship with a new partner. Isobel's daughter, sitting in the A & E department, 'started saying she blamed me and her dad' among other things in her life. 
Although she didn't blame her parents as such, Vicki's daughter made it clear that she was still struggling with her parents separating and felt that 'a lot of the upset started right back then'. Sarah Y's daughter gave a range of explanations for her two overdoses, including being 'very upset about things dad said to me'.
Influence of other young people self-harming
Occasionally, young people identified very specific things which made them more likely to self-harm. Although we know from other studies that young people are often influenced by friends who self-harm, only a few young people had spoken to their parents about this. 

Last reviewed December 2017.

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