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Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Impact of self-harm on parents and carers

Self-harm by a young person can have a major impact on those who care for them. The parents and carers we spoke to told us about different ways in which they had been affected.

Fiona emphasised the stress caused by a young person’s self-harm: ‘It’s taken its toll of my health and things as well… people pooh-pooh stress, but my goodness it takes its toll.’ Ruth was pregnant and found it very hard to cope with her daughter’s behaviour. She felt as if she was ‘being torn in several different directions.’ Seeing her child ‘deface herself’ affected Ruth and her husband’s everyday life: ‘Nothing I can do is going to stop her, and that’s a really difficult thing to live with.’ Pat admitted that he had ‘taken it really badly’ and was drinking more than usual. Dot didn’t think her daughter’s self-harm had had much impact on her everyday life at the time, but she was still upset about it seventeen years later.
 

Sharon had to run the household as well as visiting her daughter in hospital. She needs time for herself to keep well and support her child.

Sharon had to run the household as well as visiting her daughter in hospital. She needs time for herself to keep well and support her child.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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In practical terms, what sort of impact does it have on everyday life?

It makes it very busy. Although I have one less child at home, I work full time. My weekends are taken up with visiting and there’s only set visiting days and hours. You can’t just go anytime so the times that I do go I’m obviously there for a while. So that takes up two to three nights a week. I don’t have a car at the moment so I get buses, which is obviously extra time on the journey. Luckily, she’s very close to home but it’s, you know, to get there you’re talking three quarters of an hour there and three quarters of an hour back plus the time that you’re visiting. On top of that, you’ve got to do your normal household, keep the house clean. I still take her laundry and deliver stuff and I’ve still got a child who, although he’s eighteen, he’s still here, he’s still at home and he still needs support and looking after. So everything that comes with normal, normal life. There’s bills to pay. There’s a mortgage to sort out. There’s things are going to go wrong that need attention and I’ve got myself to, to look after. I think that’s the main thing I’ve learnt recently, is to, to have time for myself, not in the, in the sense of I need to be on my own but if I feel that I’m not doing very well, if I feel really tired and I can, I’ll have a sleep. Just simple things like that because I need to be well to look after her and to support her. This is the easy bit because she’s not here. It’s when she comes home it’s going to be the harder bit and I’ve got to be well and well enough in myself mentally and physically to be able to offer as much support as I can.
 

Sarah Y said the main impact of her daughter’s self-harm was stress. She felt helpless because she couldn’t understand it and not knowing what to do was ‘crippling’.

Sarah Y said the main impact of her daughter’s self-harm was stress. She felt helpless because she couldn’t understand it and not knowing what to do was ‘crippling’.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
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I think the main impact is the stress it causes, the guilt you feel and the sort of helplessness as to how do I deal with this because really I don’t know why she’s done it so how do I deal with it and that I think is probably the worst feeling. What the hell am I supposed to do to make sure she doesn’t do it again [sniffs] and to help her out of whatever place she’s in. Is it that she’s feeling that low that it’s a, you know, it’s she wants to end things or is it there’s some other mental health issue and it is that not knowing and not knowing what to do about it that is so quite crippling. So I have to say I think I’ve probably been trying not to think about it too much.
 

The impact of her daughter's self-harm was ‘horrendous’. It affected several areas of Wendy’s life.

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The impact of her daughter's self-harm was ‘horrendous’. It affected several areas of Wendy’s life.

Age at interview: 64
Sex: Female
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Could you describe what the impact of it all has been on you?

[Sighs] I’m just coming out of it [laughs]. The impact at the time was horrendous. It was absolutely horrendous. I had palpitations. I had to change the ring tone on my phone because it caused panic attacks like, “Oh what’s happening?” You know, so I have a stupid ring tone that’s like a circus sound of [laughs] but just creates, yes, it just always, you know, when the phone rings, the fear, or when the door, the doorbell, you know, because with my son, we had quite a few visits from the police and that sort of thing. And you never know, when your kids are self-harming, you never, and they’re not living at home or they’re, you never know what that door bell is going to, so particularly living in a rural community, nobody comes to the front door, you know, [laughs] that sort of thing. 

The impact, yes, it had huge impact, huge impact on my husband’s relationship with them and with me in that it was just so stressful, you know. It was just so stressful. Again, that’s where my faith, that’s the only way I could cope. I have a tremendous network of friends, who have supported me in in friendship and in prayer and yes, if I hadn’t that, I don’t know what I’d have done. I don’t know how people I don’t know how people cope so yeah, the impact is horrendous, I would say, yeah.

And was there any practical impact as well?

[Sighs] Practical impacts. You’ll have to ask me a bit more.

Did it affect your ability to work or taking her to hospital. Or that sort of thing or?

Well, I’ve always been, I’ve always worked part time and I’ve and because I work for a Christian organisation I’ve always been able to do flexi-time. So yes, it did affect that because I would always put my children first so, yeah, I, but then because, as I say, because I work for a Christian organisation, that’s what we, you know, that’s what you would expect. 

So yeah, I had a lot of grace really with getting time off and so yeah, but yes, it did affect my, I couldn’t work though two weeks ago. I haven’t been back to work yet [laughs]. But yeah, I think because of the shock. It’s the shock is more than anything and then, I know at one stage, when things were really bad here, it was hard to concentrate at work and I couldn’t remember certain, things that I just know that I know that I know. I couldn’t remember them and I’d feel so stupid and then the more I would feel stupid the more, so that and that’s quite typical of stress, shock, so yeah, I did suffer a bit with stress, yeah.
Several parents talked about the strain of monitoring their child’s behaviour. Tam said ‘It’s hard when you’re really tired at night to be like, oh I should really go check on her, make sure she’s okay, because sometimes you just want to go to bed.’ Annette was ‘running on red alert’ all the time and developed panic attacks (see Mental health section below). ‘I still watch everything’, Alexis told us. ‘I drive myself barmy at times. There will always be fear.’ 

Relationship with partner
Coping with a young person’s self-harm can put a strain on parents’ relationships. Tam wanted to spend time with her daughter but was aware of the needs of her husband and new baby. ‘I feel like I spread myself very thin’ she told us. Nicky’s second marriage was put under ‘a huge amount of strain’ by conflicts between her daughter and husband, but he and Nicky have a strong relationship and were able to talk about coping strategies. Jane Z felt as if she ‘was going stir crazy’. She decided to put herself to one side and ‘just do whatever has to be done’. ‘I don’t think a husband and wife relationship can survive it, unless you both come to an agreement, that you are just putting life on hold, until this is sorted out,’ she explained. ‘Because if you try to make demands on each other, during the middle of this, you’re not going to survive it.’ 
 

Sandra and her husband almost broke up because of the stress of their daughter’s self-harm but they had ‘staying power’ and are still together.

Sandra and her husband almost broke up because of the stress of their daughter’s self-harm but they had ‘staying power’ and are still together.

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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Coming back to the point you made about the impact, yes, it’s been quite stressful for myself and my husband and there are times we’ve felt like breaking up. There are times, you know, I had to get away for a weekend just to have time out. There are times he had to do the same and there are times we’ve had to have separate holidays, you know, just to have time apart so we can reflect and, you know, and refresh yourself. But the fact is, we’re still together and, you know, it shows that we’ve got staying power and I think for my daughter, it’s also proven to her that, when you have difficult, you go through difficulties, you know, it’s not always the best policy to walk away but to work at things. 
 

The pressure on Alexis to support her daughter affected her relationship with her partner.

The pressure on Alexis to support her daughter affected her relationship with her partner.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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You talked a couple of times about your daughter’s inability to sleep for a long period of her life and you talked about a long period of time when you were sleeping alongside her. And you alluded to some of the difficulties that in terms of your own new partner relationship?

Absolutely [laughs].

Could you say a bit more about that?

Oh gosh, I mean yeah. My daughter required a lot, a lot of support and certainly, she required that during the day but at night, you have this teenager who could not sleep, who wanted sleep desperately, but would never, ever fall asleep before three, four o’clock in the morning. We never really got to the bottom of why but, you know, we won’t go there for the minute but so somebody who’s already very emotional, struggling with stuff, has racing thoughts, all that sort of thing, then it’s dark, it’s night time and you know that everybody else is asleep and I mean I think any of us who’ve even had one night not sleeping, we know that feels like. It’s lonely. It’s a really lonely place so yes, I mean we kind of like would get into the habit where, you know, sort of come, you know, eleven o’clock at night, my daughter would say, you know, “Mum, fancy coming in, watch some TV.” I’d even, you know, I’d read to her. You kind of, it’s very strange because you kind of like, you know, there’s that little person inside of you saying, “This is almost like having a baby again.” But, as a parent, as a mother, I mean if that, if you feel like that will keep your child safe, you do it. This went on for years, years. 

So, of course, it had an effect. I mean a) it had an effect in the fact that I was also tired because I was also trying to hold down a full time job, at the time. But yes, I mean there, you know, I was building a new relationship and I wasn’t, I was barely sleeping in bed with my partner and that’s bound to have an effect and it did have an effect. I mean, you know, and okay, that was the effect at night, let alone the effect during the day when I was always either, you know, running here, there and everywhere trying to maintain my job and trying to look after my daughter had a huge effect. I mean there was there was a time when, you know, really, we came very close to breaking up, which would have been absolutely awful because the reason my marriage broke up was because I actually fell in love with this person and I know this person was the person I was, you know, should be with and needed to be with. So if it had gone, if it had broken then what would all of it have been for? 

So, you know, that’s the other pressure but there were times I can remember saying to my, “I think it would be better if you just left. I think it would be better if we parted.” Because the pressure on me to help my daughter, to support my daughter. She had to be my priority. She had to be because there were times when it was, it could have been, and was at times, a life and death situation. I had to do this but I felt under pressure to also maintain this wonderful relationship that I had with this wonderful, kind, loving man and, and I just felt so pulled. I felt so pulled and sometimes it really was, “I think it would be better if we stop, if we split, if, go and have a life.” 

Because I couldn’t really have a proper life. I’m only just now, just now, getting a proper life back where I will do things because I want to do them not because it fits in maybe with my daughter being with a friend or a boyfriend or something like that. It’s a massive impact. I mean it [sighs] we struggled. We struggled for a lot of years I mean, you know, and if I was with my partner, my head was with my daughter. I am still working on that now. I have to work on the fact that I can have my mind on myself and my own life but, you know, here we are sort of like almost ten years on and I’m still having to work on that.

So yeah, having somebody with mental health problems, someone who self-harms, it’s not just the person. It’s all the people around them and especially, you know, if the mother, if it is the mother, who’s heavily involved, that would have an impact on her relationship without a shadow of a doubt. And sometimes you just think, “It would be easier if I was on my own with my children and then I can just be here and not have to concentrate on anyone else’s feelings.” Awful. Such, such a pull, such a such a dilemma and you don’t want your relationship to come to an end but then, on the other hand, you can just see it being stretched and stretched and stretched under such a lot of pressure. Hard, so hard.

Social life
Several parents described limitations on their social life. Philip and Mary’s hopes for a fulfilling retirement were affected when their son came home to live with them. ‘I’m at the age now where I’m thinking of being retired’, Philip said, ‘and it would be nice to be able to go off and do things with my wife and we can’t. I want my wife back.’ Mary was sometimes resentful that their son was so needy: ‘We would love to be able to go on holiday. We just don’t know whether we can leave him alone even for a few hours.’ Erica and Jane Z talked about their lack of social life. Fiona and Gwendoline avoided social situations where they might have to talk about their child. Jane S and her husband stopped going out together. ‘It was partly our fault,’ Jane told us, ‘because we were so tired and exhausted and completely overtaken by all the problems at home. And people stopped asking us because we probably weren’t much fun and we fell asleep.’ 
 

Philip and Mary feel their son is ‘always a presence in the house’ and this affects their life together.

Philip and Mary feel their son is ‘always a presence in the house’ and this affects their life together.

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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And do you think it’s affected your relationship with your wife, the self-harm?

I think, I hope not but I do, I mean I feel slightly deprived and I feel, I’m sure unfairly, that I come a long way second to my son and I think by the time he’s twenty three, it ought to be the other way round. But fortunately, we’ve been we’ve been together now for just coming up to forty years. Neither of us is looking to change that in the near future. We’re very comfortable together and I can I can see it, my parents are both still alive, although I think my father is in his last couple of weeks. They’ve been married sixty five years so I’m hoping to get close to that. But it is difficult and we, the fact is, he’s always there. He’s always a presence in the house. If he’s not physically with us radiating gloom and despondency, he has very eloquent body language, we’re always aware that he’s up there and we’ve, he sleeps all day so we tend to avoid making noise in the house, which means that housework doesn’t always get done. Decorating certainly doesn’t get done and he’s always in our, he’s always in our minds as a as an immediate problem, not, “Ooh, he’s got he’s got problems at work. I hope he’ll manage to sort them out.” Or, “Oh, he’s lost his job but he’s fortunate his wife is still in work so they’ll be all right together.” It’s a problem now.

Yes.

And it’s a long standing problem. It’s  tragic, in many ways, what he’s what he’s become but after four years, it’s not the tragedy that strikes you, it’s the boredom.

And every time every time he takes a down swing we think, “Oh, not again.” Not, and to some extent, yes, poor poor young man. There’s something wrong. We can’t fix it. We’d love to fix it but it becomes it becomes very much the same old same old.

Yes, yes.

The same old the same old talking about, talking him out of going off to commit suicide, giving him a lecture about how there’s only one person who can do some of the things that he’s being asked to do, which is him.

And there’s no end in sight.
 

Susan Y’s family avoided socialising, partly to protect their daughter but also to protect themselves.

Susan Y’s family avoided socialising, partly to protect their daughter but also to protect themselves.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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So we didn’t want to go out. So we didn’t go out. We kept ourselves to ourselves. We didn’t go to see family. She’s got family in London, we didn’t go to see family in London in case they found out. We didn’t have people up for Christmas in case they found out. It was like we wanted to isolate her from the wider world because of what we didn’t want them to know and part of that was because we wanted to protect her but, actually, in reality, we wanted to protect ourselves.
Work and financial impacts
Parents told us how their work and finances were affected. Several had to take time off work. Joanna, Erica and Anna were lucky to have understanding managers. Wendy was able to work flexi-time, but found it difficult to concentrate (see clip above). Debbie took a year’s career break so that she could be at home when her daughter needed her. Joanne’s employer understood her situation but she cut down her hours and felt she couldn’t move on in her job because she needed to stay local. Pat is self-employed. He was so exhausted by the strain of his daughter’s self-harm that he barely worked in five weeks. He also wanted to be at home when his daughter came back from school. The financial implications of this ‘were huge’ but Pat’s daughter was his main priority: ‘How much business it will cost me, I don’t know. I’m worried but I’m not bothered because compared to my little girl, it’s nothing, not a blip in the ocean.’ Ann had to increase her overdraft because of the costs involved in travelling to visit her daughter in hospital miles from home. Fiona said the expense of trips to Australia when her son attempted suicide meant she might lose her house.
 

Annette went into debt because she needed private counselling and emergency money for her son.

Annette went into debt because she needed private counselling and emergency money for her son.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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But I did, I mean it cost me money and I did go into debt with [my son]. It cost me a lot of money. I was pretty solvent before that but I got a credit card and the bills were running up, you know. These are emergency things and he needs emergency supplies, you know, you need emergency emotion [laughs]. You need emergency money and if you haven’t got that tucked away, any of your savings or anything, forget that, that’s all gone [laughs]. It all gets spent because you’re running on a fast track and you’ll do anything and everything and pay anything, for somebody to resolve the problems. 

So I did actually go and seek private. It was expensive but it was a quicker relief. I was in a fortunate position, I had a credit card but yes, it was putting me in debt but it was manageable because I was still working, even though they’d given me some time out from work. I was working. I wasn’t in a position of unemployment. That would have been more difficult for me and I can be aware of that.

But I was a little bit more fortunate in that I still maintained my job. I’d been in my job quite a long time, you know. It wasn’t like I’d sort of started a job or tried to get a job or was unable to get a job. So for me, it was not easier but, I wouldn’t say options, but it was a better transition because, you know, I could get access to money.

Rather than have that suffering as well. So yeah, I did start paying and I did go to counselling. I went for quite a while really, longer than I had been prepared but then I was happy to keep going and keep paying because I’d pay anything just to be me again, just to be happy and, you know, I did. I’d start understanding myself, understanding the circumstances about what was happening with me, understanding the circumstances of what happened with my son.

Mental health
Several parents told us about the impact of their child’s problems on their own mental health. Some had been mentally unwell in the past and were still having treatment, but others thought that their symptoms were a result of the stress surrounding their child’s self-harm. Joanne told us how she felt when she first found out that her daughter was harming herself: ‘Oh I couldn’t stop crying. I was really upset, couldn’t sleep. I had three months off work and was put on antidepressants, which I take to this day and will never stop taking because they keep me sane.’ Jane S ‘went through the blackest time imaginable where I couldn’t even get out of the chair or answer the phone’. She also, like Annette and Wendy, had symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. She told us how her daughter’s eating disorder and self-harm ‘took its toll on my physical health and I think we forget, don’t we, that stress is actually not the pressure that’s on us but it’s the body’s response to that pressure, and stress clearly made me depressed but it also gave me chest pains and other physical symptoms.’
 

Audrey developed depression after constantly worrying about her husband's self-harming.

Audrey developed depression after constantly worrying about her husband's self-harming.

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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I saw my GP because I started, I wasn’t sleeping. I was constantly worrying about, you know, my husband. I was looking after my kids twenty four seven and, you know, I didn’t want to put the added pressure on my husband of worrying about me on top of everything else he was trying to deal with and I’d stopped eating, you know, because I was so busy, you know, dealing with him and the kids and getting them to nursery and it was just a nightmare. 

So I had went to my GP and I told my GP everything. I filled out one of the questionnaires and it turns out that I was suffering from depression. So I was put on tablets, which I’m still on now, but I have regular appointments with my GP, you know, and I have to keep myself right in the sense of I have to keep myself mentally well as well as physically well, otherwise I’m no use to my husband whatsoever, I’m no use to my children, you know. So eating well. Talk things through with your GP but not only that, also your friends, don’t forget about your friends because if they’re true friends, they’ll be with you no matter what. They’ll stick by you no matter what. 
 

Jane S was treated for a ‘reactive period of depression’ which she thought was a response to an incredibly stressful time.

Jane S was treated for a ‘reactive period of depression’ which she thought was a response to an incredibly stressful time.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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He [her doctor] suggested antidepressants, which I was dead against because I said to him, “I’m not, this isn’t this isn’t a clinical depression. This is a reactive period of depression, which will pass. I am responding to an incredibly stressful time, which I full believe will be over at some time." So I also thought that it would be really detrimental to my daughter, who was about to go on anti-depressants herself, for then me to be almost copying her and I didn’t want any sort of fallout from that. So I didn’t think it was right for me. Anyway, I’ve never taken pills at all. I have to really seriously talk to myself to even take a headache pill so I said, no, to that and my doctor was really very firm with me and said, “Well, you’re not leaving my surgery unless you sign up for counselling, free counselling or anti-depressants.” And he said, “And you have said no to both so let’s sit here until you actually come up with one of them.” [laughs]. So I said, “Well, it’ll have to be the counselling then.” Which I had already thought would be useless in my head. I was very negative about it and, actually, it was marvellous. It really was. It was it was just what I needed at the time and, although the lady wasn’t particularly experienced with self-harming or eating disorders, she had a lot of other skills and she got me to prioritise, to relax, to  give myself time and permission to kind of grieve. There was really important and really good stuff that I learnt from her and so I had two free sessions of six from the NHS and I’m really grateful to it, grateful to them for it.

Parent/child relationship
When a young person harms themselves this often has an effect on their relationship with their parents. Some of the people we spoke to told us how difficult this had been. Jo-Ann’s daughter threatened to cut herself or leave home if her mother started a new relationship. 
 

Jo-Ann is afraid of the intensity of her daughter’s emotions. She uses skills she learnt through dialectical behaviour therapy* [DBT] to explain to her daughter how she feels.

Jo-Ann is afraid of the intensity of her daughter’s emotions. She uses skills she learnt through dialectical behaviour therapy* [DBT] to explain to her daughter how she feels.

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To be honest I’ve always been really scared of her. I’ve been afraid of her emotions, afraid of her anger, just afraid of the intensity of her feelings and not knowing where they came from and what to do with them because I never, I never experienced those things myself. So I know everybody could say, well, if I was a better parent, this wouldn’t have happened… but it’s true. I have no idea. I have no idea that if I had been stronger, better, happier, whatever, that she wouldn’t have experienced these things and I just have to tell myself that it’s not too late, that I can, not make things right for her, but I’ve always done the best I could and I, as long as I can hold on to that and the fact that I’ve always loved her, those two things, I know that things will be okay as long as [my daughter] can keep hold of that. And she does, when she’s not, when she’s calm she knows those things but when she’s not calm, which is a lot of the time, she forgets. She, she thinks I don’t love her and that’s difficult and it’s kind of another form of self-harm, pushing me away, who she says I’m the person she loves most in the whole world. So not accepting my love is, is only, well, it does hurt me but I do understand but it hurts her more and so it’s, it’s just another form of her hurting herself. 

And so it is very, very hard and what I’ve done now this this week, I know it sounds like I’ve just made this up, it’s not, [daughter] and I had a conversation this morning, where it was quite intense because we’ve had this really difficult week, and she told me how she felt and I’ve used my skills, my DBT [dialectical behaviour therapy*] skills, to put into place and I have said to her, she said to me, “I feel responsible that you’re unhappy because you’ve parted because of me.” And I said, “No, hang on a second. I take responsibility for that because you could have had difficulties with me having a relationship and I could have said, ‘okay I understand you’ve got difficulties but I’m going to do this anyway and this is how I’m going to be. I’ll be as kind to you as I possibly can but I’m also going to live my own life.’” 

And so that actually now is what I’ve put in place that I’ll, I’ll be kind to her in as much as I can but I, I started living her reality and it’s not my reality but that’s what, I’ve built a prison for myself because of her difficulties. And I’m now trying to gently, not push her away because I I’m always very, very, I’ve told her I’ll always love her, I will always be there for her and I always will and I always have but I need my own life as well because one day, she’s going to have her own life and I won’t have one. I’ll be just left so in the kindest possible way, that’s what, I said, you know, I’ve told her.

* This is a form of therapy (using individual and group work) that helps the young person to learn skills to manage their emotions, cope with distress and improve their relationships. DBT helps the young person see that their suicidal and other unhelpful behaviours are part of their way of coping with problems and encourages them to develop more helpful behaviours and solutions.
 

Jane S sometimes felt ‘trapped and emotionally blackmailed’ by her daughter.

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Jane S sometimes felt ‘trapped and emotionally blackmailed’ by her daughter.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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I think one of the hardest things for me was you know, if she and I had had a row, and I’m no saint, we didn’t always, you know, it wasn’t always calm and relaxed. It’s all very well, isn’t it, with hindsight but, you know, it’s a lot of years of a lot of turmoil with the eating disorder and the self-harming, so you know, yes we did, there were sort of, you know, arguments and words were spoken and we did get cross and frustrated and exhausted and all the rest of it. So she’d say things that she didn’t mean and I would too. The trouble was if I showed disappointment or upset with her, I knew that that could lead her, would probably lead her to self-harm.

And I felt, therefore, rather trapped and emotionally blackmailed. And there were times when she’d say, ‘Well, right then,’ you know, ‘Well, you know what’s gonna happen. You know what I’m gonna do now.’ And, and I used to get very cross with her and I said, I would actually say to her, ‘Don’t do that to me,’ you know, ‘that is just not on.’ So, usually she’d, we’d apologise, one of us would apologise first and we’d try and calm it down. But that, I think, is a horrible aspect of it, the feeling that you’re treading on eggshells and that you can’t really ever let off steam and say how you’re feeling when you’re trying to support somebody because it could lead them to, to hurt themselves further. And, of course, you know, I was petrified that she would harm and cut herself deeply and that, you know, it wouldn’t, the next time, just be an infection, it could be something really serious, you know, she might even lose her life.
 

Alexis is close to her daughter but sometimes found her behaviour very hurtful.

Alexis is close to her daughter but sometimes found her behaviour very hurtful.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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I mean that’s the other thing I guess, that, you know, even though we have this closeness, I mean she can be very hard going and she can [sighs] not be as kind to me as I would like but again, I also recognise that when someone has a mental health issue, it takes lot for that person just to deal with their own stuff. And I think that’s probably something I’ve learnt along the way maybe from forums or books or whatever that, you know, she has to, and she does amazingly now, she works very hard to maintain her equilibrium so sometimes the other stuff, and maybe the other stuff might be me, is just too difficult to deal with. So it’s like, you know, it’s almost a dismissive sort of, a dismissive reaction. 

You have to have quite hard skin. I’ve worked on that for myself because I was getting quite hurt by sometimes her behaviour towards me but, you know, I’ve grown a backbone. It’s kind of, I know she loves me, we’ve been through a lot, you know, and sometimes it’s hard for her so I’m now learning to walk away. If something is upsetting me I can walk away now. I don’t have to be scared of leaving my daughter in a room on her own any more. It’s taken me a lot of years to get there, a lot of years. It’s taken me a lot of years to realise that I can go out or I can go away for a weekend. I can go away for a couple of weeks. I have to, it’s hard for me. My scars from all this are that I suppose the last ten years of my life haven’t been normal but I’m now realising that actually, it’s okay and it’s okay for me sometimes to say to her, “No, you’re wrong. You shouldn’t be treating me like that.” I never would have done that three years ago. Upset her? No way, because what then? What if I upset her and I made her unhappy and she self-harmed or worse? 

So as a parent, I now am working on realising a) she’s responsible for herself and the choices she makes but I can, I don’t have to be fearful and that’s the thing. That’s what’s taken me so many years, so many years. This, I get very fearful very quickly. I think the thing that shocks me about myself is that the fear is there. I, I pushed it right away. It, it comes back just like that and that’s scary and I’ve had to accept that. I mean if I even, sometimes if I look at her and I think, “Why, do her eyes look okay? Is she unhappy? Is she going to get ill again?” It’s that fear is like overwhelming straight away and I really have to work at keeping that calm and, you know, and pushed down. But that is the scars from the parent’s point of view from, you know, the, the young person has, has scars outside and in but also the parents, the carers, they, they you too will end up with scars but you can carry on and you do carry on and you carry on in a different way. Yeah.
Other parents felt that their relationship had improved. ‘The whole experience brought me closer’ said Joanna. Roisin thought that she and her daughter had a much better understanding of each other. Tam tries to listen to her daughter more. Although Annette’s son was angry with her for stopping him killing himself he later sent her a Mother’s Day card thanking her for her support and saying he didn’t know what he would do without her. Nicky is pleased that her daughter has matured emotionally and now recognises the pain she caused her mother. Nicky says her daughter appreciated the boundaries that Nicky set ‘so we’re fine and she’s fine and we have a lovely relationship.’

* This is a form of therapy (using individual and group work) that helps the young person to learn skills to manage their emotions, cope with distress and improve their relationships. DBT helps the young person see that their suicidal and other unhelpful behaviours are part of their way of coping with problems and encourages them to develop more helpful behaviours and solutions.

Last reviewed December 2017.
 

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