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Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Towards recovery from self-harming

Although self-harm in young people is common, it is generally not long-lasting. After a while most young people stop harming themselves, although a minority continue for a few years. The parents and carers we spoke to told us about things which they thought had helped the young person stop self-harming.

Several parents talked about their children becoming more mature and gaining insight as they grew up. Ann’s daughter decided to move out of the family home. Ann supported this: ‘I never ever would have thought when that girl was seventeen, eighteen that she’d be capable of living independently but she does and she’s got a greater self-awareness now.’ Anna said her daughter now had ‘an adult brain’ which enabled her to express her feelings: ‘maturity aided her situation hugely’. When asked why she thought her daughter had stopped self-harming Isobel told us ‘There’s a natural growing up anyway. There’s a lot of difference between fifteen and seventeen.’ Her daughter was going to college and had friends. ‘She’s more able to talk about what’s going on before it builds up, and she’s still seeing CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service].’
 

Nicky thought life experience helped her daughter deal with things which would have made her want to cut herself in the past.

Nicky thought life experience helped her daughter deal with things which would have made her want to cut herself in the past.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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So yeah, I mean I mean things, I don’t think she’ll, I don’t think she’ll ever stop doing it. I think I think the better she gets, the longer the gaps will be between her hurting herself because she, because she will find, it’s not just that she finds that she’s found other coping strategies but the things that she found very difficult before that would have made her feel the need to cut, are not so scary anymore or not so uncope-able with anymore, for want of a better way of putting it. Do you know what I mean?

The enormity of these things has diminished to the point where they’re now normal everyday things rather than big scary things that she couldn’t deal with, which would have made her want to cut herself and now she goes, “It’s not very nice. Oop, never mind, okay, we’ll get on with it.” So rather than going, “Oh, panic, need to cut because I can’t cope.” She deals with things so it’s, for her it’s part of a bigger picture I think in in terms of therapy, life experience, I think life experience is a huge part of it.

You know, I, you see, as a Samaritan, you see lots of e-mails from, we get lots of e-mails from younger callers and you see lots and lots of teens particularly, talking about [coughs] stuff that they find difficult, stuff that for them is just the hugest catastrophe in the whole world, you know. End of world stuff, the usual kind of thing you get from teens, you know, splitting up with the boyfriend, all this sort of thing and you look at it and, because it’s not written down I think you’re more conscious of it and I often find myself thinking, from my standpoint at my age with my life experience, “That’s a really minor thing.” But you only get there through living through feeling like it’s the end of the world at fifteen or sixteen.

Yes.

You have to live through that and live through the more painful stuff that follows on from that to be able to go, “That’s a tiny thing.” Because you have something to compare it with. At fifteen, sixteen, it is the most catastrophic thing that’s ever happened to you so you respond like that. At forty eight, it’s kind of like, “Yes, it’s painful but, do you know what, there’s a lot worse out there, actually.” I’ve lived through that and I’ve lived through worse and there’s probably worse to come and, do you know what, we’ll just have to kind of knuckle down and get on with that and it gets here because that’s life. But you don’t have that perspective at sixteen and I think that’s the other thing that’s changed for her is is her perspective has broadened as life has given her more, as she’s gone out there and experienced and done more, that that’s I think that’s a huge part of it.

That kind of going, “Oh okay, what would have caused me to cut myself, to panic and cut myself when I was sixteen, now, you know, so what.”

Yeah, yes.

For lots, for her in particular but I think it happens for lots of people, who maybe grow out it sounds patronising but I can’t think of a better way of putting it, who reach a point where it doesn’t become as necessary as a coping strategy anymore.

Yes.

That that’s an opinion, for what it’s worth, but it certainly been the case I think for my daughter.
 

Ann’s daughter is now more self-aware and motivated, and is ‘a very different person’ from who she was.

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Ann’s daughter is now more self-aware and motivated, and is ‘a very different person’ from who she was.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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So I think she’s more self-aware. She’s more motivated. We had this wrangle for many years that she wanted to go to university but she didn’t know what course and she’d been accepted at several universities but never been well enough to accept the place and, when she came back from when she was discharged from hospital, the support services that were put in, it was all around getting her into volunteering and engaging with that therapy and this therapy and it was all, “I’ll never be able to do any of that.” But, actually, now, you know, she volunteers somewhere three times a week and absolutely adores it. Gives her a sense of purpose to get up in the morning. She’s becoming more confident with other people and if she doesn’t want to go out somewhere socially, she will actually say now, “No, I don’t want to go.” Rather than go, be there, not enjoy it and then come home and hurt herself. 

So she is a very different person. And when she’s good, she’s hilarious and she’s kind and she’s just very lovely. My girl. 
 

Jackie’s daughter turned her life around and did not harm herself when faced with a ‘massive crisis’.

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Jackie’s daughter turned her life around and did not harm herself when faced with a ‘massive crisis’.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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But she’s finally, touch wood, turned that corner to a certain amount of maturity. You know, she’s done the smoking, drinking, drugs, underage sex, she’s done all that. I’m like, “Do you know what? you know, she’s, she’s over it now.” It’s like, it’s like, she, she, she said that to me, “Mum” she said, “I’m bored with all that now, I’m bored. I’m on to a new phase of my life” which is having a stupid serious boyfriend. But I’m like, I’ll step back and I need to think about me, you know, and, and her sister and give her that space that she needs to discover that, “You’re not going to marry this guy, you know. It’s, you’re still too young for all that.” You know, but I try and keep back from it as much as I can. Some things I, I have, I have to mouth off because I can’t help myself. But she now knows that theoretically, you’re an adult here, “I could chuck you out if I wanted.” You know, that was in that last conversation I had with her. I said to her, “I don’t have to be responsible for you anymore. You want to be an idiot, go out drinking, you know, sleep around, go on, do it, leave, leave home, go.” That’s what I said to her, “Because I, I’m, I’m done with you now. At this point I can’t cope with you anymore. I need to think about my own sanity here, you know. I’ve done everything I can to support you. I, I can’t do any more.” And a result of that was that she has turned it around.

...But I think since she’s last done it, her gran died. She’s not done it since. She’s not done, she never done it when my mum died. And that was a major life change, a massive life change. So I think, so there’s hope for me, that gives me hope that, “That’s a massive crisis that she’s had and she’s not done it.” 
Sometimes changing circumstances influenced the young person’s recovery. Nick thought a combination of his daughter’s sessions with a psychologist and ‘the fact that she’s moved on to a much nicer boy in terms of relationships’ certainly helped. Annette’s son now has a child of his own. She told us: ‘there are moments when he has a low mood, and I’m watchful but definitely, I mean he’s just happy and he’s out there and he’s got friends and he’s got his life back together.’ Isobel’s daughter was much happier when she left school to go to college, where she made friends and enjoyed her course. Jane S said that when her daughter took a gap year instead of going on to university ‘having the pressure taken away from her academically, and just having a bit more fun, she felt her load was lightened.’ Anna’s daughter has applied to university, and she has career goals and a good social network. Anna said ‘you wouldn’t think this was the same child as two years ago’.
 

A ‘lovely new boyfriend’, medication and exercise all contributed to Alexis’s daughter’s recovery.

A ‘lovely new boyfriend’, medication and exercise all contributed to Alexis’s daughter’s recovery.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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She was still probably, self-harming but not as much. and she had a lovely new boyfriend, who’s still in her life now two years later, who again, really young, like her, only twenty two but amazingly able to accept her for the person that she is and I suppose, coming up now to more recent times, my daughter hasn’t self-harmed in nearly two years. She hasn’t had a terrible episode of depression. I mean winters were particularly bad. It always seemed to be wintertime and, in fact, it always used to be around Christmas time and I think there were psychological issues, family issues, but the last two Christmases she’s been well. No, sorry, the last one Christmas she’s been well. She last was ill two years ago but now we have got through a December without her being seriously ill and I think, once you start realising that you can get through that Christmas or that anniversary or that year, maybe you become more confident in yourself. 

Also, she’s grown. She’s grown emotionally. She’s now sleeping. Her medication seems good. She’s worked out how to make sure she doesn’t put on weight. She exercises hard three times a week, which is amazing. This is somebody who hated exercise, who wouldn’t even walk to school when it was only ten minutes away. I asked her, I asked her why she thinks maybe she stopped self-harming. I didn’t actually get the answer that I wanted but the answer was, she loves her boyfriend and she saw how devastating, how devastating it was to him and very selfishly, but not in a nasty way, I, I you know, we, we talk about these things and I said, “So was my devastation not enough. Did that?” But as she says, she goes, “But mum, you didn’t really show it.” And of course, I didn’t because you don’t burden your child with any of your stuff. 

You die inside, you take it away but, faced with someone, you know, a, a young man of twenty two, who for the first time is faced with a beautiful young woman who was harming herself and that she couldn’t hide it from him, it’s made her stop and I imagine that that means that she now doesn’t turn to this as an emotional crutch because there’s been emotional stuff. Also she’s on good medication that enables her to sleep, keeps her more balanced and I’m hopeful. I never get complacent. I never take anything for granted. 
Parents told us how the therapy their child received had helped. Ann was pleased that her daughter had engaged with mental health services. ‘She had such intensive therapy,’ she explained, ‘they really did get to the nitty gritty of a lot of things that had happened to her and got her to acknowledge them and see that she wasn’t to blame. …Before, she would internalise it and self-harm.’ After Dot’s daughter talked to a counsellor she said, “I don’t think I’ll cut myself again.” Some of the young people were still in contact with mental health services. Anna’s daughter hasn’t self-harmed for two years but is still seeing a psychiatrist in family sessions in connection with bereavement. Some parents stressed how important it was to keep taking medication (see also ‘Medication’). 
 

Alexis’s daughter is much better, but still needs to take her medication.

Alexis’s daughter is much better, but still needs to take her medication.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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Also she’s on good medication that enables her to sleep, keeps her more balanced and I’m hopeful. I never get complacent. I never take anything for granted. 

She is remarkable. She is so wise and she will talk to people about her experiences, if, you know, if appropriate and it’s been a long, long journey and sometimes she questions the medication she’s on. I mean she did go through a phase, and I suppose I hadn’t remembered that, she actually decided to come off her medication overnight, went cold turkey, wanted to be normal. “I don’t want to take tablets anymore because I want to be normal. I want to be like my friends, who are sixteen, and they don’t take tablets.” So she actually came off tablets, her tablets overnight. She ended up sleeping in a car park by our local shops because I mean you cannot do that. You cannot come off hefty medication. 

I think she accepts her medication now. I’m a true believer, if it helps, take it. If you were a diabetic and needed insulin, you would. As we know in mental health issues, it’s a brain, it’s a, you know, it’s our brains, if they’re not balanced they might need something to help them. Maybe one day, she, I mean, I think I think there were times when she did, when she was younger, when she did try and withdraw off certain meds but she got scared. She got scared. Maybe now she’s older, one day but, as I say to her, “You’ll know when the time is right and you’ll do it with good help from your psychiatrist and people, you know, who know but it aint broke at the moment.” It really isn’t broke. 

For the first time, I would say in ten years, twelve years, life feels amazingly normal.
 

Jo’s daughter is doing well with ongoing mental health service support. She now has more insight.

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Jo’s daughter is doing well with ongoing mental health service support. She now has more insight.

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Yes and she’s having on going mental health service support now and she’s doing very well in her own life and looking after herself very well but I think both she and I acknowledge that the line between mental health and unhealth can be a really fine line, you know. The power as an individual lies in knowing when you’re not going back across into the health part over the line as often as you would like to. We all have days when things are not so good and you stub your toe or you’re overdrawn or somebody takes your parking space and you go, “Oh I’m so depressed.” But that’s not what you mean. You mean, “Today I’m not in such a good place.” But if you’re insightful about it, it’s about knowing when you’re always in the bad place and that’s when you need to do something about it and I think, you know, maybe it’s something that we’re just more aware of now.
 

Medication helped Jane S’s daughter keep stable.

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Medication helped Jane S’s daughter keep stable.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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And, I wouldn’t say that she was sort of working on recovery, as her sort of, you know, thing to do but coupled with not, you know, having the pressure taken away from, on her academically and just having a bit more fun, I think, you know, she felt her load was lightened, her medication was good and was helping her. And I, you know, I do notice even now, that if she forgets to order her tablets or, you know, she doesn’t have them for any reason that, you know, her mood does change and it’s dangerous again, actually, for her. But she’s been stable now ever since, well, she’s been stable for three or four years, which is really good.
Many of the young people had learned various coping strategies which helped them resist the urge to self-harm. Nicky’s daughter told her that she hadn’t cut for nine months. ‘I was really proud of her,’ said Nicky. ‘I told her how proud I was that she’d reached a point in terms of her own recovery that she was able to see that there were other coping strategies that worked better for her that she could apply.’ 
 

The elastic band technique helped Annette’s son reduce his self-cutting.

The elastic band technique helped Annette’s son reduce his self-cutting.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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And slowly, and it was slowly and it did take a lot, he started to say to me, “Mum, I don’t feel like I want to really carry on with this cutting.” Now part of that was he used the band technique, which is an elastic band, put the elastic band on their arm or arms and they skit it, you know. They pull it, stretch it and then feel the pain of it because what they’re trying to do, I guess, is, you know, feel a sense of reality, a sense of themselves. So by doing that, it’s acknowledging that they are actually in this world and it’s the same as the cutting, the blood. That’s them recognising that they are, I guess, I mean I’m not a doctor, but from my own experience.

And so, yeah, so he used the band technique, which was good. He did cut down on a lot of the cutting, to be quite honest, which for me was a relief.
 

Jane S’s daughter had several different strategies to use instead of self-harming.

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Jane S’s daughter had several different strategies to use instead of self-harming.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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And that came that came really when she was eighteen I think in the upper sixth, when she was looking in, you know, to be going to university, she definitely, by then, didn’t want to go university, as she put it, feeling and looking like a freak. And I think there was definite desire then to, you know, really over, try to overcome this sort of seriously, which we worked on, yeah, together. And I think by then the, we were trying to expand the time between episodes of self-harm. She came up with some alternative strategies as well, apart from just coming downstairs and watching something funny on the television or, you know, small things like that. 

She’d been offered some of the techniques like pinging her, you know, wrist with an elastic band or holding on to ice cubes and things like that but, frankly, for her, she found those just really patronising and they just negated her feelings. So that wasn’t going to work at all but there were other things, talking to her friends, you know, and going on Facebook and playing music, relaxing, having a bath. Particularly for her, she found going to sleep, when it all mounted, you know, mounted up for her and she’d got herself into a right paddy about whatever it was and her emotions were starting to just go out of control, she realised that the best thing for her was to go to sleep. And so that was something, obviously, we could suggest to her when we saw her getting, you know, getting in a terrible state. 
 

When Nicky’s daughter acknowledged that self-harming was not a good way of coping she was able to change her behaviour.

When Nicky’s daughter acknowledged that self-harming was not a good way of coping she was able to change her behaviour.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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I think the saving grace for my daughter has been an ability to acknowledge that it’s not a productive way of coping. That it’s, that it’s a harmful and a damaging way of dealing with things and I think acknowledging that has enabled her to change her behaviours and I think I think that’s the thing, until you go, “That’s not really a very good way of coping with stuff because it hurts or it leaves me with scars or it causes pain to me and other people.” You don’t ever move on. 
The support of family and friends was also seen as having an important role in helping the young people reduce their self-harming. Jane S said her daughter ‘identified having really good family support as being instrumental in her recovery’. Sandra helped her daughter in various ways. When she noticed her daughter was using her nails to harm herself Sandra told her she had beautiful nails. She massaged her daughter’s hands and used ointment to soothe the wounds. ‘And when she saw that I wasn’t reacting,’ Sandra told us, ‘I think eventually she just stopped.’
 

Annette’s son knew his mother was ‘backing him up one hundred per cent’. She encouraged him to think about the future and boosted his morale.

Annette’s son knew his mother was ‘backing him up one hundred per cent’. She encouraged him to think about the future and boosted his morale.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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What do you think was the turning point for him that, you know, somehow, when he stopped self-harming?

Yeah, I think, for him, I think it was probably an awareness of actually that there was more than just what he thought there was. You see, at the time when he was in his low moods, he was telling me that he was having a low mood and I was actually thinking to myself, “Well, this is scary. Every time he keeps telling me, this is scary. Do I really want to hear it?” But I did want to hear it because I needed to know that nothing more was going to escalate but, at the same time, it was actually having a knock-on effect on me as well. So that was difficult but still keep listening, I think that’s important. But what changed it, I think it’s because he knew I was backing him up one hundred per cent. He knew if anything, if he was worried about anything or anything, if he had someone backing him up they were there, they were supporting him one hundred per cent. He knew that I loved him to bits.

No matter what but I think it was more that I was actually just there. You know, when he wanted to go to the appointment to see a psychiatrist or something, he couldn’t do that himself. It was actually really, really tough for him to do that.

So, by having me there to come with him, that was almost half the battle really. It was like I was taking that on for him.

So he didn’t have to think that for himself because to think things is stressful, it’s really stressful to think things when you’re in a dark mood. You know, so it was good that somebody else was taking that on. So a lot of that was the basis of supporting, you know, that they didn’t actually feel they were out there, you know, being on their own. 

Because you can’t do it. You can’t, no matter how the will in the world, sometimes you just cannot do it and even to pick up the phone, you can’t do it either, to let that person know but they think you’ve let them down but you haven’t. It’s just you’re so low in yourself. I think also the future, talking about the future. He really wasn’t expecting that one. He really thought this was what I guess the low mood was, the low mood and he felt he couldn’t get out of it, that he said there didn’t seem anywhere, way out. But I keep talking about, what would he like? What would he like to, you know, he could have children. He could he could meet someone and he could be happy and he could have a lovely life, and a family and how the family thought the world of him, how important they were to him.

Yes.

And that they would miss him and if they saw him hurting himself that would be upsetting. You know, not saying upsetting as in, that he should feel any pressure to that but that they cared for him. Yeah, that they cared for him.

Yeah.

And that they wouldn’t want any harm coming to him. So I think it was a lot, making him feel that he was part of something, yeah, that knew him and knew him well. And putting the comedy films on and things like that a lot of stuff I played back to him was things that he’d actually liked from his past, you know. There was one, I don’t know, a film, if I can mention it?

Yeah.

A series in particular was Only Fools and Horses.

Oh yes.

Because there was a camaraderie of family in their humour, in their adversity and humour and he could really, really associate with that and I think and even to this day, I mean we go to the conventions [laughs], But he’s really kept that in his mind because he played that over and over and over, you know, and even sometimes when he’s feeling a bit low now, occasionally, not so much, but he still says, “Let’s get the Only Fools and Horses on, mum.” And I’ll say, “Yeah, let’s do that.”

Yeah because for him, that really made him laugh, you know, because he felt the sense of family in that, yeah, because there was brothers together no matter what, so that kind of sense of feeling is important.

And also the worth, that you’re constantly telling them that they’re brilliant, they’re wonderful, that was fantastic, well done, God, that was great, thank you, oh, that kind of thing. All the time you’re just telling them all the time constantly.
 

Sandra’s daughter realised that people cared about her. Sandra reminded her of good times and tried to distract her.

Sandra’s daughter realised that people cared about her. Sandra reminded her of good times and tried to distract her.

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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She eventually stopped doing it anyway because then she realised that there were people who did genuinely care about her and there were two friends or peers from her school who started coming in the mornings, when it was proving difficult especially during the winter months. It was very difficult for her to get up and go to school, so there were two of her peers who’d come religiously every morning and call for her, you know. So for me, that was a great support and it was also a motivation for her to get up because there were people waiting for her and literally willing her on to come to school. 

Yeah, and eventually the self-harming just phased out, you know, because she realised that, you know, she couldn’t keep doing it. She couldn’t keep hurting herself. She was, obviously, leaving scars on her skin. She’s got beautiful skin and I would say to her, you know, “You you’re beautiful. You know, you’re my princess. You don’t need to keep hurting yourself. You don’t need to keep, you know, inflicting all that wound on yourself. I know that you’re hurting. You know, Mummy, she doesn’t have the capacity to take the pain away.” Because a lot of it is internal and that. 

“But.” I said, you know, “Just try and take one day at a time, you know, just think about the things that you want to achieve in life.” And then I’d sometimes take her down memory lane and, you know, because, as a family, we’ve always taken her on holidays and we’d take her to exotic places and stuff so she was well travelled as a child. And so I said to her, “Try and remember the last holiday you’ve been on and things you did and, you know, the times when you were at your happiest playing in the pool, you know, or in the children’s club or.” You know, and things like that so I sort of try and do things to distract her and that seems to have helped as well. Yeah.
A young person’s determination and desire to stop self-harming was seen as a key factor on the way to recovery. Ann had come across many people who didn’t want to engage with mental health services, but said of her daughter: ‘she does care. She wants to get well. She wants a better life for herself and I think she knows deep down she deserves one, but it’s just her having the confidence and ability to get that… She’s up for the challenge.’ Nicky noticed that her daughter’s self-cutting became much less significant once she ‘really started to engage in the process of dealing with the mental health issues and getting herself better.’ Anna thought her daughter had come to a greater understanding of things that had happened in the past, and now felt ‘very secure and safe within herself’. Anna told us: ‘I get the distinct feeling that she wants to wrap it up and move on, and that the self-harm was an episode within all this, albeit a very serious one.’ Jane S said her daughter didn’t want to go to university ‘feeling and looking like a freak’, so ‘there was definite desire there to try to overcome this seriously’ (see clip above).
 

Jo-Ann and her daughter both self-harmed. Jo-Ann says no one can stop you self-harming, you have to make the decision yourself.

Jo-Ann and her daughter both self-harmed. Jo-Ann says no one can stop you self-harming, you have to make the decision yourself.

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Some people have spoken to me, who have not got a history of self-harm themselves and whose daughters, in each case, are cutting.

It’s very important for them to think about stopping, about, about how the young person is going to stop, been able to stop and they hear from therapists that it’s got to be their decision. They’ve got to want to stop themselves. I’m just wondering for you and, and her what, what role does the whole idea of stopping self-harm.

Play?


For [my daughter], speaking for [my daughter], she doesn’t want to self-harm. She doesn’t like doing it and she doesn’t want to do it. She doesn’t want to scar her body any more than it is and she really hates herself for doing it. For myself, I never had any of those problems. When I met my partner, he was very anti self-harming and he said to me that, not that he was disgusted by it, not that, but it hurt him.

Is this her father?

No.

No.

This is. 

Your more recent partner.

My recent partner, her father never took any notice at all [laughs] of it, not one bit. My most recent partner, makes me sound like I’ve had loads, I’ve only had two, [laughs] he was a recovering alcoholic when I met him and we kind of made a pact, not literally, but a kind of an understanding if he drunk, I always said if he drunk I wouldn’t be with him. But he, it was, well, he wouldn’t drink and I wouldn’t cut because my cutting upset him so much. Plus I, once [my daughter] had established this self-harming, I felt that I was compounding it by self-harming myself so I felt that if I could stop myself self-harming, I could lead her by example. So I wouldn’t be hurting her and I wouldn’t be hurting my partner. 

And I think this recent self-harming that I did was it was kind of a backlash because I’m not with my partner anymore, that was my decision and because [my daughter] had self-harmed in front of me, it was like actually, I want to do this for myself. I know that probably sounds really strange for somebody who’s never self-harmed but it was something, I wanted to self-harm and because I’d stopped myself doing it for other people, it just overwhelmed me and I, I really, I wanted to do it. It wasn’t even a need. It was wilfulness on my part. I was saying, “I’m important.” I know it’s a strange concept because I was actually, doing something fairly destructive but that was my thinking. I’m not proud of it, but that was the way I was thinking. 

So with regard to your question about, you know, the self-harming and stopping self-harming, it’s, the only person, you have to make that decision yourself, as difficult as it is for other people. They can’t stop you self-harming. You can decide not to self-harm because you’re hurting them. If, you know, if that’s something that you can get your head around but it is a really difficult thing to stop doing because you feel like something’s been taken away from you and you have to make that decision yourself.
 

Wendy’s daughter ‘suddenly flipped and came to her senses’ when she realised how she was affecting her mother. She decided to get on with her life; it was as if ‘she was released.’

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Wendy’s daughter ‘suddenly flipped and came to her senses’ when she realised how she was affecting her mother. She decided to get on with her life; it was as if ‘she was released.’

Age at interview: 64
Sex: Female
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We have a really close relationship and I mean what happened when she came home this last episode was, I was called into hospital with something that was a little bit scary, and she just suddenly flipped and came to her senses and thought, “What am I doing feeling sorry for myself? I’m doing this when mum is going through.” And whether that was the catalyst that just flipped the switch that she suddenly thought, “No, I’m getting on with my life,” you know. 

So, but, no, she, that was that was the day that she just kept saying to me, “I’m so sorry, mum. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” And we just hugged each other and cried and cried and I think she was saying, “I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through. You know, it was a, it was a.” And then it was just like she was released. I don’t understand it, you know. My, when my husband came home the next night he said, “Well, where is she?” I said, “She’s gone back to her flat.” Well, he couldn’t, and you know, he’s not, he doesn’t have the faith that I have, although he supports me in it and he believes to a certain extent and I said, “Well, you tell me what the difference was between yesterday and today, nothing.” Prayer, you know, it’s just something, it, something happened and it’s, I can see something changing. That’s my experience.
Even when their children had reduced their self-harming, parents were aware that it was a difficult struggle. Sandra said her daughter ‘still has the thoughts because she’ll tell me but she says, “Mum, you know, I’m surviving day by day. It’s a fight. It’s a fight to survive," but, she says, “I’m not quitting because you’ve taught me not to quit and you’ve taught me to keep going.” …She says, “There are times when I’m faced with fear and fearful situations and I feel that I can’t cope and I can’t make it, I think about what you say and that keeps me going”.’ Some parents worried that the self-harm would begin again if their child faced further problems. In contrast, Anna thought her daughter’s self-harm was ‘a transient episode that was going to burn itself out at some point.’
 

Roisin was not complacent. She ‘kept an eye’ on her daughter’s moods and hoped she would confide in her if she had emotional difficulties in future.

Roisin was not complacent. She ‘kept an eye’ on her daughter’s moods and hoped she would confide in her if she had emotional difficulties in future.

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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Some people have talked to me about their son or, son or daughter I was going to say. In fact, it’s all been daughters so far stopping but they don’t, they’ve said they’re not complacent about it.

No.

Because they don’t, they can’t be absolutely sure that it.

Won’t start again.

It won’t start again.

Oh no, no, absolutely, yeah, yeah, yeah and yeah, I’m fully aware of that so no, I’m definitely not complacent. I still sort of keep an eye out and everything and keep an eye on her moods and stuff I think she’d tell me [laughs]. I don’t know whether she will or not but I think she would. I’m not sure but it’s not just that, I’m also aware that, you know, if, I dunno, she finds herself in a sort of difficult position emotionally or mentally over the next few years, it might, you know, end up coming out of some other sort of behaviour. So yeah, as opposed to the cutting it could be something else [laughs]. Yeah.
 

Sarah Z thought her daughter’s state of mind was much better, but she worried that her daughter might harm herself again if things went wrong.

Sarah Z thought her daughter’s state of mind was much better, but she worried that her daughter might harm herself again if things went wrong.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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We ended up getting a psychologist involved, via the school, who saw her privately, and she was enormously helpful but and did a lot of assessment of [my daughter] and her of [my daughter] and her general sort of mental health and well-being and, which obviously also covered the self-harm. And she probably was the biggest helping factor in getting to the point where we are now, where [my daughter’s] state of mind is much better. She’s much more like old [daughter’s name], mostly. She hasn’t, as far as I know, self-harmed for maybe two or three months but this has happened before and we’ve thought that she’s past it and over that and then something will go wrong. She she’ll fall out with a friend or she’ll have a, you know, a boyfriend issue, which sadly she seems to want boyfriends and it always causes problems [laughs].

So but something like that might set her off again and then it will come back and then it’s awful when that happens, because you think she’s moved on.
Although it might take a long time, most young people who self-harm eventually stop.
 

Jane S realises you have to take a long-term view and support young people until they no longer need to self-harm.

Jane S realises you have to take a long-term view and support young people until they no longer need to self-harm.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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She managed three years at university without self-harming. I can’t say that maybe she never self-harmed but maybe just once or twice in the whole of the three years. 

So that’s pretty good and I think you have to take a long longish term view of this. You can’t rush them to stop it immediately, which is what you’d like to do or I wanted to do in the beginning. You can’t despair of them and turn your back on them. I think you have to find a way together to talk about things, to find out their triggers for it to try and reduce it, to take a longer term view and to keep, you know, hopeful and supporting them until they no longer need it.

Last reviewed December 2017.
 

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