Self Harm: What Parents and Loved Ones Need to Know

Self harm is the act of self mutilation. It can occur anywhere on the body, but common places where individuals self harm may be on the wrists, arms or thighs. If you are a parent or family member discovering your loved one is engaging in self harm, it can feel like a crisis.

Many people think that if someone self harms, they are also suicidal. This is not necessarily the case, although every individual has a different set of circumstances. Self harm is a coping skill that individuals engage in to help deal with stressors that may be taking place in life. It is often a symptom of other health problems, like depression, low self esteem, grief or other deep emotional distress.

So what do you do if you discover your loved one is self harming? Here is some information about self harm and what you can do to help.

Why would someone self harm?
Self harm is a maladaptive coping skill. When someone struggles with dealing with uncomfortable emotions, difficult interactions with others, or is dealing with past trauma, he or she may resort to managing their emotions through self harm. It is similar to other negative coping skills like drinking, abusing drugs, or engaging in eating disorder symptoms. They exist to help a person cope with his or her feelings. Self harm can help someone regulate his or her emotions. If the person is feeling overwhelmed, self harm can provide him or her an opportunity to numb out from his or her emotions. It gives the person temporary respite or relief.

Many times, parents who discover their son or daughter is engaging in self harm will panic, and fear that their child is also suicidal. Every individual has a different set of circumstances, but many times, that person is using self harm as a way to cope with stress, sadness, frustration, anger or other intense emotions.

What can I do to help someone who self harms?
The most beneficial step you can take is to open a dialogue with your loved one and connect him or her with a mental health professional. A mental health professional can help him or her understand the function of his or her self harm (why he or she self harms). Then, the person can learn how to replace this behavior with a healthier way of coping. Becoming educated about self harm is also crucial. It can provide you with skills to deal with the feelings that go along with knowing a loved one is physically harming themselves.

Self harm can be difficult for someone who self harms, as well as his or her loved ones. Remember, help is out there! Don’t be afraid to reach out and get the support that you and your loved ones need. You do not have to navigate this alone.