Self-harm: Cutting to survive

Many parents do not know how to deal with a son or daughter who is self-harming. A natural reaction is that they want to protect their child. Protect against pain and injury. But is that the right thing to do?


There is an enormous taboo on self-harm, or self-harm. It is not talked about much and most relatives do not know what to do with it. However, attention to self-harm is increasing. About 1 in 23 adolescents up to and including 18 years of age engages in self-harm. This mainly concerns cutting (73%), burns (35%), hitting oneself (30%), opening old wounds (22%), pulling hair 10% and breaking bones (8%).


Self-harm often starts around puberty, because young people start to form their own identity during this period. Adolescents start to think about how others see them and how they experience themselves. They often have a negative self-image and difficulty expressing their feelings. By harming oneself, endorphins are produced in the body. This substance ensures that they still feel happy. As in the case of daughter Roos, her father’s death is largely due to her damage. Other reasons may be assault, sexual abuse, divorce or bullying. This traumatic event is often accompanied by a personality disorder, such as borderline. This can result in eating disorders.

Teenage girls

Young people who self-harm do not want to stand out from the crowd. It is therefore difficult to recognize self-harmers. It often concerns young teenage girls. They wear long-sleeved clothes because of their shame about the injuries. Even when the weather is warm. Sometimes they wear wristbands to hide their wounds. Others exhibit withdrawn behavior. Their ability to concentrate in class decreases and their grades plummet. Self-injury can also occur if teenagers neglect themselves or lose a lot of weight.


A large-scale study (CASE) by the University of Leiden into self-harm shows that young people often hide their problems from their parents. More than 48% of young people have talked to someone close to them about their self-harming behavior. Most often these are their friends (45%), siblings (16%) and mothers (15%). Parents often do not know that their child is self-injuring


Parents can give their self-harming children a helping hand. Young people who harm themselves send out a signal. If parents ignore this signal, it is as if they have received nothing. As a result, adolescents will be confirmed in their negative self-image, which will increase self-injury. The best way is to respond to that signal and ask about their problems. Parents should make it clear to their child that it is okay to talk about self-harm and that it can be understood. Because as soon as a young person feels valued, he or she is more likely to feel safe. In addition, it is important to determine the exact reason behind the injuries.


In addition to talking, it is important that parents spend a lot of time with their child. Most teenagers will not injure themselves in front of others. By providing companionship and support, parents minimize the risk of self-harm. Making social contacts can also help young people escape their social isolation. What parents should not do, according to the expert, is discourage self-harm. Parents must also realize that they cannot do much besides talking and offering support.


Parents are not alone. There are numerous self-help groups and associations that can offer young people support. Bureau Youth Care, Trimbos Institute, the RIAGG or the National Self-harm Foundation (LSZ) are a solution. Young people can come to the LSZ to tell their story to an expert or fellow student. They receive intensive personal support for a number of weeks. If they prefer to remain anonymous, they can use the LSZ telephone helpline.


The foundation also provides information at schools. Self-harm often starts in schools. There are students in every class who self-harm. Students, but also teachers, clearly need contact and information. The Internet also plays an important role in breaking that taboo. Young people are seeking support from each other through dozens of forums about self-injury. Dozens of new posts are submitted to the forum on the LSZ site every week. Not only from young people, but also from fellow sufferers. It looks like this new openness will bring about a lot of change.


Unfortunately, there is no magical treatment for self-harm. Young people heal their bad feelings and self-loathing with wounds. It makes them feel good and they will not easily give up this feeling. It is addictive for them. Sometimes it can take years for a person to accept themselves and realize that they can love themselves. It is important for parents to support their child all the time. Self-harm has a profound effect on parents. It is radical to support your child in something that you do not actually support. To understand your child, you as a parent may have to undergo therapy yourself. Of course your child comes first, but you must also continue to take care of yourself. Parents simply cannot help their child if they experience too many difficulties themselves.


Self-harm (self-harm, self-injury, self-aggression) is anything the victim does to himself or herself that has a direct impact on his or her well-being. This can include: burning, cutting, alcohol, pills, pulling out hair, swallowing sharp things, hitting your head on the wall or washing yourself with bleach. Self-harm is a personality disorder and at the same time a survival mechanism that temporarily solves problems. Most often, self-harm is the result of very intense and intense emotions that a person has no way of dealing with. It has a positive effect (albeit short-term) on mood. It is not a conscious choice, but we have no control over this.

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