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Agony Aunt letters: Is it self-harm?
12:10pm Friday 27th July 2012 in Freetime
KAYE Townsend is a qualified, BACP registered, person-centred counsellor with a private practice in Flackwell Heath, Bucks.
She is currently writing a self-help book, write articles for various publications & work as a volunteer counsellor for a local charity. Here she answers letters in her Bucks Free Press agony aunt column.
I think my daughter is cutting her arms. She has lots of wounds across her arms...some healing & some that look like “fresh” wounds. I did casually ask what had happened to her arm over the weekend but she pulled her sleeve down really quickly while stating quite abruptly that it was nothing. I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it except for her reaction.
She has had exams recently, her boyfriend doesn’t seem to be around as much & she stays in her room most of the time. Up until 2 weeks ago she would interact with the family but we hardly see her now. Mrs. M, 45, High Wycombe.
Dear Mrs. M,
I think I would treat this situation with great care as it does sound like something to be concerned about. Although this can be a frightening discovery, don’t push her, but encourage her to see your GP. This is such a delicate subject, so I have added an article on Self-harm below to help you understand how to deal with the situation. I hope this helps both your daughter & you as a family, Best wishes, Kaye.
Self-harm As a very misunderstood condition even within the healthcare system, many people view this as attention seeking and therefore find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to injury themselves. But this is a real and dangerous place to be for the self-harmer so please think before you judge.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm has a wide range of ways to assist someone who is deeply distressed. These range from cutting or poisoning to burning or swallowing. If you think of an alcoholic or someone with an eating disorder you may have more empathy but this still a form of self-harm. Many people describe the act of self-harming as a release of inner pain which they feel can’t be voiced.
Painful experiences which have no emotional outlet at the time are often blocked or buried until the person can find another way to cope, turning the anger inwards towards themselves. They may feel a sense of frustration, guilt or anger and feel this is a controlled way to release these emotions. Many people don’t know why they do it, It is a very lonely place to be. Often the injuries will be in an area of the body that is easily covered with clothing so you may be quite shocked to find out how long this person has been self-harming. There could be scars, scabs or old burn marks which will confirm this is not attention seeking otherwise they would be in a place for all to see.
Research has shown that young adults are the most likely to self-harm, but anyone of any age could be affected. Men may feel emotion is a weakness and by self-harming, believe they are controlling their feelings by choosing a time and place that suits them. What you can do to help others or yourself It’s important to find someone you trust to talk to and counselling is a confidential and non-judgemental way to share your feelings. It may be a long journey but to have a trusted companion can have a great impact on the process of healing emotionally.
If you have a friend or relative who self-harms, try to encourage them to talk their GP about the underlying problem or help them to find a suitable counsellor and relevant advice and information.
Try to keep wounds clean to avoid infection no matter how small while trying to focus on safe limits.
By Kaye Townsend
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) www.bacp.co.uk Tel: 01455 88 33 00 Snowdrop Counselling www.snowdropcounselling.co.uk Tel: 07518 227615 Email: email@example.com
Mind www.mind.org.uk Tel: 0845 766 0163