There is an interesting new comment up on the Guardian piece about the mother with the mentally fragile daughter who wants to transition. In fact, there are many good comments that have been posted since I blogged about the article the other day. The commenter–a woman who has been to hell and back–provides excellent advice to parents of girls who are engaging in self harm.
I have suffered mental health issues since I was a child and my self harm began aged 11, I continued in secret till my twenties.
If I could share one thing with you, it would be this; self harm didn’t mean I was trying to kill myself. It allowed me to survive. It allowed me to moderate and purge very strong emotions that I couldn’t put into words. I come from a dysfunctional home where no one taught me how to talk about my emotions or that I was allowed. It gave me back a sense of control over my own life, I belonged to myself, I wasn’t at the mercy of adults who abused me. It had an addictive physiological response, the rush and the soothing pain killing adrenal response. It was survival. It wasn’t a cry for help, for attention or to punish family.
Your daughter won’t be in a place to stop self harming until she has a viable alternative set of skills, identifying her feelings, being able to communicate, bring heard, building self esteem, feeling belonging. Those skills take time to build and she needs a professional to do it with.
Most of all, she needs a Mum to witness where she is right now. Not a Mum who wants to fix her (natural as that feels) or a a mum who will analyse what she says and tell her what means. Listen to her with kindness, non judgment, let her voice her feelings. Feeling like you are alienated from your body is painful, listen to it and witness it. That doesn’t mean you have to endorse a gender reassignment. But listen. Whether she means she wants to be a man, it is telling you something about how she sees herself.
You can make it through this. I got into therapy, off meds, I stopped self harming and at 31, I am a happy healthy woman. At 25, I had endured 5 hospital admissions and was crashing out of the psychiatric system. I was giving up hope. What changed that was being listened to and loved by people who focused on what was valuable about me, not what was wrong.
You can do it.