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Precursor to self-harming?


Cerberus

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My adolescent daughter has been experiencing anxiety attacks for a while now, and they're growing in severity. I'm pretty good at helping her down from them, and her doctor is starting her on meds, but this evening I watched her do something I've never seen her do before, that worries me greatly. While she was extremely anxious and agitated, she suddenly started violently and purposely scratching her leg above her knee, really hard, until it turned bright red. Later when I asked her about it, she said she did, and had done it before, because it helped release the feelings that she felt were trapped inside.

I don't self-harm for my MI (nothing but the best suicidal ideation for me) but this sounded to me a lot like a description of why some people self-harm. Among those of you posting here, do any of you remember starting this way, i.e., scratching or some other form of non-skin-breaking activity that ultimately led to more serious self-harm later?

Cerberus

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My last inpatient stint, I had a roommate who also self harmed. While we were there, of course she didn't have her cutting tools, but she had her nails. She would sit and scratch intently, as it sounds like your daughter does, but she wouldn't stop until she had drawn blood. I never thought to ask if scratching was how she started injuring.

I may be completely wrong, but I also seem to remember seeing scratching listed among potential "self-mutilation" actions that people with BPD use. Again, I might be mistaken, but when I read your post it was the first thing that came to mind.

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It wasn't my precursor to SI, I started by trying to bruise myself, but I found that I didn't bruise easily and switched to blood. But my brother would rub the eraser end of a pencil over and over on his arm until he rubbed through the skin.

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Guest Vapourware

When I first started engaging in SI behaviour, I began by hitting and scratching myself, but my scratches didn't break the skin. Much later on, it escalated to the point where I was cutting with the intention of breaking the skin. A lot of my self harming stemmed from the fact that I felt I needed a release from my distress.

C, I'm glad that you are looking out for your daughter. If she is having therapy, it would be very prudent to bring this behaviour up with them so they can work out strategies to deal with what is happening - and if she doesn't have a therapist, it would be a good idea for her to have one now. You may also want to redirect her behaviours and to find less harmful ways of calming herself. There are some suggestions on this board about self-soothing which may help. For instance, some people may make a box of items that they can use to calm themselves, like aromatherapy, a soft toy they can cuddle when distressed, etc. Or even something reasonably mindless like a computer game can help. Personally I find playing The Sims on Facebook to be a very good diversionary tactic.

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I started by scratching myself with scissors, which then progressed to actualy cutting with blades. Nowadays, I scratch when I don't have access to my equipment. I definitely think that kind of behaviour indicates a need for therapy. You said that this is only the second time she's done it, so if you get her into therapy now, then it could be headed off before it becomes a serious habit.

Good luck!

N

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I would say it's already a form of self-harm. The emotional connection is there. She does it because it makes her feel better. It may progress further, it may not.. but it's much more common that severity increases as that same release gets harder and harder to achieve as the behavior becomes more common-place in your mind and you care less about the resulting damage.

Therapy dealing with this specific matter to teach her how to release her feelings without resorting to self-harm is a very good idea.

I would also avoid things like rubber-bands and red ink that simulate self-harm actions too. (Although I would hope that would never be suggested)

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Many thanks everyone for the input and the suggestions. That evening she was having a particularly intense anxiety attack, and couldn't stop crying out and couldn't stop moving her legs, and she said, "Dad, I feel like I'm going crazy." So I sat down on her bed with her and worked with her on controlling breathing. She said, "Why can't I stop? Why is this happening to me?" With her and her brother I've always tended to fall back on factual - non-emotional almost to the point of clinical explanations of what's happening with their MI to try to demystify it and make it something that they can recognize when it's happening and find a rational framework for coping with - I do that because that's what I learned to do for me. It seems to help calm my daughter down, but I also suggested that she hold onto the stuffed hippo that stays on her bed (good suggestion, Vape) and there was plenty of hugging.

It's scary as hell. I do not like seeing my child walking this road. I'm just glad that my own experience and having been in therapy myself for so many years has left me able to intervene and know when to seek help; my own parents were clueless and I had to fend for myself. I guess if what I've been through spares her some suffering, there might have been some purpose to it after all...

Cerberus

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I think it's awesome how you help her through all that. You sound like you do a lot more than most parent stories I've heard. High five for you! *high five*

As for my SI, I don't think scratching was how it started out. (At least not with my nails. I keep them too short anyway.) I can understand how that could become something more serious, though. I also agree with Cetkat 100%. (Esp. about the rubber bands and red ink. Those always had the same feelings attached even if there wasn't really any physical damage. The one time I did use red ink to try to help, it sort of had the mental aftermath of a slip-up. It was weird. I don't recommend that one.)

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