Today I want to welcome author, Dr. Ryan Fraser to my blog. He’s a dad, former MK (missionary kid), minister, professor, and counselor who has a heart for hurting parents. As a mom who fits that category, I found his writing to be both practical and uplifting. Thank you, Dr. Fraser, for your words of wisdom. We need them!
You never asked for this nor could you have ever imagined it happening—to have a child who self-harms, that is. It’s like living in a twisted and terrifying nightmare. It breaks your heart. You’ve lost sleep, worried, cried, screamed, begged, threatened, bargained, and prayed. Sometimes you look in the mirror and wonder what you did wrong in raising your child. It’s gut wrenching.
As parents, we take our children’s safety and well-being very personally, even when they’re grown. We can’t help it. They’re an extension of us. When they hurt, we hurt. We desperately want to fix things in their lives that are broken. Sometimes it seems we want to help them more than they want to help themselves.
If your child is a cutter, skin-burner, self-starver, or other category of self-harmer, what should you do? How may you cope as a parent?
Here are a few practical suggestions:
1. Stop blaming yourself. There are countless reasons why people self-harm, but ultimately it is a personal decision. Okay, so you weren’t a perfect parent, but nobody is. There are some things beyond our control. Even exceptional parents have children who struggle with various psychological and behavioral difficulties.
2. Speak respectfully and lovingly to your child. Show them that you are genuinely concerned, that you love them, and that you also respect their individual rights and person-hood. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Berating them or criticizing them will only make matters worse and exacerbate the problem.
3. Seek support and encouragement from others. It can feel very isolating to go through what you’re experiencing. You need to be able to share with others who understand your fears, concerns and shame. Join a support group for parents of self-harmers. You need a regular dose of empathetic shoulders to cry on and nonjudgmental ears to listen.
4. Secure competent professional assistance. This is not an issue that you ought to try and handle by yourself. It may be a matter of life and death. Speak to medical and behavioral health service providers to get their input on the situation, so you may develop a well-conceived treatment strategy.
5. Set boundaries with your child. Self-harmers can often use their behaviors to manipulate others, especially family members. A covenant needs to be established by which the terms of commitments and consequences are clearly spelled out. Your child needs to understand that if they inflict self-injury, you have an ethical and moral obligation to act in their best interest, whether that means reporting their behavior to authorities or going so far as to hospitalize them.
6. Sense God’s abiding presence. Regular devotional time, prayer, Bible study and worship are life-giving activities. Make sure that you are attending to your own spiritual needs throughout this ordeal to strengthen and sustain your soul. You’re going to need it.
7. Smile at the small victories. This is likely going to be a marathon and not a sprint. It is, therefore, important to celebrate little successes along the way and acknowledge each and every blessing. Maintaining a positive attitude and hopeful perspective is essential.
You’re not alone. May God give you strength for the journey!
Raised on the mission field in South Africa, Dr. Ryan Fraser has been happily married to his college sweetheart, Missy (Housel), for 26 years. Together they have been blessed with two wonderful children and live in West Tennessee.
Ryan holds a B.A. in Bible and Master’s in Ministry from Freed-Hardeman University, a M.Div. from Abilene Christian University, and a Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Counseling from Brite Divinity School (Texas Christian University). He teaches courses in the graduate counseling program at Freed-Hardeman University (since 2006), has a private counseling practice, and serves as the pulpit minister and an elder for the Bethel Springs church of Christ.
Ryan likes 80’s music, is an avid hiker, thrives on Indian curry and Thai Food, and loves hanging out with his wife and kids.
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