My daughter and 16 year old granddaughter came for a visit recently and it was fine except … when we went to the beach my granddaughter took off her blouse and I saw she has all these slash marks on the insides of both her arms, from the wrists to the elbows. I was shocked and asked what had caused them, but both my daughter and granddaughter just shook their heads. Later when I could talk to my daughter alone she said it was not a matter for discussion. A friend has told me it is called ‘self harming.” Now I don’t know what to do or say about all of this. Do you have any suggestions?
The description that you’ve shared about your granddaughter’s injuries indicates that she may indeed be cutting herself. “Cutting,” along with abusive actions such as burning, hitting or stabbing oneself, or pulling out one’s own hair, come under the general category of “self-harming” or “self-mutilation.” Whereas those who harm themselves can be of any age and from any social stratum, research shows that adolescent females are most commonly at risk. Reasons for such behavior can vary from milder attention-getting ploys to serious self-hatred issues. In most cases self-harming actions are not life threatening, but are an urgent call for help.
Your granddaughter taking off her blouse and revealing the slash marks may be a sign that she has already resolved, to some degree, the issues she had in cutting herself. Most active self-mutilators hide any sign of such behavior under hats and long sleeves. Whether she is working with this behavior or not, I strongly advise that you do not talk with her about this now.
Instead, I suggest as a way for you to resolve your own fears for your granddaughter, find the right moment to reopen a discussion with your daughter. She needs to know that you are worried, and that you need to know that your granddaughter is safe. Even if your daughter becomes angry with you for prying, she will get the message that you need a clear response from her. Hopefully, this will open up a dialogue between you. She may even assure you that your granddaughter has already received professional help. If she hasn’t, you could suggest she Googles WebMD to find information and resources for self-harming behaviors. If your daughter remains resistant, you will have more certainty about the seriousness of this situation than you have now.
I wish you the best outcome for this sensitive issue, and please let me know if I can be of further help.
Brus and his wife, Jean, teach Mindfulness Meditation at the Bucerias Bilingual Community Center. For further information, email: [email protected].