Self Injury Awareness Day March 1st 2014- Self-injury or self harming is when a person deliberately hurts themselves physically to deal with the emotional pain they are suffering.

When it comes to self-harm, cutting is thought of as the main way people hurt themselves. But burning, bruising and scratching are amongst other methods used by people who are distressed. Another misconception is that it’s mainly teenage girls that use this coping mechanism – but it also includes people of both sexes and all ages, races and backgrounds. So why do it?

This mechanism can provide people with a sensation that ‘breaks feelings of numbness’. This emotional pain is caused by issues such as low-self esteem, trauma, perfectionism and abuse. A person can go on suffering like this while telling no-one and feeling unable to break the cycle.

There’s a famous advertising slogan that goes: “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. That’s as may be, but modern life means you have to know what it doesn’t say on the tin.

Parents and foster carers have to be especially alert to what it doesn’t say on the tin. Earlier this week, one of our foster children asked me if I had any cinnamon. I had a hunt around the back of the larder and found a couple of sticks. The child said: “That’s not cinnamon, cinnamon is a red powder.” The child wanted ground cinnamon.

Normally I would have asked what the cinnamon was for, but this particular child tends to be a closed book and resents being questioned. Anyway, what could anyone want cinnamon for but biscuits? I wrote it on the shopping list and spent £1.89 on a tiny jar (and mentally rehearsed doing some baking, a joyful thing to do with children, especially if it’s their idea).

Only the child wasn’t planning to use the cinnamon for baking, it was used to self-harm. That was definitely not on the tin.

Self-harming is a huge concern in fostering. One’s instinct is to try to prevent the child from self-harming, to hide everything that might be used, suggesting, instructing and eventually begging the child not to do it. But one’s instinct is wrong.

We should refrain from disapproval. If we come across a foster child in their bedroom with blood coming from their arms, we should stay calm and neutral, ask them if they’re OK, fetch some towels and then follow the appropriate medical course of action.

This particular foster child is a delightful person who, with a bit of luck, will grow to become the person they were destined to be. That is, before something led them to doubt their worth and created a desire to feel pain they could control.

Information supplied by Community Care



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