My girlfriend (we’re both 16) pinches herself hard when she’s upset or stressed. She has tiny bruises all over her stomach, thighs and arms. She lives with her aunt because her dad is in jail and no one knows where her mom is. Her aunt hasn’t noticed the bruises. I’ve begged my girlfriend to stop pinching herself, but she just laughs. I really care about this girl, but I don’t know how to help.
A big, compassionate heart like yours means you will be drawn toward helping others. That’s a beautiful thing when you maintain good boundaries. Always be clear where you end and another person begins. That means you understand you can help others—encourage, inspire, motivate, confront, challenge or give support. You cannot save them. Love fuels our commitment to staying connected with the people we care about, especially when there is difficulty. But transformation occurs only when people feel the self-worth necessary to choose to save themselves. So nothing you say or do can permanently relieve your girlfriend’s pain or change her behavior. She requires professional medical support, ideally from a psychiatrist. Your steadfast concern and affection will remind her that she is not alone on her journey to wellness, but she must walk that path with a mental health professional as her guide.
Pinching, like cutting or hitting oneself, is called “maladaptive,” meaning that it is a response to suffering that ultimately increases suffering. So why do people do it? For some, it’s a distraction from depression, anxiety or anger. Others may feel it temporarily relieves stress or pressure or it’s a way to feel something when they feel numb. In therapy, your girlfriend will learn healthful tools for handling her feelings.
One last thing: Some researchers say self-injury has a contagious quality. Being around a self-injurer can normalize the behavior and compel imitation. Keep yourself safe by regularly accessing outlets for stress relief, like meditation, exercise and laughing, in addition to having honest conversations with trusted friends or seeing a counselor.
My 25-year-old daughter stopped speaking to me because I won’t tell her who her biological father is. The truth is, I don’t know. After my twin brother died in a car accident, I spun out of control. I drank, did drugs, slept around a lot. I don’t even know the names of most of those men. My daughter doesn’t know about this part of my life. What should I do?
Forgive yourself. You are no longer that grief-stricken young woman. Exchange your shame for compassion. Here’s how: Visualize your daughter, ashamed and coming to you for advice after acting out. Would you judge her as harshly as you are judging yourself? Or listen to her with an open mind and heart? Free your heart by giving the younger you the compassion and understanding you deserve. After all, if you can’t tell your adult daughter about your bad choices, how can she ever share hers with you? Once you release the need to control how your daughter thinks about you, tell her the truth: You don’t know who her father is. Then love her through her grief.