Suicide: What to do when kids say they want to kill themselves

January 22, 2010

I had already been planning on addressing suicidality in children in Privilege of Parenting when the following comment showed up:

“A friend of mine and her family are in pain.  Their 24-year old daughter died last week in an apparent suicide.  She was about to turn in her Master’s thesis, and I don’t think there were any obvious signs that she was depressed or troubled.   She was the oldest of four daughters, the youngest of whom is in elementary school.

Please send healing thoughts to this family.”

*

While I would not want to say anything about this specific situation other than I agree that we might all send some love to this family, no matter what the “facts” turn out to reveal, and to which I am not privy, I did want to address the topic of suicide in kids.

Firstly, if all children, even “grown-up” children (and I hold that adulthood actually begins at twenty-seven in many corners of American culture), are our collective children, then it serves us and those we care about to educate ourselves on how to help when things are so bleak that a person might not want to go on living.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death between 8 and 18 (after accidents and homicide), so it is a pervasive issue in our turbulent and often cruel or seemingly indifferent society.  Given that many more young people attempt suicide than complete the act, this is something that affects many more of our collective kids than we might, at first glance, realize.  Suicide prevention is an often invisible struggle—the battle to prevent the headline, to nip the horror story in the bud… it is exhausting work that takes a great toll on many compassionate volunteers who step up to do it; greater consciousness for both the “parents” of the collective who do show up to answer phones and talk people off ledges, and also for the many suffering “children” who might be contemplating self-harm at this very moment, may mean a bit more productive suffering for the group in the service of our own collective and enlightened self-interest.  In simpler words, it’s painful to think about kids wanting to hurt themselves, but if we can be conscious of it we might help avert it in some subtle degree.

In a sense, suicide is both about the wish to be free of the pain that living sometimes brings, and it is also about rage; kids who feel unsupported, unloved or inadequate may aggress against those who they anxiously depend on by attempting, or succeeding, to hurt themselves.  A common pre-suicide fantasy is that of bereft loved ones who are sorry now that this has happened crying at the funeral of the now-dead person.

It has been said that murder kills one person while suicide kills everyone.  The rage within suicide may be unconsciously held but in my clinical experience it is almost always there.

Also, if depression might be thought of as anger turned inward (a partial explanation, as neurochemicals, stressors, etc. also play a role), suicide is also self-annihilation.  While none of us know what might lie on the other side of the veil that separates the living from the dead, when those we care to help are in so much pain that they cannot stand it, we need to understand this and help be the bowl to catch and hold the dread and annihilation anxiety they cannot contain on their own.

Another way of understanding the wish to die is that a person is trying to express just how truly painful things feel at the moment.  If we can get into accurate connection with such a person, they often feel safer and no longer need to check out from the planet—neither fleeing their own feeling states nor acting out their destructive rage.  Conversely, if we minimize a suicidal person’s suffering or try to cheer them up by pointing out how smart and beautiful they are we only further their feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

While there may be cases where no obvious signs of suicide are present, let’s start with what to do when a child directly says that they wish they were dead or are going to kill themselves.

Take it seriously:  Always ere on the side of caution.  Even if your kid thinks you’re over-reacting, suicidality is a realm where we should jettison concerns about being overprotective and think worst-case scenarios.  Keep a child who expresses self-harm ideation in sight, get them talking (i.e. how would they do it?) and take measures to protect them (i.e. lock up the knives, pills, etc.).

Obviously sometimes people “just say things” and could even be joking around, but to a parent this is not funny and a child benefits from seeing that we are listening and want to keep them safe because we love and treasure them.  Even if you think a kid is just trying to get attention, by taking it seriously they will either get the help they need or learn that this is not a satisfying way to get their needs for attention met (i.e. more trouble than it’s worth if one is not in deep emotional pain).

Consult Professionals:  If in doubt about a child’s safety you can call 911.  Another option would be a suicide hotline (i.e. 1-800-Suicide).  Another would be the family doctor or a therapist if you have a relationship in place with a counselor.  As a parent, you do not have to know how to deal with suicidality on your own; you just need to reach out for appropriate help (which will further help you build your skills and abilities to not just keep kids alive, but help them heal from the feelings that would lead to self-destructive impulses in the first place).

I may be prone toward longish blog-posts, as I seek to give what support I can, however, the distillation is:  when in any doubt about your child’s risk for self harm, take it seriously and get help.

I am also aware that some readers who come across these words may be suicidal themselves.  If so, parent yourself—take it seriously and reach out for help.  I have worked with (and am personally friends with) many adult children of parents who killed themselves and I can attest to the destructive rage in the act and the torment it leaves behind.  You may be angry.  The world certainly appears to be unfair.  But there just may be people who care, people who you may not be feeling at this moment who want you to stay alive; there may also be more than just a way to stay alive, there may be a way to heal and be truly glad that you are alive.  Pain can guide us toward good feelings that last; our pain may be about our wounds, it may be about our falseness with ourselves and others.

Some self-destructive behavior can be non-verbal.  Passing out drinking, car accidents, giving things away—even a sudden elevation in mood and energy after a long sullen period of depression can indicate that the person has a secret plan to end their suffering (and thus experience a transitory boost of relief)—can all be concerning indicators. We can always call a suicide hotline, tell them our observations and concerns and get some feedback on how to play it safer rather than potentially sorry.  And keep in mind that people don’t kill themselves because someone “gave them the idea” (i.e. by asking about it); if you’re concerned, go ahead and ask.  If they say no, at least you noticed something was seriously bothering them; if they say yes, they want someone to help them so they won’t have to do it.

No one can truly and definitively stop someone from killing himself or herself if they are determined to do it, but we just might be able to do the reach out and be in this together.  Ultimately it is not about killing or not killing our ego-selves, it is about our relationships representing our fuller identity (relationships which are rather broken down at the collective level); the help is out there, let it in as an act of love for your kids, or for children you may never meet—they are the kids you once were, the kids who need to be understood and validated and respected… from there healing takes care of itself.

I have had clients realize that they didn’t really need to be in the locked ward of a psych hospital only after spending an afternoon being evaluated and checked into a psych hospital.  I’ve worked with kids who could not feel safe until they were within the locked confines of a psych hospital and who needed some time there to become more cohesive in the face of their despair and shatteredness.  Some people are able to step back from the ledge when their true pain is really heard, others have different levels of disturbance and need a safe place to begin effective treatment (i.e. proper meds, family therapy, etc.)

Suicidality is complex and longer answers would take us down several paths exploring issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, emerging psychotic or bi-polar disorders, losses and traumas (such as sexual abuse) and you can search this site for posts related to those topics.

Ultimately we want to go from preventing suicide to facilitating good feelings that last.

So, let’s dedicate today to being the bowl in whatever way we can manage, sending love to heartbroken families (as suicide can devastate any one of us, sometimes unexpectedly as it is not always obvious) and to any and all of our collective children who might not much feel like being here right now—holding to an alternate truth which is that we do want them to live, grow, heal and be a loving and conscious part of our collective group (as they are part of our group whether they know it or not, and their demise always kills a part of us, whether we know it or not).

Namaste, Bruce

PS Deeply understanding our children is often a key to helping them feel both loved and safe.  To learn more about the book, Privilege of Parenting, which has entire chapters on self-esteem, depression, anxiety and oppositionality/self-harm Click Here.

Resources: http://suicidehotlines.com/

http://www.hopeline.com/

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

krk January 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

The information you share is meaningful and poignant.
Thank you once again.
krk

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cazinou online August 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm

I LOVE THIS BLOG!!!

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shannon walsh January 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Thanks to this amazing story, my teacher gave me an a+ on my research project !

This story is really devastating but i think it tells a lot, i learned many things by reading this article !
once again thanks !

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privilegeofparenting January 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Hi Shannon, I’m glad this was of use to you—and I’m glad it was academic and not personal :). Here’s to kids knowing how to look out for each other and practicing loving kindness rather than cruelty.

And thanks so much for taking the time to share kind words with me.

All Good Wishes, BD

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whatsaysyou March 7, 2011 at 3:38 am

Excellent information and good on you for addressing the issue of suicide and suicidal behaviour among young kids. Keep it up.

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privilegeofparenting March 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

Hey Whatsaysyou, Thanks for being so encouraging—personally I am saddened by the metrics of how many people search for this topic and read this article, day after day. While I wrote it to try and offer some help, I am hoping that we all might look a little more consciously at a world where so many kids feel so terribly. Namaste

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Shaye June 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Hi,

My step son has said on two different ocasions now that he wants to kill himself. I’ve read what you’ve wrote and was wondering if you had any other ideas to help with getting him to talk.

I don’t really know what to think or do, as he is a child that is not lacking anything material wise. ie-has a bmx bike, 4-wheeler, drag rail…you name it. He says he will not talk to someone if we bring him in. and tell us his life is perfect, but yet says he wants to kill himself…

Puzzled, hurt and confused…

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privilegeofparenting June 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Hi Shaye, The very fact that you’re reading, searching for info, trying your best to help seems like the right direction. As I emphasize in this post, the key thing is safety first, so if you have concern about your step-son’s safety, it would be good to consult directly with an expert. Calling a suicide hot-line would be an appropriate step, as well as consulting with the school, pediatrician or, if it feels like an emergency—911.

As far as getting your step-son to open up, and to better understand his pain (clearly it is not the pain of lacking material things) it can often be a real gift to a child for the grown-ups to seek counseling on behalf of better understanding and better parenting. Often the dysfunction in a family ends up manifesting in the kids, thus working toward greater harmony between split families, looking at depression, stress, substance issues amongst the grown-ups… generally working toward being mindful and happy as parents can trickle down to kids. Learning how to truly listen (and not fix or judge) is a great way to help others feel free to express themselves.

Finally, as a step-parent, sometimes one becomes the target of resentments (think wicked step-moms in fairy tales); if you can handle and contain this gracefully you can be a positive and containing presence in his life.

So, take his suicidal talk seriously and seek consultation with experts on a 1:1 basis—let them work with you to tailor an effective approach based on the specifics (his age, traumas, losses, full medical picture, family context, etc.) that may empower you to optimally help your step-son.

All Good Wishes, BD

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william February 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I know what your going threw my 15 yesr old daughter has said it a few times. She has been raped by her step dad, she had a child from him he’s in jail hopefully for life..!!!! The child was taken from her cause her mother called child welfare on her to have him taken from her.. she is now living with me and my wife and she does get just about everything she wants, that we can give her.. but she is 15 and thinks she’s grown, she thinks she don’t have to do what anybody tells her, she ran away last week to go by the boyfriend . After a week we found her and found out she was living in a tent behind his dads house .. his dad is a drunk an a drug addict and I know she does drugs but I don’t know how to help her anymore now she wants to kill herself . I guess cause she can’t do what ever she wants to do.. I can’t seem to stop her from doing drugs, cause I can’t be with her every second of the day, I have to work to keep a roof over our head.. we tried to get her to talk to somebody but she said she will not talk to anybody but she will go to any boy she might be talking to for this week, an she will go tell there moms all about her past and she trys to get them to feel sorry for her and when she’s done with the boy she moves on to the next one.. I want to get her help but I don’t know what else I can do..I think she just wants attention, but how am I to know what’s true and what’s a lie anymore..??
It seems like everything that comes out her mouth is a lie .. I don’t think she knows what’s true and what’s a lie…I pray everyday that nothing happens to her or she don’t hurt herself. . I wish I could bring her to a boot camp or something that will not let her just drop out when ever she don’t want to do it anymore. .I wish I could send her to a military school , that I could afford to send her to.. is there a way to tell if she wants to kill herself. ???
If anyone knows of anything I can do to help my child, to show her that her life has not even started yet, I know things are hard when your growing up but we have to keep going. We get knocked down we get back up and try again , we will fall all over again but that’s life and we have to go threw these things to learn how to live.. how to grow into adults, to know how to deal with everyday life..
Well thanks for the time you took to read this if you or someone you know can help please email me at wticker@hotmail.com
Thanks again.

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Bruce February 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Hi William,

Having worked with so many children like your daughter my first thing to say, beyond that I am so sorry for her suffering and for the suffering all around her, from drugs to self-medicate anxiety and depression not to mention to deal with poverty and social disadvantage, is that this problem is, or at least should be, all of our problem.

For this reason we must place your daughter’s suffering in a larger social-political, perhaps even “spiritual” context—after all, are we humans in this together or are we competing with each other? Not only does this sort of suffering have great human costs, it also has great social and economic costs (from youth authority, to departments of family and childrens’ services, on through hospitals, as the highly stressed later, if not succumbing to suicide, are disproportionately likely to become the sick (heart disease, diabetes) and thus suffer again in this manner while costing much for treatment.

While these comments on the social context will not change the social context, at least we can strive for some understanding about why this terrible stuff goes on, perpetuating generation to generation. At some point people may realize that if you want kids not to be so troubled at 15 you must protect them from the very beginning, and that means supporting parents to heal their own past trauma and supporting parents to be able to protect and raise their children to feel safe, with good self-esteem and the possibility of living happy and productive lives.

That said, with your girl we are facing the challenge of healing terrible trauma that has already happened.

Love is about accurate understanding, and so we need to imagine what we might feel like, and how we might see the world, if we were in your daughter’s situation. Sometimes she is able to think like an “older kid” (as abuse prematurely caused her to know about “adult” things) and sometimes she is thrown into the mind she had as an infant—this is when she seems to “lie” or tantrum, to not make much sense and also to be at risk of hurting herself.

The non-traumatized teen brain is hard enough (for the teen, much less the parent) but when deeply hurt the brain is like a soldier’s coming back from war, and much of the same sort of treatment is needed (and, as you say, she’d not that keen on having any treatment because her trust has been broken and all authority figures, when she is scared, are monsters… at least to her).

That said, first priority is keeping her safe, so when she is suicidal you have to watch her, or call the police or hospital, or at least the suicide hotline.

Read my suggestions above and follow in terms of safety.

Then we have the bigger challenge of parenting this girl as she is already fast moving beyond your authority. I might go back to the counselor that she didn’t want to see and offer to meet with them yourself, sort of therapy by proxy, where you are trying to be your best self as a parent, learning how to deal with her acting out, with her depression, with her rage, with her self-destructive behaviors and with her attention seeking behaviors.

Admittedly this is complicated stuff, but you certainly deserve support so that you can be there on the front line and bring effective love to the situation—love to a person who does not have much reason to believe love is real.

Additionally, while she is not ready to go yet, some sort of 12 step recovery is likely to be part of her future if she is fortunate enough to have a future. In the meantime, so long as you are not abusing drugs or alcohol, you might find some help at Al-anon, as I suspect you have had parents and ex-lovers who had substance problems. Al-anon can help you with so-called “co-dependency” where you try to help others who manipulate you with their emotions. This looks like “lying” but it’s more like co-created dynamics where everyone suffers.

In this way you will learn to set boundaries without losing your temper or throwing your hands up and saying there’s nothing at all you can do.

Finally, you might find some of my other blogs informative on understanding your kid’s problems:

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2010/01/14/i-say-yes-you-say-no-oppositionality-in-teens/

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/11/20/logical-consequences-exercise/

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/07/17/what-is-an-iep-and-how-do-i-get-one/

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/07/09/anger-management/

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/06/03/what-to-say-when-kids-say-they-hate-themselves/

and:

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2010/12/15/attachment-in-the-lab-implications-on-the-couch-and-in-the-brain/

Finally, while my blogs try to address these issues from a variety of angles, my book is a bit like a curriculum on re-thinking parenting. It has chapters on anxiety, depression and particularly for your needs on oppositionality, and it provides many concrete strategies to try in the service of helping kids.

You can read quite a lot of it for free at Amazon and maybe invest in it if you think it looks worthwhile.

The link to the book is: http://amzn.to/1icH7o9

I guess we all just do the best we can, but I’m certainly sending you and your daughter All Best Wishes

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Cyndi T September 23, 2011 at 9:23 am

My son is a wonderful 13 year old who had never struggled with anything. he is intelligent, athletic and makes friends easily. We recently moved back to my home town, leaving his entire life back in VA. he left all his friends, his football team, his soccer team, his best friend and his Military Dad in VA. to move here so that we wouldnt have to move the kids during high school (which we thought would be even harder than moving now) We have a large family support system here and we are in contact with his friends and Dad daily. He has never had a discipline problem and is a kid with a strong character and moral base. Within the past several weeks he has been saying he hates his life and wants to kill himself. I feel helpess in how to help him. I share with him that I know things are hard, that they may seem desperate but that there is nothing we cannot deal with together, no matter how hard it seems. I share with him that he is not alone in his struggle although ours (his Dad and myself) is different. I try to remind him of the good things he has in his life ( not material but people that care about him and things he takes pride in). It is affecting his school work and his behavior at school. He looks lost and sad but is hiding it well at school. I have spoken to the priest he seems to have bonded with and he will be meeting with him but I just do not know what to do. Please help me.

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privilegeofparenting September 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Hi Cindy,

Firstly I’m sorry that you are facing such difficult feelings—it’s terrible when our children suffer. I would encourage you to realize that the very fact that you’re feeling your son’s angst so acutely is part of helping manage and contain it. This is good parenting. You are recognizing the problem, asking for help, seeing a balanced picture of the situation—things that may be a bit beyond the capacity of your son who, at thirteen, cannot be expected to have a mature perspective.

Some additional things to consider here are the fact that at thirteen, a boy’s developmental needs are strongly related to becoming a man. Thus separation from father, football (and football coaches), soccer (and soccer coaches), and best friend all when he’s transitioning from boyhood to early-stage manhood (which doesn’t really take full root until about 24, when the brain is finished developing the basic full wiring) is highly stressing the coping skills he has available.

In simple words, your son is suffering a lack of community and support at a time when he particularly needs it. He needs to be understood in how he feels (i.e. that he hates the painful and lonely feelings that he has right now, and expresses this as “hating his life”).

Given that accurate understanding will help more than reminding him of his blessings, it seems you’re on the right track with staying connected, open and having him have his daily contact with his dad—and in reflecting back to him that you hear how terrible this all feels for him and acknowledge that anyone in his position would feel this way—and that this doesn’t make his feelings any less painful.

As for the verbalization that he wants to kill himself, this is scary and this is what lead you searching for this blog post; we do want to take this seriously. If it is a “cry for help” we want to be sure we hear it, and offer whatever support we can. Talking to the priest sounds like a good step; perhaps speaking with the school counselor to inform them of this concern would also begin to form a sort of team of caring adults around your son so that you are not alone with his pain and anger and potentially self-destructive emotions.

Suicidal ideation, and suicide itself, often has a lot of anger in it. Thus when someone turns that anger against their own self, it can manifest in a wish to harm one’s self. Validating your son’s anger at his situation and not encouraging him to hide or suppress that anger may make him more testy and irritable, but less bottled up and self-destructive.

As the above-post suggests, it’s best to take any suicidal talk very seriously. Hopefully your son will turn out to have been expressing his feelings of pain more than an intention to act on these words, but he needs, and deserves, whatever emotional support it takes to stay safe. If he cannot be sure he feels safe from harming himself, then you should call his doctor, or even 911. Help will come if you do this, and sometimes it takes an experience with the hospital to help a person realize that they don’t ultimately want to die but are scared and their emotional pain has become temporarily unmanageable.

Finally, again I am sorry that your family is going through separation and hardship, I’m sorry that your son is feeling the worst of that pain, but I’m glad you did the reach-out here and encourage you to keep taking this situation seriously. You may, as you have already done in writing your comment and contacting the priest, extend this wish for help to speaking with your priest yourself, or even by seeking some counseling for yourself (perhaps the military offers some sort of mental health services to spouses?) to empower you to stay strong and loving in the service of your husband and your son—and all our collective children.

All Good Wishes, Bruce

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Cyndi T October 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Bruce, I just now noticed that you had responded. Although I have received several emails of your replies to others I had not seen one for my own situation and I AM SO GLAD I took the time to look deeper. Thank you so much for your advice, your kind words, your assurance, etc… The information you provided about the separation my son is going thru as a 13 yr old young man and the community he is missing was astounding to me. Any further resources you could provide me regarding that would be IMMENSELY appreciated. My son has 3 uncles and a grandfather here that I can call on for support and understanding more about this phase of his life would certainly help me. The talks with the priest have certainly helped but need to be more consistent. We have had some difficulty in getting teachers on board with understanding that there are some emotional issues that need to take precedence over 2 missing assignments but contacting the school counselor is a fantastic idea as well. I am hoping for good things and praying for great things. My son has changed his wording to I hate my life right now, which, although is just semantics, is absolute music to my ears. Thank you again so much for your help and for taking the time to help so many of us. Again, any resources on the above mentioned reference you made would be wonderful.Heck- how about resources on 13 yr olds boys. Ive never had one before and certainly am aware that I need all the help I can get!
Grateful and Blessed for your help,
Cyndi

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privilegeofparenting October 16, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Hi Cyndi,

There is another post about when kids say they hate themselves (which is similar to hating their lives): http://bit.ly/aHntca.

A post specifically on oppositional behavior in teens might be worth a look: http://bit.ly/pFLeMW.

A post about helping kids feel understood could be useful: http://bit.ly/pV4WKX.

The theme of adolescents pulling away from us is the subject of this post: http://bit.ly/nEVRub.

I hope to be publishing my own book in the coming months, so if you subscribe to Privilege of Parenting you’ll be sure to hear about it when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, a popular book about parenting boys, “Raising Cain,” might be of some use or comfort: http://amzn.to/pZzdb.

All Good Wishes, Bruce

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Samantha M. October 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm

I have a 9 yr old daughter, whom has said she doesn’t want to be here anymore or wants to kill herself about 2/3 times now when mad at daddy being gone. She takes it out on me and we’ve fought, cried etc… as she will not listen to me at all when she gets that angry over her father being gone. Usually she sets off when asked to do homework or clean and the first time I thought she was doing it for attention or didn’t want to clean. And I ask her what is really wrong and she cries and says she wants daddy to come back,she hates where he’s at etc…

He left a few months ago, but is home almost daily to spend time with us for a few hours. Having dinner and attending all of her sporting events, calls to say good night and good morning, etc… Yes, there is another person involved and our daughter knows why daddy left and what he did that was so wrong w/this person. He lives with her now and our daughter hates it. She will not have anything to do w/her and thankfully he won’t ask her to, as I would not let her near this person anyway. We both agree and we’ve both promised her she doesn’t have to be around anyone or go there, that seems to help.

I’ve talked to her after she calms down and she cries and says she just wants daddy to come back home and she hates her and hates him for leaving. I try to console her and tell her I understand because I feel similiar pain, it’s hard to watch him leave every night, but I also feel it’s important he is here for her so much. I know I am lucky he is trying in that respect. But I can not promise her daddy will come home. We have talked and he still loves me and wants to come home but doesn’t want to untill he’s resolved his issues so he/we don’t hurt our daughter in anyway… and I agreed, telling him I don’t want him home unless he is sure he wants to only be here w/me. I will not put our daughter thru anymore h— than she’s already been thru. I’ve tried to tell her that she is the most important thing in my life and no matter what I am not going to abandon her. I try to let her know I understand how she is feeling…

Am I doing the right thing listening to her and trusting when she tells me she doesn’t really want to hurt herself. She just gets so angry, then gets angry at herself saying she’s so stupid for saying that and it scares her that she says that. I told her it scares me too and that I need her and love her and want her here w/me. so does daddy, that we’d be devasted if anything ever happened to her, that she is so important to me and I love her with all my heart.

I am so scared, I don’t want to be that parent that didn’t do enough. It would kill me inside if I lost her. I think she’s only 9, I know she’s really hurting inside and she doesn’t want to talk to daddy about it because she says he always has his little positive sayings but doesn’t really listen, she’ll thank me for listening and understanding which I think is good, but you worry am I just being told what she thinks I want to hear? I can’t imagine at her age she would do that? maybe an older child. She seems sincere and happy after we’ve talked…

thoughts….? Please anything else I should be doing? I have asked her if she wants to talk to a therapist and she says she doesn’t think she really needs to. I just worry, is my listening & talking to her enough, am I enough? Daddy has had some good talks w/her, and told her nothing is her fault and he will Always be here no matter what but he doesn’t know if/when he will come home.
Thank you,
Samatha M.

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privilegeofparenting October 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Hi Samantha,

It sounds like you are a very loving and generous-of-spirit mom. Your pain is palpable in both what you are going through and in how it is impacting your little girl.

In a blog like this I cannot be in a position to reassure you with any certainty, but rather to be a place where this, and other, issues can be shared and discussed in order to support each other as parents to do our best and keep our children safe to the best of our ability.

That said, it really does sound like you are doing an admirable job of hearing your child’s pain and anger and helping to contain it and mentally metabolize it. This really takes it out of a parent, but it also reduces the need for children to escalate their message of despair (i.e. with an actual attempt at self-harm) so that a parent might take it seriously.

Children this young, and younger, do kill themselves. While your daughter sounds like she cries it out and de-escalates when you listen to her, it would be a good idea to both contact her school counselor and teacher(s) so they know what she is going through.

An excellent idea at this point in your situation would be to consult with a psychologist or therapist directly. This would serve the double purpose of helping you sort through your feelings and have support so that you can turn around and continue to be there for your daughter as a single mom who has been hurt.

This might also set the stage for some couples work, which can help you heal your relationship and the betrayal, or even help you part ways in as loving a manner as possible. It sounds like you and your husband are both doing your best to put your little girl first, and that is the way we all want to roll as parents.

It’s not clear if your husband knows about his daughter’s suicidal talk, but he should know, even if he is not great at listening.

One other note, your daughter is discharging her anger onto you because you are a safe place to express this. While painful, it underscores that she feels trust with you—the trust to show her authentic and not so sweet or happy self. Beyond keeping her safe, we want to help her heal any shame she may carry, as if this situation is somehow her fault (sometimes that is a defense against the worse, unconscious realization that we have no control of many things).

Depending on her level of maturity for her age, her brain may be developing in a manner that makes her pain much sharper and harder to manage (http://bit.ly/q9g4qu).

Finally, I’m glad that you reached out here to communicate, rather that suffering alone. I think talking with friends but also with a professional will give you that extra margin of safety and security about your daughter. As I mention in the post above, when in doubt, call 911, or one of the hotlines. With suicidality it’s always better to be safe than sorry (and kids can be impulsive and miscalculate a cry for help into something much worse). Also, when in doubt, keep her close, let her regress temporarily (as being younger was when daddy was still with you and this pain was not plaguing her), do what you need to do to feel safe and this will help you transmit this to your child.

All Good Wishes, Bruce

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Samantha M. October 12, 2011 at 2:13 am

I did ask her about talking to someone and she says, “I don’t know” but definitely doesn’t want me to make her talk to the school counselor. She would rather someone who doesn’t know her and wants me to be there… I feel that it’s very important for me to keep my word to her and if I say I understand and I won’t then I need to keep that promise as that is the major problem w/daddy at the moment, she doesn’t trust. I can’t blame her, he has a lot of work ahead of him. I try to get her to talk to him, but she doesn’t like to because she says he just says the same thing and either says be nice to your mom or gets mad at her or tries to sugar coat things. She says he’s stupid.

I have to say, she is wise beyond her years. She always has been, she’s in advanced classes and gets straight A’s even thru all of this! That I’m thankful for but, she has had issues of not wanting to go to school.

When you say it’s okay to let her regress, I’m glad to hear that, but worry if I’m doing the right thing. I do let her sleep w/me when she asks (which is a lot) as she tells me it makes her feel safe. She tells me thank you a lot and expresses she’s thankful for me being there for her. I’m not trying to toot my horn, but am wondering does this sound like a true positive thing coming from her. I believe it is. My husband tends to say she’s manipulating me and is worried that it will make her too much of a baby or mama’s girl for lack of a better way to say it. But I am just trying to make her feel safe and loved because she constantly tells me how she feels he abandoned us even though he comes by all the time. I hope I am not over compensating? I just remember when I was young issues w/my dad – he was an alcoholic – and gone a lot. But I was always able to talk to my mom about most anything, and she always made me feel safe. She was always there. So I try to keep the lines of communication totally open. If she asks me I tell her the truth, whether I like the subject or not, I feel she needs to trust me. and if she wants to sleep w/me and snuggle then I let her. I feel like when she’s ready and feels secure, she’ll stop. I know she’s going thru the beginning of puberty and is torn between wanting to be a big girl and has all these questions but still wants to be my little pumpkin.

We do butt heads too though, as we are a lot alike and when she takes it out on me, sometimes I yell at first till I realize she’s hurting and even though I am I need to step back and think of her first. I know I do this because I’m over tired, sad myself and just frustrated at times. But I feel horrible when I do!!! We always end up talking things thru and she tells me she knows I’m hurting too and that’s why we both get mad. I hate that she is having to go thru this when it’s a time her life that she should just be worrying about fun, friends and school etc… Guessing I really need to stop yelling when she gets angry and pushes me. She’s very stubborn and when she gets mad she doesn’t want to listen that’s how it comes to yelling when I’m at my wits end. I tell her I am not perfect and I am sorry… and I know I should not get angry and yell.

I guess I am rambling on now…or venting as it’s hard to talk to people who just want to tell you their side and not listen to you. Friends and family just want to tell me what to do, not listen to how I feel or how I am trying to work on the possibility of saving my family, because I’ve forgiven him and I do truly love him. and really the last thing our daughter needs is a mom who is going out to bars and trying to meet someone!? People can be really stupid sometimes. I just want to scream and ask them are they crazy??

…as for a counselor, I would rather her not talk to the school one either as I don’t feel she’s got the qualifications my daughter needs. She tells me how all the kids joke about how they can cause trouble and get out of class to go play games with her. Many Parents have expressed their dislike for her as well.

This said, I don’t have the financial means to see a counselor, are there organizations that offer help, when someone can’t afford it? I just don’t want to randomly pick someone when it’s my daughters’ safety and health on the line, that is what has me stumped at the moment. Where do I start.

Thank you for getting back so quickly this evening, if feels good to talk to someone unbiased in their oppinion because they know us.
I hope I’ve made sense as it is very late and I am writing a lot!
Thank you again.

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privilegeofparenting October 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hi Samantha,

In a sense, and except for life-and-death sorts of questions for which safety is the clear guiding principle, the answer to most questions is, “It depends…”

You have noticed that the notion of being heard proves more healing than advice. When you provide as much to your daughter she responds better than when her dad tells her to either cheer up or to change her behavior toward you. Likewise if friends and family would truly listen to what you are feeling and saying you would be able to feel safe and connected; this empowers us to know what is best and, more importantly, to be able to do it.

We all know we shouldn’t yell at our kids—it’s managing to keep our temper without repressing our feelings that’s so hard to pull off, especially when we are under stress (emotional, physical, economic, etc.).

Research suggests that blood flow to the good decision-making, and socially adept connecting, aspects of the brain drops off when blood flows to the more primitive part of the brain—the one that governs anger and fear. Thus we really are a bit less intelligent when we are angry or scared (and are not even necessarily aware that we are being irrational in those dark and all too human moments). For thoughts on anger management see: http://bit.ly/a8YoOR.

With regard to allowing regression vs. encouraging regression a lot depends on whether we are able to do what’s best for our child in a clear way and having some sense of when its our own need for comfort that prompts us to give a hug or encourage sleeping in our bed.

The notion of “manipulating” relates to the question, “Why do people manipulate?” Perhaps if someone doesn’t trust that they can get what they need by being direct or honest they resort to indirect means. Thus if we give our kids attention, affection, support and validation when they are not in crisis or acting out we may avert their need for “manipulation.”

But as I say, it all depends. Sometimes people change their behavior because of an underlying medical condition, or because of a secret they are holding. Listening rather than making assumptions and rushing to “fix” things tends to be a safe and loving play.

In order to enhance our ability to discern our needs from our children’s need, and also to heal our own wounds of the past, things like counseling and, if parents were alcoholic or substance abusing, al-anon can be an excellent (and affordable) path toward healing.

As for finding a good counselor one can afford it may make sense to first determine who you would see if money was no object. For example asking your pediatrician or other people you might trust or respect who they would send their child to, especially if money wasn’t the issue. From there you could call this person and explain your situation, tell them what you can afford and ask them to please make a referral to the best option you can afford. This might be an intern who is being well supervised by a senior therapist; this might be a low-fee clinic in the community, perhaps you find someone who has space in their practice for a sliding scale client.

Part of this equation includes checking with your insurance, if you have insurance, to see what they would pay (and to whom). Add the most you feel you could afford in addition to your reimbursement and you have the fee you could afford. When it comes to therapy, just like other professionals you would consult, you want the best you can afford rather than the cheapest you can find.

Another option would be calling a local university to see if they have a counseling center. Often that center might have referrals of therapists in the community at your price point.

Finally, research suggests that mindfulness practices, such as yoga or meditation, are effective for anxiety, depression and a host of emotional struggles. Often this is money and time very well spent.

Hope this helps. Namaste, Bruce

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Samantha M. October 12, 2011 at 10:17 am

Thank you so much… I have had classes on adult children of alchoholics etc…. and do understand a lot of why sometimes I do regress and yell. As you so perfectly said sometimes we have a hard time repressing our feelings, I have gotten much better at not yelling as it just fuels the fire and accomplishes absolutely nothing!!

I will continue to encourage her to sleep in her room, and what you said makes sense to me. It’s nice to hear all I’ve been thinking from someone outside. I feel like I am on the right path to helping her be her happy self again, with or without daddy. I feel like I need to teach her that. That no matter what he does he loves her and me and she needs to know that. He will always be a big part of her life.

I will research therapists. Thank you so much for a starting point as I just felt I didn’t know where to start looking for a good one! You’ve given me many good ideas!!! I am so thankful I found this blog. I feel I’ve been heard. I feel a new sense of confidence in what I need to do for my daughter and myself. I did join a gym at the beginning when this all happened it’s allowed her and I both to meet new people and have fun and yoga is great! She can even do kid yoga classes.

Still a lot of work to do but thank you for your help in guiding me to helping her and even myself to be a better mom!

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privilegeofparenting October 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm

:)

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emily fribourg October 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm

i am a kid and my parent bettn me a 1,000 times i have brian damege, i want o kill myself for it. i think i was not expost to be at all . no cares or loves. i cant stand being arround them any more i told a cop and they dont even care i just need adopted and no one will do that because they hate me . i have bruzes form me louser mom and dad i just want to kill myslef for it . i preying that god takes me now like right away now he wont even listen to me either . i guess i relly am not exsoised to be in the wrold.

not exposted to be in the wrold by
emily jane may fribourg

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privilegeofparenting October 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Dear Emily,

This is a heart-breaking message and I am sorry that you have found your way, alone, to this site meant for parents to be helping children.

I have known many children who have hurt like you do, and you do need help to stay safe and to heal. You deserve this.

What you can do right now is call 1-800-784-2433 (I spoke with them this evening and they are expecting your call).

Another option, if you do not feel safe, is to call 911 and tell them what you have written here. I know sometimes you do not get the help the system promises, but please do not give up.

Finally, I encourage you to hang in and find a way to get through this pain and to grow up and then you can help other kids get through their pain—this is how we can have a better world.

I think you want to live and to have the life you deserve. Please trust that people who hurt kids are not “bad” people, they are just scared and hurt. Believe it or not, your parents love you somewhere in their hurt and angry hearts, just as you love them (even though they hurt you). It’s all very confusing—and it helps so much to have someone to talk to.

So, please do call 1-800-784-2433, they are experts at helping with just this sort of problem. They are there 24/7 and it’s free.

Maybe someday we will all care about each other better and all this hurting might stop. Please hang in and be part of this.

Warmest Regards, Privilege of Parenting

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Anonymous October 16, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Emily do not give up!!!!! There is always somehting brighter out there waiting for you! I know, I’ve been through some horrible things growing up, thought there may be bad in hte world… joy is always around the corner yours to be taken! You deserve it!!!! please call that number and get the help you need, be strong!

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Anonymous October 28, 2011 at 12:40 am

Hello there. I need some help. I have a friend, but this friend lives in another country. He has attempted suicide before, and is still in depression and has been for quite awhile. Today he told me he doesn’t want to live anymore. I don’t know what to do. He’s tried everything. He’s talked to a therapist, gone on anti-depressants, tried just moving on on his own, and nothing brings him out of it. I’ve tried really hard to bring him out of it too. I try to get him to talk about it, I listen and I try solutions. I’m really scared he’s going to try to kill himself again. I have no idea where he lives in his city, so it’s not like I can just call up the police and tell them if I feel it’s dangerous. I just don’t know.

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privilegeofparenting October 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Hi to you as well. I thank you for this note because it is about compassion for someone you care about, who lives far away, for whom you don’t even know their exact location—and yet you feel their pain and their fear and you wish to help them. This, in and of itself, strikes me as beautiful. You embody a “parenting” attitude of caring for each other. This is the world we want to live in; the world of fear and materialism, of alienation and despair is the world your friend is ambivalent about staying around for. Perhaps it serves to validate your friend’s pain and encourage them to see it in terms of transition. As with childhood and life (birth, weaning, adolescence, launching, marriage, kids, loss and death) transitions are the places we grow, and they are the places we break down.

If you can intuit the place your friend is trying to arrive at (i.e. trust, autonomy, self-esteem, love, accomplishment, security, generosity, healing) maybe you can help them see a way to build a bridge and cross over it.

There is a difference between simply not being dead (yet) and being truly alive. Some part of your friend wants to be more alive, more loved, more happy—or else they wouldn’t express their pain and despair to you. Yet dealing with the profound pain and anger of suicidality can be too much for an untrained, but loving friend.

The pain of others can be very heavy—too much to carry for just one person. This is why linking in ways that are compassionate may help us all stay alive and learn how to love and enjoy our lives together. Thus I welcome your own burden of concern to this space, not that I can particularly hold it, but that we can create spaces to hold our collective pain (and then not be as inclined toward violence, be it toward our selves or toward others).

In terms of direct help, you can urge your friend to call the suicide hot-lines linked to this blog. You could also call the suicide hotline and ask them for direct advice in response to the things your friend is saying to you. Perhaps you might be able to make it a conference call with your friend.

Finally, although you do not know the exact location, you could work to contact the local hospital or police in their country and see if they would be willing to communicate with this person by whatever link you have to them (phone, internet, etc.). Maybe you would learn of some community resources in their country of which your friend is as yet unaware.

While we cannot stop someone who is determined to hurt themselves, we can hear their pain and not turn a blind eye. You are a good friend in bothering to try and help—perhaps you will discover others who will join you in caring closer to your friend’s neighborhood as we awaken to the fact that we are all neighbors and we are all in our collective situation together.

Warmest Regards, Bruce

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Brandon March 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm

i have suicidal thoughts and im crazy and i dont think nothing can stop me from doing it

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Bruce March 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm

It sounds like you are in a lot of pain and confusion. It would not hurt to call the suicide hotline and tell them what you think and feel and see what they say. Many people who feel like you later realize that they do not want to stop living so much as they do not want to (and feel that they cannot any longer) live in such pain. Our pain guides us. Your pain provoked you to leave this message that sounds hopeless, but there is a glimmer of hope in the fact that you even bother to express your despair. I have come to respect and appreciate the raw honesty in such messages. Perhaps everyone tells you how much you have to live for and how you shouldn’t feel so negative, yet that doesn’t make us feel much better. You need to talk to people who understand how terrible you feel, and the suicide hotline is an ideal start. They are volunteers and have nothing to gain from you, they just are there to help people like you who feel they have no hope. Whatever you decide, I send you Warm Best Wishes (often those who make it through these dark nights of the soul are later able to turn around and help others as they cross this dreadful bridge).

1-800-SUICIDE 1-800-273-TALK
1-800-784-2433 1-800-273-8255

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m hall123 May 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm

My 4 year old says all the time at least 2-3x every couple of weeks that he wants to kill himself or he is gonna stab or shoot me (his mother) or his grandmother. I dont know where he gets it at he is just in pre school, His teachers say he is the best kid in the class which doesnt make sense becasue at home is is terribly out of control and mean and rude to everyone. Hes not aloud to watch any movies with violence He only watches cartoons and nobody around him ever says accusations like this. It worries me to death he will actually do it one day thinking he will come back from the dead because he doesnt understand death that once you die there is no coming back. He has everything he ask for a Wii, four wheelers, trampoline, and swing set anything he wants he gets. I think its my fault because Ive just got my fe back on track Ive been clean from being a drugaddict for the last 2 years and 1mth and 7days Ive been clean and me and his father broke up because he didnt want the same life as I did I wanted to get my son back and have a better life becasue my mom had custody of him at the time now my mother has him mon-thurs nad I have him thurs night-Sunday night. His dad is also in jail has been for the past year and 7mths we havent told my son we told him his dad was at work so he wouldnt worry but he constantly says hes unhappy and when he leaves from my house when my mom comes to pick him up he throws a trantrum jumps out of the vehicle while its moving and wants to stay here with me but I call asap when shes at home and she says hes absolutley fine. Im confused does he want attention or is he really capable ofkilling himself or someone else. I also noticed grey hair in his head about a month ago and there more and more every time I look in his head what does that mean? Thank you for your time and please return my answers to my questions or email me a.s.a.p Thanks Again!

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Bruce May 10, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi M, Firstly, let me say I am so sorry to hear about the struggles and pain in your family, but also CONGRATS on your sobriety—keep up that good work.

Yes children this young are capable of hurting themselves, so it would be appropriate to speak with those in your community who might have the skills and resources to help your family heal further. Perhaps your child is suffering from what we might call disorganized attachment (see previous post: http://privilegeofparenting.com/2010/12/15/attachment-in-the-lab-implications-on-the-couch-and-in-the-brain/ ). If he is, he is feeling a lot of fear, and then getting overwhelmed—wanting closeness and AT THE SAME TIME wanting to get away from you. As he matures you may, much later, be able to apologize for how your addiction caused him to be unable to rely on you when his brain was first developing. His dad, if in jail for a violent offense, may have also intermittently frightened your boy.

Our prisons are filled with people who needed help and love and instead got shame and violence. When people who are neurologically on the low-sensitive side of things (i.e. they don’t feel cold, loud noises, rough sports as harshly as high-sensitive/delicate sorts) get abused or neglected, they tend to act out, seek sensation (i.e. drugs, risky behaviors).

If your kid is more sensitive, he needs calming environments and CONSISTENCY of caregivers not losing temper, and attuning to his feelings. For example when he says he hates his life, you might reflect back to him that it is so terribly painful to hate our lives. You might consistently reflect back to him that he feels bad, and like a bad child. This is more powerful than telling him he’s good, because all these bad things have happened to him and he feels out of control (and then it’s powerful to at least imagine that it is all our fault, then we have the power to ruin things, and at least that’s some sort of power).

If he’s less sensitive, perhaps he needs attention and understanding. Pay a lot of attention to him when he’s not saying how he hates himself. Read stories, play games, hang out. As a recovering addict you must build a psychological bowl to hold your own feelings, and then to be able to hold your child’s pain. At the moment I fear your child is holding your pain and his dad’s pain, like a catch basin for all the yucky feelings that you may have picked up from your own parents and our society.

We all need to heal together, with less judgment and less shame.

Try your doctor, your local non-profit clinic, call the suicide hotlines

1-800-SUICIDE 1-800-273-TALK
1-800-784-2433 1-800-273-8255

and tell them you need help.

I’m glad you reached out to me, but you need a lot more support than I can provide—it takes a village to help a kid like yours, and you need to discover that the village exists and is around you.

You would benefit from parenting classes and from therapy for you. Hopefully your AA sponsor might have some connections or suggestions. Also, Al-anon would be helpful, working on setting boundaries and better understanding the patterns of your own trauma and wounds so they can heal.

Finally, perhaps my book would be helpful. You could email me where to send it and I’d be happy to offer it for free in service of you and your family.

Meanwhile, I send you and your entire family All Good Wishes

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Ryan May 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm

My son is 17 yrs old and when he was 15 and in the 9th grade two boys assaulted him by beating him in school in front of everyone. They thought he was someone else. The boys bragged about it and continued to tault him for the rest of the school year. Now my son continually talks about killing himself and hurting others. I have had him in with a doctor but no one seems to do anything, the school never stopped the boys, the court of law ask me to be forgiving in which I said no to. I walk on egg shells because I never know when he is going to go off. I have holes in my walls from him and he is not the same person, I don’t know what to do. I could not get help from the school, and in court they tried to act like my son did something wrong, but the boys were charged anyway. One kid was given a deal because he could not go into the Pharmancy program with an assault charge so they made him pay his fine and do his community service outside of the courts and nothing would show up on his record. The other kid has has a prior drug charge so he do not qualify for the same so he has appealed it to Superior Court and the DA’s office told me that it would cost the county alot of money because we actually have to have a jury and that the kid would probably not be charged with a crime. What do I do with my son and how can he get back to the way he used to be before this happened?

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Bruce May 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Hi Ryan,

Firstly, I am so sorry that you and your son are going through such pain. This illustrates how people who have been hurt, abused, neglected or subject to poor role models often end up hurting other people, who in turn feel like hurting themselves and/or others.

I will stay out of the legal aspects, other than to say that we do seem to have a lot more emphasis on punishment (and there is money made in this) than we do on prevention or treatment. I am aware that there are legal advocates who you might speak with to help you get better and/or more effective help for your son. One option with regard to the school is to demand an IEP (an individualized educational plan, particularly with a social/emotional aspect, which might help him get more, or different, services, paid for by the school). For more on this see: http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/07/17/what-is-an-iep-and-how-do-i-get-one/

As for the “doctor,” it’s not clear if this is a therapist, and if your son feels a good connection with them. Perhaps as the parent you could discuss this with the doctor, perhaps even working yourself with the doctor to better understand your son and gain more effective tools to help him heal.

Things to consider in this discussion would include wondering if your boy suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and if so, what might help. Other issues to consider include self-esteem, and how to help raise this, and also depression, as depression in adolescent males tends to present with anger and irritability as much as overt sadness.

As outlined in the post above, it is essential to take your boy’s talk of suicide seriously, and a call to one of the suicide hotlines, as a parent, might help you find additional resources in your area as well as give you some more tools.

Finally, my book, which is also called “Privilege of Parenting,” offers a lot of in-depth information on self-esteem, depression and acting out, so that could be a supplement to your efforts to help your kid (see: http://amzn.to/w76zcY).

Sometimes the sort of pain you and your son are experiencing, if healed and transcended, can be the foundation for true compassion and the path of helping others. I have worked with many kids who have hurt others, and many who have been hurt, but none who aggress have been free of pain and hurt in their own lives. Here’s to hoping we can grow, through authentic caring, beyond bad kids and victim kids into a deeper understanding of the pain so many kids suffer.

All Good Wishes

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Angela August 26, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Hello… My 14-year-old son recently had his heart broken. The girl broke up wit him and is now “dating” one of my son’s friends, or ex-friends. I found out about it accidentally because he didn’t want to talk to me about it. What has happened since then is horrific, and I am seeking help for my son. He told this girl that he was going to hurt himself and sent her pictures of his wrist cut up. She then told her mom who immediately came to my house with her daughter to make sure he was okay; they knew he was home alone and couldn’t reach me or his father. The last three days have been horrendous and he’s been quiet and forlorn. Understandable, yes, but I’ve been making phone calls to therapists and psychologists but it’s the weekend and well, I will persist until I get him help. In the meantime I finally got him to open up to me by asking certain questions and by talking about his position on his football team, which I think he is very proud of… He broke down and told me through surpressed tears that he didn’t want to live anymore because the pain hurt too much and he’d never get her back anyway. He said that when he sleeps he’s happy because he doesn’t feel the pain and he hates waking up…and so he wants to stay asleep because he can’t function or think of anything else because the pain is too great. I talked to him at length letting him know that feeling as he did was horrible and hard to deal with but that I was there for him and I would help him get through it. I also told him that what made it even more difficult was that the only thing that would ease the pain would be time, which meant he would need to be patient with himself and that soon the pain would lessen but that it didn’t make it any less difficult. I also let him know that he’d be talking to a professional and that I wanted him to know he could come to me at any time, even if it was to just sit quietly, because I loved him more than I could verbalize. He hugged me and cried and said he would wait a bit longer before doing anything! So the dialogue continued until he decided he had talked enough. He knows his talking to a professional is non negational. He has agreed. He starts high school in three days and will be seeing this girl. He is also o. The freshman football team and has earned a spot on the starting offensive line, and he’s nervous about high school and performing on the football team although he’s very excited and happy about playing. Lots of emotions going through his adolescent brain.

The fact he said he wanted to end the pain by killing himself shocked me and my heart broke in two. I cried in front of him telling him how sorry I was for his anguish and that no matter what he could talk to me about anything and I’d just listen and offer to him whatever I thought might help hom get through this. The cutting up his wrist and sending the photo to the girl also broke me down, just knowing how hurt he was feeling.

Since school is just going to start this week I am going to contact the school psychologist and his counselor and also get a recommendation for someone outside of school. I called his counselor the day this happened (Friday) and the counselor went down to the football field where he was practicing just to “chat” with him and ascertain the immediate suicide risk. He told me he seemed to he okay and that he’d follow up with Cody when school started but I’m going to get him help sooner. He actually cried in front of me today and told me all these things and how dying would put him at peace. He said he just hates waking up knowing everything is still bad and he’s lost this girl he cared so much about.

Is there anything else I should do? Should I have taken him right to the hospital at the time, which I was going to do until he begged me to get him to practice?? Football is all he has right now because things are even stressful at home. Money problems (his father’s home improvement/handyman business took a blow with the bad economy and we’ve exhausted all savings) so of course this effects him too even though I told him it will all work out.

I’m scared and hope I’m doing the right things and it’s breaking me down that my beautiful son is at this point. Will you let me know whenever you have a chance if I should be doing something else? I need advice; I don’t know what to do.

Thank you so incredibly much…
Terrified Mom

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Bruce August 26, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Hi Angela,

Firstly, I do want to say how sorry I am for the anguish you are going through as a mom, not to mention your boy’s pain. You do sound like you’re responding in an effective manner, taking it all seriously and doing everything you can to keep your son safe.

As I outline in my comments on the post above, you can certainly call the suicide hotline to get additional support, and you can also call 911 at any time you feel your kid is not safe.

It sounds like there is a lot of stress in the family (economics, change to high school, etc.) and developmental changes as well. With a break-up on top of it all it is a very powerful confluence of pain and uncertainty. The adolescent brain can be particularly impulsive, and this makes self-harm possibilities all the more frightening and uncertain.

To a large degree you are helping your kid by feeling his pain, fear and uncertainty. This can be containing. Having him promise you that he will talk to you about his feelings before any more self-harm behaviors is a good plan and part of the solution.

Having him sleep in your guys room in a sleeping bag, or in some way having him not be alone or unattended until he feels secure and the feelings of self-harm subside might be part of the plan (something between being in the hospital, which the school counselor apparently felt was not at this time called for, and merely trusting that he’ll be safe and make good decisions).

The suicide hotline might better guide you in real-time and with direct feedback about assessing the current danger levels, possible methods he might think about and how to minimize those risks.

Also, keep in mind that suicidal behaviors can have a level of anger in them (i.e. sending the picture of his wrists to his ex is a way of making her feel worried and guilty, of giving his pain to her, or of attempting to manipulate her by way of guilt or fear). This may be unconscious, but a good relationship with a counselor is certainly a great idea in the very near term.

Just use your mother’s judgment and intuition to err on the side of caution and do everything you can to keep your kids safe (as you have done in the reach-out even to this blog).

All Best and Safe Wishes

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Angela August 26, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Thank you for your speedy reply. I will be sleeping nearby him as he seems off again tonight and will follow your advice about the hotline. And I will find a professional for him asap as I’m not equipped to gauge how serious this is. He is so sad and these emotions are new to him; he feels rejected and it is a feeling he cannot handle on his own. Thank you for your advice…I will do whatever it takes to make sure he is safe…

God bless,
Angela

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MJ September 5, 2012 at 6:25 am

Hello Bruce,
Your website is a blessing and you should be proud of your words of advice and insight that comfort those who seek them.

My 17 year old son told me yesterday that he thinks of suicide often this past month especially. He is a good kid, sensitive, smart, good-looking kid. He doesn’t have any close friends,he has aquintances from different teams and some from school but never goes out with friends or out for that matter unless it’s with his girlfriend. I think he goes out with her only for something to do.

Last month he made a stupid mistake and got thrown off his Lacrosse team. The punishment was severe but he did something against the rules and there is a zero-tolerance policy. He loved being on that team and being a crucial part of it. A few days ago a friend’s mother passed away and a teacher both suddenly. Yesterday he had a huge fight with his girlfriend because he wanted to go to practice but she wanted him to be with her. He went over her house and yelled at her inappropriately and went to practice. I told him he was wrong to yell at her and that it was abusive. He went hysterical on me and started to tell me about his suicidal thoughts.

His explanation for wanting to die is that he is a loser always making mistakes and it’s hard to please everyone. We talked and I tried to reassure him that making mistakes is a part of life and that’s how we learn. I called the doctor’s office and couldn’t get a physcologist appointment until October! We are meeting with his Pediatrician today but I am nervous that they will want to send him to a hospital or put him on a prescription. I want him to get the help he needs, but sometimes I feel the solutions add to the feeling of being different (for the lack of a better word). Whenever he makes a mistake or gets in trouble it’s this huge drama of hysterics (only when his father isn’t home) and I end up apologizing to him even though he was the one who did wrong.

I’m confused if his words are because he feels sorry for himself, or he wants a reaction from me, or he really is feeling desperate. I checked on him all night and he slept soundly. Also, I’m confused about my feelings, I feel sorry for him but I also feel angry and frustrated.

I afraid to talk it over with someone because unfortunately the stigma of mental health issues still prevails. Believe it or not, Coaches, teachers are afraid of this subject and cannot help but judge, even though they are sympathetic.

In a year from now he will be going off to college and that will only be more pressures and feelings of inadequacy. Should I try to discourage going to college maybe put it off a year? Continue the process for college and see where his emotional state is in Spring?

Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
All the best to you.
MJ

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Bruce September 5, 2012 at 7:29 am

Hi MJ,

Thank you for your kind words. Let me begin with expressing my empathy and compassion for you and your son. You are both suffering at the moment and thus you both need understanding and support even more than advice. Some of the concerns you raise have to do with the societal context in which our children, and we parents, try to find support and a path (and I think we can only do our best and, perhaps, later discover that we were not alone in our perceived loneliness and dread of being losers).

You present an interesting picture of a boy who has drama and powerful attachments with single women (you, then his girlfriend) but struggles to have true friends rather than just be parts of a team.

It’s almost poetic how your boy gets “kicked off the team,” when what he wants so badly is to be part of the group. Overly competitive sorts bond BY competing and it’s possible that he needs some help in better understanding that to be part of the team we must find part of our identity in that team and not just in our specialness. Perhaps your son is in the midst of this painful lesson?

With college a year away he is smart enough to begin panicking ahead of time about separating from you (and his girlfriend); you too probably have mixed feelings about preparing to let him launch (we all do as parents).

On top of this the college application process is all about rejection and fear in the minds of many scared high schoolers (again, not much evidence of team in all this, more like every kid for himself or herself, resulting in a feeling of every kid BY himself or herself).

I mention all this because if you can accurately understand what you son is feeling it may contribute to his feeling safer and more connected. I did not lead with remarks on safety as you are already doing the key things to keep him safe.

While it may seem like “self-promotion,” I would recommend you to my book “Privilege of Parenting” (free to borrow on Kindle) in which I go to great lengths to explain many of the things you are facing (i.e. a chapter on self and self-esteem, all about our fears of being a loser; a chapter on depression and how to help; another on anxiety and what it’s truly all about at core; another on how to deal with the drama of oppositionality and acting out). The book is hundreds of pages and thus a better format than a response to a comment on a blog in which to deeply address the nuances of your concerns.

My hope in my writing is that I might arm parents with deep understanding, and even a chance to grow and heal in their own rights through the process of parenting. My ultimate aim is to participate in positive social change by helping support parents and kids even earlier in the parenting cycle (pregnancy and first years) to establish greater safety and security all around.

You are a loving mom, you are in the very trenches of an unseen and misunderstood struggle between fear/terror and compassion/community. Your son is not alone, you are not alone—and that you think you are or feel that you are is both a tragedy and an opportunity. Our pain and concern and love for our children bring us together. We who are brave enough to feel and care are a team in our own rights, and maybe we’re not about to be kicked off of that team, maybe we’re just getting started.

Give your boy hugs and try to understand life as he experiences it. (I’m not sure if you read Angela’s comment above, but there are echoes of your pain in her pain). Keep his safety as the top priority and get him through this. If you learn something new that other parents can use, report back and share that with whoever may later come across the threads of this conversation.

All Best Wishes

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MJ September 5, 2012 at 8:14 am

Thank you for your kind words and advice. My hope is that my son and I get through this stronger and wiser. I will keep you posted on his (and my) progress.

Thank you!
All the best,
MJ

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Steph October 2, 2012 at 5:55 am

Even if you think a kid is just trying to get attention, by taking it seriously they will either get the help they need or learn that this is not a satisfying way to get their needs for attention met (i.e. more trouble than it’s worth if one is not in deep emotional pain).
Why would the child feel more trouble that it’s worth, when it feels like they are pulling you in to get attention in a negative way? I feel like she needs tough love and at the same time I want her to know how important she is to me… I can’t see if she’s pulling my strings or is this going to be future problem. She is only 9.

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Bruce October 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Hi Steph,

Maybe “tough love” is just too tough. Kind, sensitive, compassionate and patient parenting is the soft part; firm and logical consequences for behavior might be called “tough,” but it is caring, and often hard work, to set limits and tolerate being seen as the “bad guy” (or “bad girl”).

If your kid is “pulling strings,” perhaps they don’t feel you truly get their level of pain when they don’t raise the level of the message? We are always expressing a sort of emotional truth, and while you want her to know how important she is to you, she wants you to know how she feels (alone, in pain, etc.).

If you can listen deeply enough, and help hold her pain, perhaps she will feel better (in a sense borrowing your heart and mind to hold the emotions that spill over when she can’t deal with them).

Still, you must take all talk of self-harm seriously. Heed the call for help with help and the need to cry out for help will subside along with our kids’ pain and feelings of unimportance or inadequacy.

Glad you’re thinking about how to handle this delicate and painful situation, and wishing you and your daughter all the best for safety and for rising good feelings.

Warmest Regards

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Bobbie December 12, 2012 at 9:35 am

My four year old son has recently been saying and doing things at daycare that has raised our concerns. It started with him holding a plastic knife to a babydolls head acting out the motions of stabbing the doll, they asked him what he was doing and he told him he was killing Katelyn (which is his sister). Then he said he wanted to kill himself because his mommy is mean to him. Also they told me he drew a cat then scribbled aggressively on the cat, they asked him why he did that, he said he did not like the cat. They believe he needs to see someone because he is angree. He was our only child then we had twins. At home we do not see this behavior, it seems to only be when he is at daycare. I asked him what killing means and why he says that, he explained to me they are not his best friend. I know he does not know what it means to die…… I am not sure if he needs help or if he is playing. I do not want to make a big deal if I do not need to. Then again I do not want to miss an opportunity to help him if he needs help…..!!! Daycare is also concerned about his obcession with knifes/swords. He says everything is his knife…not sure if this is just his imagination or if this means something for a 4 year old?????

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Bruce December 12, 2012 at 10:16 am

Hi Bobbie,

Perhaps the Daycare can recommend a therapist for you to meet with and evaluate the situation more carefully. While your boy may just be acting out his feelings, those feelings are scaring him (and thus he is scaring the folks at the daycare, who just want to be sure that he, and the other children too, are safe).

Knives can be used to hurt, but they also can be used to cut one thing from another (like an umbilical cord). To individuate is to become our own person, and we practice doing this at varying levels throughout our lives; yet our individuation allows us to connect with everyone (sort of like all the cells in the body are unique cells, but they comprise one body).

The reason I might suggest a therapist for yourself is to take a deeper look about any unresolved hurt, trauma or anger that you may carry, particularly related to the period of life when you were in preschool.

As the post above emphasizes, you must take this sort of thing seriously and put safety above all else. But if after you do that it turns out that your boy simply needs help managing his aggressive and hurt feelings then perhaps a safe space and way for him to do that will help.

Sometimes we tend to try and hush our children’s negative feelings when it might be good to hear them and validate them (i.e. “You’re really angry that the babies are getting all the attention right now and it feels like you’re not special anymore. That makes you want the babies and the bad feelings to just go away. You want to feel like you have a best friend and that you have someone special and that you are someone special”)

Something like that may help your child feel validated and understood, which might make him feel more loved, which might make him feel less alone, hurt, angry or destructive.

We are all very interested in fairness, but especially at preschool age. Just acknowledging that it doesn’t feel fair to have to give things up (like mom’s undivided love) can help.

Finally, if he does not act out at home, but does at school, it could mean that he feels ignored at home but noticed at school, thus he “expresses” his true feelings there.

Conversely he could feel resentful at school (perhaps some struggles with social relating?) and be acting out in the hope they “reject” him from school and he would have to go home (and get more mommy time).

Keep him safe, and keep trying things until something “works” which you will know is working when his behaviors (which are communicating his feelings) shift.

Finally, finally—at his age he will respond better to positive (meaning try this or try that) suggestions than negative (meaning don’t do this or that).

Hope these ideas help. All Best Wishes

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Totally Lost January 29, 2013 at 6:26 am

My nearly 16 year old daughter continually writes on her Facebook to her friends that she has tried to commit suicide taking pills but that a friend found her and this friend again told me and she was saved. This is a total lie as it has never happened. Why does she tell such lies to 15 year old girls? I really find it worrying and not at all a nice thing to lie about. On other occasions she writes that she doesn’t like life and that she wants to kill herself. She has also been cutting herself on a few occasions.
Why is she writing all those lies? What does it mean? Hope you can help me as it depresses me reading it.

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Bruce January 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Hello “Totally Lost”,

I am sorry that your daughter, and you, are suffering like this. Given that a lot of suicide, particularly with young people, is impulsive action, often mis-calculation, we still have to take these signs seriously.

Speaking to the school counselor, or private counselor, would be appropriate because even if her behavior is attention seeking we want to help her feel safe, seen, loved and understood so she can grow, enjoy her life and contribute to the group.

You too might choose to see a counselor with the aim of getting support for yourself so you can more skillfully manage your girl’s pain and needs.

Finally, you could check out chapter 7 of my book (http://amzn.to/11a8YZb) for an in-depth exploration of how to deal with oppositional and other “acting out” behaviors.

Meanwhile, hoping the best for you and your daughter

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Joan April 23, 2013 at 8:18 am

My 15 year daughter is acting with two different personalities and does not accept help at all, whether it is an advice or professional help. She says she doesnt have a problem, that the problem is me. I recently found a blog she has been writing that focuses on suicide, and she says she will kill herself on the day she was given life (which is next Monday). When I confronted her, she got SUPER ANGRY at me because I violated her privacy.. because I looked into the computer, because she has parental controls, and because I found her blog.
I shared the blog with my pastor… but do not know what to do. When she found out I learned about her suicidal writings, she almost hit me on the face and will not accept any help –much less professional– I am desperate. What can I do?

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Bruce April 23, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hi Joan,

Your girl sounds very unhappy and it is hard to know if she is attention seeking or crying out for help (even if she pushes that help away when offered).

Sometimes such a confusing presentation is an indicator of the person who sends the mixed messages feeling confused themselves—wanting privacy and wanting attention; wanting to be protected and wanting to hurt themselves; wanting to blame others and feeling ashamed and responsible inside themselves.

My “advice” is outlined in the original post above, perhaps you might read it again and… call the school counselor, the suicide hotline, the hospital or police. Her being angry at you is unpleasant, but you are trying to keep her safe and that has to be the top priority.

Posting on-line that she plans to kill herself needs to be taken as if that is her intention. If she is serious, then she needs help to stay safe (and the suicide hotlines can guide you through this). If she is attention seeking, then she needs to learn how to get positive attention in more adaptive and healthy ways.

Finally, it would be a good idea to seek support for yourself so that you can reach your daughter and establish better communication and a better relationship. Perhaps call your pediatrician, tell her, or him, about what’s going on, and let them guide you (perhaps toward counseling for you, or you and your daughter—your girl certainly cannot stop you yourself from seeking help on how to better support, love, listen and relate to her).

But we end where we start: Safety. Better to err on the side of caution, and that means having her evaluated before next Monday so there is a plan in place to get her through this crisis. If she imagines dying on her birthday, she is certainly in a lot of pain and associates her life with pain.

I hope these ideas help, but most of all I hope that your daughter will remain safe and that you might find hands-on tangible support in your community to assist you in this very essential, scary and important task.

In a blog such as this I can only support and encourage you to take action. Keep reaching out, keep telling the people in your community who have the skills to deal with this. Do not stop asking for help until you get some, and calling 911 is a definite option if all else fails and you believe your girl’s life is in danger.

Wishing you both all the best

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Jane February 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Hello.

My son was going to kill himself, (he was in the middle of an attempt) I called the suicide hotline but they were being extremely rude. They did not do anything to help, all they did was try to ask for our last name! (I told my son not to tell them) It was an extremely bad experience, and my son just said this when we hung up; “You know what, just forget it. Ugh, forget suicide I don’t even care anymore if thats what ‘professional help’ is like.” and then he went to his room. I’ve been keeping an eye on him, as well as taking away sharp objects, and he’s been doing better. Anyway, I still am a bit offended by how the suicide hotline behaved.

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Bruce February 22, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Hi Jane,

I’m sorry to hear the hotline wasn’t helpful, but at least your trying your best to get help did correlate with your son not going through with his attempt.

Still, you’re not out of the woods and one hotline volunteer cannot be allowed to represent all “professional help”

You might call the hotline and ask for a supervisor, explain your experience and see if that supervisor isn’t more helpful.

You might call a different hotline to have a back-up option for the future, perhaps someone who seems more understanding of your situation.

Beyond that your son is in pain and needs some sort of help to find better ways to deal. Ask your friends, the local university, school… whoever you can trust about counseling options in your area, again, not waiting for the crisis to rise again to hear the message that your kid needs some tools to better manage whatever it is that has him so down.

Finally, next time you can call the police or 911, they will certainly want, or have from the phone line, your last name, but if your child is in mortal danger privacy is less important than safety.

This is such a painful place, and so many kids are in it. I hope he feels better and that you can rest easy soon as well, knowing he’s safe and getting whatever he needs to heal and grow happy.

Warmest Regards

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Barbara April 25, 2013 at 9:13 am

my seventeen year old son suffers from anxiety and depression. He sees a psychiatrist and is also in counseling. It’s been eight months since we started this journey and he still is so sad. He writes dark poetry, wears black most of the time and has died his hair black. He is obsessed with death and blood. I am so afraid he will harm himself. He does willingly go to his sessions and his doctors say he is very cooperative and forthcoming with information. I still fear everyday that he will harm himself. He takes Lexapro for depression and Nortriptyline to help him sleep. He sometimes stays awake for days at a time. He is failing in school, will not do chores and has a very negative attitude. The only thing that makes him feel good is when he can help a friend with a problem. He suffers when his friends are in a bad way. How can I help him more? Am I doing all i can?

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Bruce April 25, 2013 at 10:38 am

Hi Barbara,

In some strange way I can relate to your son, feeling as if once upon a time I was that boy; and I can relate to you and your anguish when someone you love so much suffers so terribly and you feel powerless to help him.

Given that your son is in treatment and that you are such a deeply loving mother, my “advice” would be that you yourself must somehow find a way to be truly happy. This does not mean denial of your son, or others’, pain; it means somehow learning (just as you and I are both doing in the living moment of you writing this comment and me writing this response) that we are all connected, and thus we cannot truly be happy if others suffer in depression, abuse, poverty, loneliness, etc. AND we are each individual and must find our way to exist compassionately without just disappearing into each other and each other’s “problems.”

This task, of truly hearing and seeing to the soul of each other, and of nature, and of ancestors, and of actually caring about those who will come after us, while also living life fully, joyfully, with love and a sense of what matters… this seems a task we parents might gather around.

Our pain, our fear, our loneliness is part of our nature… it drives us to attach, to connect, to love and to form relationships. Your son sounds like he just might be a sensitive artist who “gets it,” but feels powerless to effect others to “get it.” His loneliness is his problem, and he may suspect that it is all of our problem, only most are too manic, defended and insecure to admit it (even to themselves).

Perhaps it would serve you to deeply contemplate the feeling (not so much the lifestyle) that you most desire—probably a combination of truly safe and truly understood, loved, self-expressed and engage in life as a gift.

Some say we cannot be happier than our least happy child; but what if the son or daughter has much struggle being any happier than their least happy parent?

Maybe it’s time for you to go on a journey of your own (which doesn’t mean having to leave your current house or situation). Consider the works of Carolyn Myss, Thomas Moore and John O’Donohue and maybe Thich Nhat Hahn; write some poetry of your own; start a dream journal; open your heart beyond the suffering to the love that is your birthright and see if your spirit lifts.

If it does, and if that has some positive effect on your boy, let me know and we’ll see what we’ve learned.

P.S. Since I don’t know you, but I do know that sometimes the mystical path can be problematic if the brain is prone to anxiety, throw in “The Feeling Good Handbook,” by David Burns (maybe check that out first)

Please trust that I do not “know” what you should do, but like you and your boy we all have the power to care. The ability to feel just terrible (and survive) also brings the ability to feel truly fantastic (and not get nutty about it). The middle path of balance of happy and sad, connected and able to stand more or less as individuals, confident and open to suggestion… I’m just hoping that leads to fun and convivial times and not just life as survival.

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Robin April 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

My daughter is 18 years old and suicidal. We have done everything possible to help. I have even started going to therapy to deal with the situation. Bottom line is that she’s 18 considered adult and I can’t do anything about it at this point. I nearly suffered a stroke already over this and my marriage soon will be failing over this. I have put my children first through every situation. My daughter has already been admitted twice in the past four years to an adolescent ward for a week to try to get help. She refuses to take any medicine that’s related to bipolar or depression. She is a good child but does not want to feel any sort of pain which is driving her to this suicidal situation which is been one of the worst. When she’s at her worst, she basically turns into Sybil and screams at me name so I so forth. When she’s better she hugs me and tells me she loves me. She is worried about me having a stroke at this point. My last resort now is Toughlove, what do you think about that please help me. I have had police at the house to try to help I take it to the police to try to help. I have talked to hospital, therapists, intake counselors last weekend and she was even there while talking to the intake counselor and because she’s 18 but still in school they were going to put in the adult ward. She refuse the adult ward and here we are still not knowing what to do and living in pure fear.

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Bruce April 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Hi Robin,

Firstly, let me say how sorry I am that both you, your daughter (and your husband) have to struggle with so much pain. I have worked with children like your daughter, and I have a niece who is also similar, and over the course of my experience I have learned to be humble before such pain and to stop blaming parent (or kids)… I’m still not quite over “blaming” a culture that is lacking in insight, and compassion, but if any of us really want to help with that we have to look in the mirror and see that we ARE our culture.

That said, I will suggest a few insights and hope they help. My sister-in-law found great comfort in attending meetings at Nami (http://www.nami.org/) and connecting with other parents with similar situations.

My niece has been in and out of jail as well as therapy, and on and off of medications. The meds often make people feel like zombies, and the lack of meds sometimes leaves them manic (which needs to be understood as a defense against the deep sadness, even if it is “chemical”).

There have been cultures in the past which value such people as spiritually touched, or gifted in some special way, and this might have been better than our way of pathologizing them. How can we really know if they aren’t the sane and sensitive ones who are tortured by the truth of our culture?

Still when it comes to self-harm and suicide it’s downright terrifying, and even the system only protects them for 24 hours and 72 hours and five days at a time. This makes social sense so that they keep their rights (there have been cultures that lock these people up, like Dickensian England… but then perhaps we have grown more compassionated since then, even if we’re not all the way there yet, whatever that would look like).

Another thing to consider is therapy-by-proxy, where you go and talk about your child’s pain, getting support so that you better manage her hateful times and help her eventually integrate the hated mom and the loved mom into one single human mom… which helps her become one happy and sad, and loved and connected and good enough, human.

Another option to consider would be Al-anon. You might not think so at first glance, but I’ve seen many clients who have unhealthy relationships of trying to help, save, love and transform troubled others learn how to set boundaries and do that “tough love” thing with grace, dignity and elegant power.

All of these options would add some sense of company, community and support so that you can be that first responder to your daughter. No one (but for your husband) loves and cares about your girl more than you. You are probably the best expert on her beyond herself. And she is making you feel the way she feels: defeated, scared, alone, ashamed.

How to take this “shit” and transform it into “gold”? I don’t know, but some books to consider might include, as I mention above in another comment:

The Feeling Good Handbook,” by David Burns (http://www.amazon.com/Feeling-Good-Handbook-David-Burns/dp/0452281326/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367100171&sr=1-2&keywords=burns+feeling+good)

Carolyn Myss, “Anatomy of Spirit” (http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Spirit-Seven-Stages-Healing/dp/0609800140/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367100134&sr=1-3&keywords=caroline+myss)

Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul” (http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Nights-Soul-Finding-Through/dp/1592401333)

Try everything you can, find community and trust in love—for in doing your very best, this is successful for it is all you can do. After that we’re talking prayer, even if we’re not sure if anyone is listening or who or what we’re praying to.

All Best Wishes

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R. Cole May 7, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I am torn here I need help. May 24, 2005 my mother who at the time was 45 years old. Decided without warning to put a nine millameter beretta to her head and pulled the trigger. Not once but Twice. First time knocked her out they think she came to and did it again. I have lived with this the last 8 years and it has left a hole in my life. My mother was depressive bipolar. I am manic bi-polar but suceptible to depression. But this isn’t about me. It’s about my 12 almost 13 year old daughter. She has 4 disorders I have been told. P.T.S.D, Opositional defiancy disorder, anxiety, and she is ADHD. At the time when I had medical insurance I had started her in a treatment program to see what I could do to get her the help she so desperately needs. But it was state medicaid. Now I make 63 dollars too much to put her on it. But dont make enough to get the medical my employer has. I am lost here. Here is a run down of incidents and behavior. This is so hard to share as a parent. How can a parent help their child when you feel the blame for the child being like this….. Today my daughter was at her boys and girls club and had interrupted the staff while in a meeting by beating on the window and annoying them as much as possible. They told her she couldnt go in the art room. (art is her favorite and she is Extremely good at it. The only thing that I can give her to distract her mind. That is one of the reasons that we put her in the boys and girls club to try and get her to make friends. But with as mean, silly and immature as she can be when she doesnt get her way drives other children even of younger and older ages. She is a Loner like I was, And still am. We dont have any friends, that we can talk to either of us. She wants so bad to fit in but she feels she can’t. Back to today. When I heard what the staff director pulled me aside and told me what she had said to him. I felt like someone had taken a Gun and Blew the rest of whats left of my heart out. She said something along the lines of “I am stupid. Maybe I should get a Gun and Kill myself. I still don’t know how to feel the hurt that I feel from my mother and now my daughter is unbearable. I dont know what to do for her. She is a bright student, she has such a kind heart when you can get her not to be SOOO sensitive. When she messes up and I correct her she thinks I am always yelling at her. She drops to the floor and throws tantrums, Doesnt know how to stop talking, And hates anything with rules that she doesnt make. I am lost here can Anyone give an idea. what can I do to help my daughter to help her. If I dont do it now then eventually I know it will mature deeper into her life and will more then likely turn into full fledge Bipolar disorder. Like myself and her Grandmother. Please don’t judge me before you walk a mile in my shoes. We have had this problem since she was 4 when she was hospitalized for chasing her little sister with a pair of scissors. And there has been I cant count how many incidents a home and school. Including, Suspension, and detention. On multiple occasions. I love my daughter more then anything. But I am Lost about how to help her. Thank you for reading.

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Bruce May 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Hi R. Cole,

Firstly, I would start with empathy, and invite any other readers who cross these words to wish you and your daughter compassion and healing. You are quite right to advise us not to judge.

I would say that even if you had more economic resources this would be a difficult situation, nevertheless the fact that someone like you, and/or your daughter, cannot simply depend upon our society to step up and help you may point to the short-sightedness of a culture that would rather pay for disasters than for wellness.

That said, and perhaps over time we parents may find our voice, and our hearts, and find a better way to take care of each other and our children.

Although you must struggle to find resources (and I’ll comment on that below), an ideal treatment approach might be to start with yourself. I am deeply sorry for the loss of your mother, and you yourself may have P.T.S.D. relating to that (and to growing up with a parent who was unpredictable and suffering from illness).

If you were to embark on a course of healing and resolving your own trauma, you would model for your child self-love and self-esteem; you would also signal to her that you see pain in your whole family, yet do not consider her, or yourself a “problem.” You are human beings, sacred, and that is deeper than the wounds and the diagnoses.

Beyond talk therapy, proper supervision for you to consider medications would be in order. That would mean a psychiatrist, and you deserve to have proper care—someone to work with you to consider how to be optimally healthy for your child.

In addition, there is mounting evidence that mindfulness practices (like meditation, yoga, prayer if you follow a faith) can help with depression, as well as anxiety. A “zen” approach to your daughter is very tough to attain, but will likely help her feel safer, calmer and support her healing.

Next after your self, perhaps some family therapy would be useful, again framing your daughter’s struggles in the context of the family and not just concentrating on her and the feelings of shame and rage and despair she may feel.

Given that she carries four diagnoses, perhaps we might wonder if whatever trauma drives the post “traumatic” stress disorder is also at the root of her “anxiety,” which is also driving her “oppositional” and “defiant” behaviors.

In simpler words, she is hurt and scared, but feels like it is her fault and she is bad at core. This is a problem of shame, she needs better self-esteem; she needs love and limits; she needs to be deeply and compassionately understood, and in the context of that authentic relationship (most likely with you, especially if you yourself can heal as an act of love for your girl) she may grow toward her true personality, her creativity, her ability to love, trust and be loved.

Her attention struggles and hyperactivity may also be understood in the context of feeling scared. On top of this, with a mom and grandmother who struggled with bi-polar, she may fear that this will also become her concern.

Whatever the diagnoses and treatments, she is first and foremost a unique human being; she is not, nor are you, a diagnosis as an identity.

As for getting resources. It is likely the if you request an evaluation from your school, and the school counselor learns the facts (history of suicide in family, bi-polar, etc.) they are likely to determine that your daughter is struggling with serious emotional disturbance and merits services through the school district. Many school districts have very tight funding, continuous cuts, etc., but a good advocate may compel them to help, to hear your cry for help, especially if you document your concerns clearly, rather than risk harm coming to anyone.

As a society we must start to heed the warning signs and then respond with help and not judgement. As a mom, you may want to check with NAMI (http://www.nami.org/), you could also tell your story to suicide hotline, and see what resources they may be aware of, you could check with local university (especially if they have a counseling center), or other sliding scale or lower fee community clinics. They are out there, but you’ll have to do some searching in your area.

Finally, continuing to educate yourself on various aspects of your struggle, perhaps reading some calming wisdom from Thich Nhat Hahn, also the work of Elaine Aron, “The Highly Sensitive Person” would possibly help you understand your family and your daughter.

While my role as a blogger is limited in what I can directly do to help, I would invite you to read my book, as it is intended to help families like yours who cannot afford expensive treatment, but who could benefit nonetheless from the key points and insights (the chapter on oppositional and defiant behavior, and the one on anxiety would probably be helpful): http://amzn.to/17KMRxC

Beyond that, I want to thank you for writing, for sharing so honestly the pain of your situation, and the deep love and concern you have for your daughter.

I wish you healing and good fortune as you seek what you need—and I hope that your daughter and you can turn around and help others after you figure out what actually helps for you and your family.

Warmest Regards, Bruce

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Emma June 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hello. I think everything in this is very helpful but I’d just like to say that, if someone is self-harming and feels suicidal, perhaps the worst thing you could do is take away their means of hurting themselves. For me, self-harm is a means of escape. If I can’t let out my emotions every once in a while, it gets to much and I start to think about killing myself. I need self-harm as a release. Taking that away from someone who needs it may increase their likelihood of committing suicide. I’m just speaking from personal experience. I’m not a professional. I’m still a teenager myself. I know what I do is wrong and I know i should stop but I also know that trying to stop increases the intensity of suicidal feelings for myself. If you take away someone’s only method of escape, you might be putting them more at risk.

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Bruce June 25, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Hi Emma,

This is a brave and honest insight, and it suggest that you don’t want to die but even so, sometimes life is so painful that your self-harm behaviors make you feel like you have control of something and this helps you through.

I would encourage you to seek some additional help, perhaps through a low-fee clinic in your area (the suicide hotline might have some resources for you in your area). The reason is that a good therapist might be able to give you some new ways to deal with the terrible feelings and then you might be able to “trade up” so to speak from coping by self-harm and instead coping by creative expression or mindfulness practices like meditation or yoga or taking a walk and truly looking closely at everything and then writing about that…

You sort of want to treat your body as if it were a baby and you were the mom… when the body is uncomfortable it needs SAFE soothing, which you might not have gotten as a small child.

There is a book I might recommend about trauma (often people who self-harm have had some trauma) and it’s a little different than “talk therapy”

Check it out if you like, it couldn’t hurt, but you might still need someone to help guide you in your healing.

http://www.traumahealing.com/somatic-experiencing/peter-levine.html

I certainly wish you safety and better times ahead.

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Minyon July 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm

My 9 year old daughter who has been diagnosed with several different behavioral problems has made two statements about hurting her self. The second statement she said she wanted to “kill herself”. I am for sure she hasn’t a true idea when it comes to “killing” herself, but the fact that the words themseve came out her mouth is very scary and breaks my heart. I asked her if she knew what that meant and her response was that it ment hurting herself. I explained to her, it ment more than that. How am I to explain to a 9 year old the true meaning in terms she would grasp? It has really broken my heart to hear her speak those words, all over a fight between friends. I am at a loss! I want her to understand how serious those words are.

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Bruce July 1, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Hi Minyon,

Perhaps you are right, she is not mature enough to truly understand what her words mean, especially the finality of suicide. Yet getting her to understand these words might be less important than you understanding her pain—and just doing whatever it takes to keep her safe.

My heart goes out to you as a parent, and I’m glad you expressed your pain here. As grown-ups it’s good to support each other SO we can be strong and understanding about what our children feel. Being understood and accepted, not being told “cheer up” or “it’s not so bad” actually helps more than you might think.

Another post that might help you understand your kid’s sadness, and how hard it is to hear it, can be found here: http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/07/02/draining-depression/

The book I wrote was designed to help parents like you feel less alone and more equipped to help your child feel safe and more empowered. Particularly the chapters on depression, self-esteem and also the early chapters on how to relate to children when they are confusing, heartbreaking and challenging could be comforting: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0984625755/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

As for keeping your girl safe, the above post emphasizes taking this seriously, and from there you can work on helping her heal whatever is hurting her.

All Best Wishes to you and your daughter

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Amy August 6, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Thank you… I will come back to your site and read more as I have a child who keeps talking of suicide. It is very intense as a parent to witness.

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Bruce August 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Hi Amy,

Yes it is very intense and hard to contain emotionally—so scary and heartbreaking. Here’s to hoping you feel less alone in your experience and that everyone can stay safe, heal and feel better about themselves and about life.

All Best Wishes

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Rebecca November 25, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Help! My 7 year old son has said “I want to kill myself” twice in the last two weeks. The first time was at school after poor performance on a test. The second was tonight when he saw an anvil, he said he wanted one so he could pretent to kill himself. He is my only son and I tell him I love him every day. His dad and I split when he was two but I did recently go through a break up. I know he is struggling in 1st grade with spelling but when he said it tonight we were watching a cartoon. I’m very very worried and I don’t feel like talking is enough. We start therapy next week but intuitively I know he needs more. Has anyone seen signs and been able to pull them out of it? He is so young to be feeling this way. I desperately want to give hima good life. I feel like I’m failing…

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Bruce November 25, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Hi Rebecca,

It sounds like you are on the right track, and therapy should give you help and guidance both on your own healing and on helping keep your son safe and support his growing self-esteem and happiness.

If you read through the post above again, it gives my basic counsel on safety, which is the first priority. After that you might go through some of the comments, particularly ones by parents of similar aged children.

As a mom you need support and understanding so you can be there for your kid, while healing whatever hurts you or holds you back.

Finally, you might consult my book, which is meant to be comfort and insight for parents in dealing with issues that are raised here, particularly self-esteem, depression and “acting out” behaviors (http://amzn.to/17P5JNO).

Sending you safe and healing wishes this Thanksgiving—hang in, emphasize safety for now, and trust your ability to heal and for your son to be happy.

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brenda macdowell December 12, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I am searching for help….my beautiful and intelligent 24 year old daughter has depression and later this afternoon she told me that she does not want to live anymore….that she has been trying to think of different ways to kill herself….I don’t know what to do…. it is painful to think of her being so sad inside of herself that she is thinking this way… I can’t imagine how much hurt she must feel…I feel i can’t fix this for her…she doesn’t want to talk to me….I am a single parent and she is my only child……I love her with all of my soul….I am lost……..I will keep looking up how to help and turn this around

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Bruce December 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Hi Brenda,

Perhaps calling one of the suicide hotlines yourself will help guide you to assess the level of danger your daughter faces and clarify what steps you can, and cannot, take to help.

Since your daughter lets you know that she is in pain, and then doesn’t want to talk to you, perhaps SHE feels like you don’t actually listen to her pain, and instead somehow (at least to her experience) end up making things about your own pain.

This might not be accurate, but if it rings true for your girl you would probably have a breakthrough with her if you were to send a message wondering if she feels like you never really listen and make things all about yourself.

If that makes her cry and feel validated, then just start listening and not “fixing” her problems or trying to take her pain onto yourself. You could always seek some counseling on how to better listen so that your child will talk, and you could then help heal what may very well be long cross-generational patterns in the family.

Of course you need love and compassion too, but not from your daughter.

Thus, safety first regarding suicide, but after that improved communication is likely to be a way you can both heal your relationship.

All Best Wishes

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Sharon May 10, 2014 at 1:15 pm

I have a question. A 13 year old starts cutting, her mom finds out takes her to a psy. doctor and she starts therapy, then she cuts but this time its deeper, so mom takes her to therapist. The therapist questions her about why she cut deeper, she told therapist she was going to kill herself. When the therapist asked what stopped her she said because she was along with her two baby brothers 3 and 4 years old, or she would have done it. the therapist send her to the clinic there they tell mokm they need to do a 72 hour evaluation inhouse. They assure mom they will not give her addicting drugs. Mom signs the papers . when taking her in they strip search the young girl and cavity search her, mom had no idea they would do that. Then they gave her medications Abilify and something starts with a T, and valium to help her sleep at night. Mom is so upset. Question #1 are these drugs addictive? then mom is concerned she just lost her daughter to them by signing the papers and now has no say in anything they do to her daughter. Question 2 Does mom have any rights? Question 3 Don’t they have to keep mom informed of how what and why they are treating the child? Question 3 Someone said the mom did right taking the child there and signing her in and if she had not have then that would have been considered a form of child abuse to not her her proper treatment with the child admitting to wanting to kill herself.

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Bruce May 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Hi Sharon,

Wow, these are tough questions! I’m aware that anything I say would be more opinion than anything else, and thus even as a professional I’m not inclined to venture opinions. My intention is to support parents and children and this sounds like a family in a lot of pain and, like you, I would just want everyone to be safe, respected, and get the proper and effective help at the best level of professional and compassionate care possible.

As outlined above in the post, taking suicidal statements and self-destructive behaviors seriously is consistent with keeping kids safe. As for your questions…

#1 I am not a psychiatrist so it would not be appropriate to comment on the effects of medications.

#2 Parents do have rights, and the general guideline is that children deserve privacy to the extent this makes therapeutic alliance possible, and parents have a right to know about issues that place the child in danger. Thus the therapist directed the child and parent to the clinic where the child could be kept safe.

#3 “someone said”… As I mentioned above, I’m in no position to really address your questions as the “he said” “she said” thing might help us realize that unless we personally witnessed the so-called facts then everything involved is hearsay, colored by bias, etc.

So we circle back to the overall point, which is to keeps children safe, and to support parents to do so. Certainly we have laws, ethical guidelines and standards of practice to address your questions, and I want to respect your questions as valid and important.

Patients, be they children or adults, do have rights. Abuses occur, and questions must be raised when things do not seem right, just or appropriate.

Child abuse and child protective services certainly both exist in our society and addressing how to protect kids while not vilifying or disempowering parents is a thorny and important issue, although one beyond the scope of a blog such as this.

Finally, we all have roles to play and mine is not lawyer or judge, thus your questions, and my lack of direct knowledge of the facts, lands me back where I started: wanting to advocate for safety and compassion in the service of children and parents.

In that regard I would hope that anyone who happens across these words might join me in hoping that this child and her parent both get the respect, support, compassion and effective tools to heal, to stay safe and to move toward happier and more productive lives.

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Jenny July 2, 2014 at 6:11 am

Hi Bruce
I found your site as I’m searching for help and advice with my almost 13 year old son. He has been very troubled with anger management issues for about 5/6 years , and has recently been diagnosed with a common learning disorder. He has become increasingly defiant, disrespectful, disobedient and violent. His violence outbursts and aggression are very disproportionate to the episodes that prompt them. His violence is towards property and towards me. Increasingly he is distressing his younger sisters when he is violent and aggressive. I have left the house with the girls when this happens as I want them safely out of the situation. He is also playing truant from school occasionally. 
However, this evening after a difficult episode, he said he wanted to kill himself. I stayed calm and told him I would be distraught if he wasn’t there, and it wouldn’t help him. Inside I am devastated & heartbroken that my little boy is hurting so badly. I am going to try to bring him to a therapist tomorrow but should I talk to him about this tonight? Should I let him rest or talk? He wound himself down from the heights of his stress, so I don’t want to get him upset again. 
We live outside the US, so I can’t phone the hotline numbers you’ve provided before. There are similar hotlines where I am. 
Thanks, Jenny

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Bruce July 2, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Hi Jenny,

This does sound distressing, and hopefully the therapist will be helpful to your son, but also for you in guiding you to understand the dynamics in the family and how the family might heal as a unit.

As for “advice” a blog like this is really not the place for advice on such tricky matters, but is rather about suggesting guidelines and helping frightened parents like yourself feel a bit less alone and encouraging taking this seriously to keep kids safe and help them heal.

Love is what heals, not advice. Obviously you love your son. The point of help is to help you grow more calm, better understand your feelings, your son’s feelings and the family patterns, and then to gain tools to do better, and have the support to practice those tools and establish them as new and healthier patterns in the family.

It obviously took years for the problems to build, so we must be patient and compassionate in helping them heal.

So… call your local hotlines for advice, trust your instincts (as you know your kid better than others would) and emphasize listening rather than talking if you do end up “discussing” things. In other words, cheering up is not as effective as really hearing and honoring the pain your child feels.

Finally, you can read the post above, more slowly, as when we are triggered we’re looking for “answers” and you’ll see I try my best to answer your questions, as they are the basic questions all parents would typically have in such a situation.

Even looking for answers on the web shows you are trying, you realize it’s a significant situation, you are doing what you can to take it seriously and protect your child.

Certainly wishing you, your son and your family good luck and Healing Wishes

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