Guilt and shame: Experiences of parents of self-harming adolescents

  • McDonald G
  • O'Brien L
  • Jackson D
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This paper reports the findings of a qualitative study that used a hermeneutic phenomenological methodology to develop insights into the experience of parents of young people who engage in self-harming behaviour. Six mothers (and one father who accompanied his wife) participated in the study. Findings reveal that mothers experienced guilt and shame, and that these feelings shaped their reactions and responses. These mothers described experiencing emotional dilemmas, such as the degree to which they could be responsible, uncertainty about how to understand self harm, and the best course of action to take with their child. They also encountered difficulties in combating the negative emotional effects for themselves and other family members. Findings provide insights that can help nurses and family health workers to understand and assist parents with greater effectiveness; by maintaining a non-judgemental stance, acknowledging the difficulties of their experiences, encouraging confidence in their parenting abilities, and promoting effective stress management strategies.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adolescent health
  • Guilt
  • Mothering
  • Parenting
  • Self harm

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