Chances are you know someone who has dealt with self-harm and, often, it is difficult to know how to respond and what to say. Maybe you are dealing with self-harm directly and you do not know how to share your struggle with others. Thankfully, self-harm awareness has become more prevalent within the past 10 years.
In 1996 Princess Diana informed the public that she had struggled with self-injury. Awareness has continued to grow with organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms and the Lysamena Project on Self-Injury. Unfortunately, self- harm has also become a popular cultural trend among many teen groups and recent research suggests that 1 out of every 10 teens will self-injure. It is important to know that self-harm is dangerous and can be fatal; Please refer to the additional resources available to you at the bottom of the page if you are seeking support.
So, What does Self-Harm Actually Mean?
There are several definitions for self-harm, also called self-injury, self-mutilation, or commonly referred to as cutting. Tracy Alderman, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Scarred Soul: Understanding & Ending Self-Inflicted Violence, states that self-harm includes acts that are “done to oneself and by oneself, physically violent, intentional or done on purpose, and not necessarily suicidal.” This last point is especially important to understand when you know someone who engages in self-harm.
Differentiating Between Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior
There is a difference between self-harm, suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) and suicidal behavior. Self-injury typically looks like cutting, burning, or hitting oneself and can be caused by a myriad of causes including, but not limited to: quick release from emotional distress, showing hatred towards oneself, to feel pain, to calm racing thoughts, to avoid flashbacks or traumatic memories. Contrary to popular opinion, most people who engage in self-harm do not do it as to seek attention; self-injury is a coping behavior. It is done in order to deal with life and the person still plans to be alive when it’s over.
To be clear, self-harming behaviors are usually not serious enough to cause death; suicide attempts, in contrast to self-harm, are done with the apparent intent to die. Suicidal ideation suggests that someone is thinking about ending their lives, or they are imagining what it would be like if they did not exist. Suicidal ideation should be taken seriously and a professional should be consulted for safety purposes. The person may get his or her affairs in order beforehand by giving away their belongings, writing a note, and will typically try to harm themselves seriously enough to cause death.
A Christian Perspective of Self-Harm
As Christians, what do we do if we know someone is participating in self-harm? What do you do if you are engaging in self-harm? It goes without saying that self-harm is unsafe, but is it unbiblical? The Bible is the ultimate truth, look to what it says for direction. Just as much, as Christians are called to abstain from murder, coveting, adultery, stealing, or putting any other idols above God (Exodus 20:2-17) we are to honor God with our bodies; our bodies are a temple, a house for the Holy Spirit, a beautiful culmination of God’s creation. Our world is broken; we don’t have to look far to see poverty, immorality, and idolatry. Approaching the topic of self-harm is no different than any other sin; hate the sin, not the sinner. We are all born with a sinful human nature and salvation from Christ is literally our saving grace. (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Apostle Paul, one of the early church leaders who dedicated his life to spreading the gospel in the early Christian said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) God won’t give us more than we can handle and he will not test us or command us to do anything that he has not also giving us the strength to work through. (Romans 7:15). I implore you, let grace abound. Let Christ’s love intercede between you and your friend. How can the grace of Christ teach you to think and how to react to someone who might be harming themselves?
Practical Ways to Help Understand and Support Those Who do Struggle with Self-Harm:
So how do I help someone if they are hurting themselves? Here are some general guidelines to follow, above all, know that support is available for both you and your loved one. Several of the therapists at Seattle Christian Counseling have experience working with self-harm clients. Feel free to call or e-mail if you have questions, concerns or would like to schedule an appointment with a counselor. www.seattlechristiancounseling.com or (206)388-3929.
Practical ways to help understand and support those who do struggle with self-harm:
– Educate yourself about self harm
– Ask questions i.e.
- How can I help support you?
- Would you please help me learn more about what you are going through?
– Encourage counseling
– Understand that change takes time
– Pray for your loved one
– Be available
– Don’t avoid the topic of self-injury
– Modeling healthy self-care and healthy coping skills
What Should I do if I am Engaging in Self-Harm?
- Tell somebody – a sibling, a friend, a parent or relative- anyone you can talk to.
- Overcoming your shame and admitting your problem is often the hardest part of getting help.
- Identify what triggers your cutting behavior.
- This can be difficult to do on your own. You’ll probably need a mental health counselor to help you.
- Ask for help.
- Stay with it.
- Breaking your cutting habit will not be easy. But with treatment, people that cut themselves can and do successfully learn more healthy way to deal with stress and negative emotions. (4)
- Pray- Jesus Christ loves you; all of you and this will never change.
Check out these additional resources for information and support for self-injury:
S.A.F.E. “S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES is a nationally recognized treatment approach, professional network, and educational resource base, which is committed to helping you and others achieve an end to self-injurious behavior.”
Self-Mutilators Anonymous“Self Mutilators Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other, that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from physical self-mutilation.”
www.therapistlocator.net – National counselor locator presented by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
*Contributed by Faith Knowles
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The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.