Self-Harm, what does that even mean? [Cutting, Burning, Eating Disorders, Suicide] Maybe you know people who struggle with self-harm; maybe you struggle with it. Either way, in this section hopefully we can speak to those friends who just want to help, but don’t know what to do and speak to those who are hurting inside and turn to self-harm as a coping mechanism.
I sat up quickly in bed. –Sigh- It was just another nightmare. The clock read 2:27am. Here I was again, shaking, sweating, worried. Sure it was just another nightmare, but they came because I knew it was a real danger for him. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know how to help, and his scars hurt me in ways I didn’t know I could hurt. It was like the breath was being sucked out of me…how did it feel for him? Why did he cut himself? I was his friend; shouldn’t I have been able to help? But I didn’t know how, didn’t know what to say; and when I said something, it only seemed to make things worse. I knew he had a rough past; I knew his pain ran deep, but then why hurt himself more?
While I worried about him a lot, my biggest worry was that one day I would go to sleep and when I woke up, he would be gone.
I was scared.
He reaches out for it. His old friend. With him from the beginning. That first time. That first draw. That first time that he had put the cold steel to his skin and felt the transition to warmth as the skin parted and warm, dark blood filled in the space left before spilling over and down the length of his forearm, staining the carpet below. Again, tonight, he repeats the ritual. Gently taking the knife from its precious holdings, the young man obsesses over the instrument intently. Checking for nicks in the edge, rust on the blade, slack in the hilt, he is eventually satisfied and places the blade over the target: his aching heart. As it had done many times before, since that first bloody time, the blade is placed gently upon the surface of his skin as he finds just the right spot, just the right target to release the pain that is just raging to escape from inside. With a steady, firm slowness the blade is dragged down across the young man's skin. Placed once more, adjacent to the first cut, another line is drawn. Into the desk chair he sinks and allows the blood to run down his chest. The old pain is dulled with the presence of this new, fresh pain. A bloody X is dripping freely where his heart resides, but he no longer believes can be healed. For a time, it will be easier to deal, easier to cope. But he knows. He knows that it will be back, this darkness, his pain. It always comes back.
Self-harm is nothing new; for ages different people have struggled with it or decided it was the best way to ease the pain. “Self-harm” can hardly be limited to the things mentioned in the introduction, and even those things mentioned are very different from each other. There is no cookie cutter solution; people are too complex for that, but are there common themes? Are there some things that would usually be good to know or do? While every situation is very different, there are some patterns that we think can be found in most cases.
Those who “self-harm” are hurting inside
The friends of those who self-harm are also hurting
Friends don’t understand why
Friends don’t know what to do
Those who self-harm need to hear truth
Those who self-harm need to be loved
So really, we are writing to two different groups of people right here. It’s a tough topic on all sides and many times, as we have shared, there is deep hurt on both sides. While writing about this is not easy, we write so that others can find hope and healing faster than we did.
Here is what we have found to be true in our lives.
[WHAT RACHAEL STRUGGLED WITH]
As the friend who knew but didn’t know what to do, I really wish my friend who was harming himself would have come to me, talked to me and shared with me his pain. If I had known what was going on inside, maybe I could have loved him better. Maybe I could have understood better and maybe I would not have worried about him taking his life as much. Now I know that he never would have taken his life, but then I didn’t know what to expect or even who to turn to. I didn’t know if I should talk to someone else about what was going on or be true to my word and not tell anyone else. These were all things that I struggled with.
[WHAT NICK STRUGGLED WITH]
My body aches. Getting out of bed in the morning takes more effort than before. The pain, it's gone, but not for long. As the sleep and weariness of the night wear off, the pulsating gravity that has settled in my chest returns with all the force of the day preceding it. With agonizing clarity, the denseness of reality settles upon my shoulders. Nothing changes, at least very much, and almost never for the better. My life, my mind, is a chaotic whirlwind of thought and emotion ranging from righteousness all the way down to self persecution. I was told that what I did was right, that there was no other choice. But that does not mean I am blind to the consequences of my choice and those whom it affected. I split up my family, for what I thought was the best for the kids, but I split up my family nonetheless. Tore children from a mother's arms. Why was I forced to come to this decision? Is it my fault things fell apart? That my mother turned back to drugs and sex and lies? Did she have no other choice because of her obligation to me? Am I even worthy of such love? Of any love? Of HER love? The light in my life, that keeps me going; she makes it seem like there is something worth fighting for. She makes everything make sense somehow. But do I deserve her love? Does she deserve the burden of mine? Should I risk the possibility of ruining her life like I have so many others? Even if I believe that she is better off without me, am I strong enough to be so unselfish? Obviously not! Since I could only think of her since coming back, it must have been a selfish act. And perhaps this was just the excuse, just the little push I needed to get back to her, the girl from that summer. Could have been but who could know? Only God, I suppose. But it did happen and I did fall in love with her and her with me and like everything that has ever been good and pure in my life, I screwed it up, royally and completely. And now here I am, facing each day like a zombie, an emotionless and lifeless drone that wanders life without conviction, purpose, or desire. And the kicker is that it all comes down in the end to my poor decisions and my weak constitutions. So I know I have no one to blame but myself. I deserve this... don't I? These were all things that I struggled with.
[WHAT WOULD RACHAEL HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY]
When I think about the past, when I think about the things that I struggled with and the things that I did, there are some things that I wish I would have done differently. As the friend who didn’t know what to do, the first thing I would have done is talk to someone older and wiser than myself. I think Scripture gives us a good idea of how to approach tough circumstances. Proverbs is full of Scripture that tells us to seek wisdom and counsel, but not from just anyone. Deep struggles like this are hard and peers don’t often offer the best advice. Pray and seek someone who can give sound direction. Then the next thing I would do is communicate with my friend. Scripture also talks to us about approaching the individual in love and by yourself first. Find a place where they are comfortable and talk to them. Think your thoughts out first, pray for wisdom and the right words to speak. Remember to listen first, then talk. I would ask them what is going on, if I could help in any way. And then I would share with them how what they are doing is affecting me. Maybe the best thing you can do is simply be there and that’s fine. If that is the case, let them know that you care, that you love them deeply and you’re always there to listen to them. Remember that you can’t fix what is going on in their lives. Sometimes they may not be ready to face the things of their past, but walk along side them as you continue in life together. Things will get better, but sometimes it takes longer than we want. Remind them that they are loved by you and more importantly by our heavenly father.
[WHAT WOULD NICK HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY]
You have read something today that is true and from the heart. A situation that I experienced and described here in my own words. I write to you now from years down the road, still living and full of life. I still struggle day to day with the difficulty and the temptation to revert to the habits and abuses I once inflicted upon myself. It has taken me a long time to come to the realization that what I was doing only hurt me and those around me more than I could realize at the time. Only very recently have I been able to come to terms with the demons of my past, of my present, and the inevitable demons that will inhabit my future. The difference between then and now is a very simple thing. Acceptance. I accepted the truth that suffering is a tragically beautiful, even necessary part of life. We would never now know the depth of happiness and joy that we have experienced if we did not know also the depth and endless void into which we could fall. Other differences that have come with acceptance are release/relief, serenity, and connectivity to name a few. I feel at peace with myself in a way that I did not ever think to be possible before, yet here I am now. I say this in hope that if you read this and self harm, you can perhaps take away something from my experience. Learn to be stronger, that much faster, in this unfair and unexpected reality. It is the way you handle it from here though that is the real challenge. Changing in the present is much more difficult than living in the past, but it is well worth the effort. If you take anything from reading my pain, reading my loss, take from it that the only person in control of your pain, your joy, your fear, your regret, is you. Through your attitude, your spirituality, and your will, you are the one in control of how you come to terms with the negatives in your life. Don't forget, though, to look for the positives in your life. It may seem as though there is no positive to be had, but just like God, even though you cannot see the good, that does not mean it is not there.
Like we said before, nobody will find themselves in the exact same situation that we were in but sometimes it’s good to hear how other people faced tough circumstances and overcame them. Going through this was tough. The pain lasted for years, but it does not have to! We are not saying that there is an instant fix. There isn’t. Life can wreck you and sometimes the things that happen to us are not even our fault. Maybe your parents divorced and finding your feet again has been hard. Maybe you were abused growing up and the pain is so deep you don’t know that you could ever free yourself from it. Maybe there were just a lot of expectations on you as a child and you never felt like you could reach them. Maybe the things that have happened to you and the things you have gotten yourself into are things you will struggle with for a long time. Our hope is that in time you will be able to overcome them. Learn from us; remember what we would have done differently and seek the Lord, near or far as he seems, and he will guide you.
Note: We have not really discussed suicide in this section. While it is a form of self-harm, it is much different because it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I have listened to too many students contemplate suicide, fortunately most of them have found the help that they need. If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, seek help immediately from a trusted person and know these things: First, you are loved more than you could imagine by our Father in Heaven. Seek him, find hope and truth in his word; he is there. Finally, things will get better. It may be a long and painful process to get to a better place, it may mean making big life changes that are scary, unknown, but it is worth it. Your life has barely begun. Don’t cut it short.
When I read this passage, I know that our God is good. Evil is a reality of the world we live in; but when we turn to God, no matter our past, when we surrender our hurts to him and begin daily giving ourselves to him, he begins to re-shape us. He begins repairing the broken parts of our lives and we can find refuge in him. Everyone has hurts;the question is how we cope with them. When I read this passage I know that the Lord is there. The writer of this passage even asks us, the reader, in verse eight to “find out for yourself how good the LORD is…” This Psalm is an invitation to come. God is faithful. He will be there. Pray for the eyes to see him.
Father God in heaven, guide me.
You know my hurts, you know my fears, you know the things of my past and my hesitations about the future. Help me to accept your love; let it penetrate my stone heart, help me to feel you Father. Help me to see you at work in my life, in the big and the small ways. Father give me courage. I know I am not alone. Send people into my life that I can trust. Please give me your wisdom Father and help me to face the things that hold me down. Help me to trust.
In your name I pray, Amen.
This 2011 study gives a glimpse of self-harm statistics:
Take a look at this article for some insight on the reality of self harm in today’s society. It includes a lot of information but one of the main points covers the reality of guys self-mutilating just as much as girls BUT they hide it better. Hiding your pain or other emotions, regardless of whether you intentionally hurt yourself, is never a helpful or healthy thing to do. God deeply desires to have you share your heart with him, to bring him your hurt and rage and doubt and then in turn listen to what he thinks about you. He created you and knows you better than anyone and he can give you the courage and peace to continue and share this pain with a trusted friend, leader, or parent. Clue people into your heart’s state of being and allow God to speak his love and work his healing through the people he has placed in your life. There is nothing he can’t do!
One thing that can contribute to the struggle with self harm is being able to cope with stress. It’s easy to develop bad coping mechanisms. If you want to get an idea of where you’re at right now, take this quiz to test your coping skills. Regardless of the results, if you think this might be something you need a little help with, grab some time with your leader or school counselor and see what suggestions they have. Learning how to handle feeling overwhelmed is part of life, so make sure to talk to someone older and further along in life than you. Also remember that God can carry all of your worries and fears for you if you let him.
“Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
“Trust in the LORD.
Have faith, do not despair.
Trust in the LORD.”
Matthew 11:28-30 -Here Jesus himself invites us to trust in him, to surrender and give our hurts to him.
Matthew 7:7-8 -Here we see Jesus tell us again that he wants to be there for us; we just need to ask him, seek him.
Isaiah 40:27-31 -The Israelites struggled to know and see God, too; but let’s see what Isaiah had to say about that.
Psalm 147:1-3 God wants to bring you back to life, to heal you!
1 John 3:1 -His love for you is great.
Matthew 18:15-17 -Here we see a biblical account of how we should handle conflict.
*WARNING* There are some clips that could be triggering so just be careful if you decide to watch it.
Check out this video made by a teen for her class. There are a lot of videos out there like this made by kids about self harm and depression. Maybe this is a way you can try expressing your own pain, anger, and other overwhelming feelings. Don’t forget though to share your emotions with a leader, parent, or chaplain and pray with them, asking God to teach you how he feels about you and how precious you are to him.
“Do not be afraid—I will save you.
I have called you by name—you are mine.
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned;
the hard trials that come will not hurt you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the holy God of Israel, who saves you.
I will give up Egypt to set you free;
I will give up Ethiopia and Seba.
I will give up whole nations to save your life,
because you are precious to me
and because I love you and give you honor.
Do not be afraid—I am with you!”
Read through this Psalm, maybe a few times and out loud even, and then take a few minutes to journal, draw, pray or even rewrite it with multiple colors and font sizes. Allow the truth of how much God knows you, loves you, and accepts you, penetrate into your core. There is absolutely nothing about you that he doesn’t already know and he still loves you fiercely. Nothing will ever change that!
“Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do;
from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting;
you know all my actions.
Even before I speak,
you already know what I will say.
You are all around me on every side;
you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep;
it is beyond my understanding.
Where could I go to escape from you?
Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there;
if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east
or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me,
you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you,
and the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
You created every part of me;
you put me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because you are to be feared;
all you do is strange and wonderful.
I know it with all my heart.
When my bones were being formed,
carefully put together in my mother's womb,
when I was growing there in secret,
you knew that I was there—
you saw me before I was born.
The days allotted to me
had all been recorded in your book,
before any of them ever began.
O God, how difficult I find your thoughts;
how many of them there are!
If I counted them, they would be more than the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.
O God, how I wish you would kill the wicked!
How I wish violent people would leave me alone!
They say wicked things about you;
they speak evil things against your name.
O Lord, how I hate those who hate you!
How I despise those who rebel against you!
I hate them with a total hatred;
I regard them as my enemies.
Examine me, O God, and know my mind;
test me, and discover my thoughts.
Find out if there is any evil in me
and guide me in the everlasting way.”