Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Stop Hurting Myself?
“My anguish was out of control. Then I found something that I could control—physical pain.”—Jennifer, 20. *
“When I’d get upset, I’d cut. It was my way of crying. I’d be happier after.”—Jessica, 17.
“I haven’t done it now for about two weeks. That’s a long time for me. I don’t think I will ever totally stop.”—Jamie, 16.
JENNIFER, Jessica, and Jamie do not know one another, but they have a lot in common. All three were in emotional anguish. And all three adopted the same method of coping with their despair. Jennifer, Jessica, and Jamie found temporary relief through self-injury. *
Bizarre as it may seem, self-injury—which includes cutting or self-mutilation—has become surprisingly common among teens and young adults. Canada’s National Post notes that the practice “terrifies parents, baffles [school] guidance counsellors and challenges doctors.” It also says that self-injury “can become one of the toughest addictions known to medicine.” Have you or someone close to you become enslaved to this habit? If so, what can you do about it?
First, try to discern the reason why you feel compelled to hurt yourself. Remember, cutting is more than a mere nervous habit. Usually, it is a way of coping with some form of stress. The cutter uses physical pain to alleviate emotional pain. So ask yourself: ‘What purpose does self-injury serve for me? What am I thinking about when I feel the urge to cut?’ Is there a situation in your life—perhaps with regard to your family or your friends—that is causing you distress?
No doubt it will take courage for you to make such a self-examination. But the rewards can be great. Often, this is the first step toward stopping the practice of self-injury. However, more is needed than simply uncovering the roots of your habit.
The Value of Confiding
If you have succumbed to self-injury, you will benefit by sharing your troubled feelings with a trusted and mature friend. A Bible proverb says: “Worry can rob you of happiness, but kind words will cheer you up.” (Proverbs 12:25, Today’s English Version) Confiding in another can put you in a position to hear the consoling, kind words you need.—Proverbs 25:11.
Whom should you approach? It would be good to select someone older than you who shows wisdom, maturity, and compassion. Christians have the benefit of congregation elders, who are “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.”—Isaiah 32:2.
Granted, the idea of sharing your secret with someone may seem frightening. You may feel as did Sara. “At first, I found it hard to trust,” she admits. “I believed that once people knew me—really knew me—they would draw back in loathing and disgust.” By confiding, however, Sara came to appreciate the truth of what the Bible states at Proverbs 18:24: “There exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” She says: “The mature Christians I confided in never reproached me, no matter what I revealed to them about my self-injuring habits. Instead, they provided me with practical suggestions. They reasoned with me from the Scriptures, patiently reassuring me when I felt despondent and utterly worthless.”
Why not talk to someone about your problem with self-injury? If you feel that you cannot bear a face-to-face discussion, try communicating in a letter or over the telephone. Confiding can be a positive step toward your recovery. Jennifer says, “The most important thing was knowing that someone really cared about me, that there was someone I could talk to when things looked bleak.” *
The Importance of Prayer
Donna was at an impasse. On the one hand, she felt that she needed God’s help. On the other, she imagined that he would not favor her with his support until she quit cutting herself. What helped Donna? One factor was meditating on 1 Chronicles 29:17, which calls Jehovah God “an examiner of the heart.” “Jehovah knew that in my heart I really wanted to stop cutting,” says Donna. “Once I started praying to him for help, it was amazing. Little by little, I kept getting stronger.”
The psalmist David, who was no stranger to adversity, wrote: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22) Yes, Jehovah knows about your suffering. More than that, “he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) If your heart condemns you, remember that God is ‘greater than your heart and knows all things.’ Yes, he understands why you self-injure and why you find it difficult to stop. (1 John 3:19, 20) If you approach him in prayer and endeavor to overcome this practice, he will “really help you.”—Isaiah 41:10.
What, though, if you experience a relapse? Does that mean you have failed completely? By no means! Proverbs 24:16 says: “The righteous one may fall even seven times, and he will certainly get up.” Reflecting on that Bible verse, Donna says, “I fell more than seven times, but I did not give up.” Donna found that persistence is essential. So did Karen. “I learned to view a relapse as a temporary setback, not a failure, and to start over as many times as necessary,” she says.
When Additional Assistance Is Needed
Jesus recognized that ‘those who are ill need a physician.’ (Mark 2:17) In many cases it is necessary to consult a qualified professional to determine if there is a disorder underlying the habit of self-injury and then to propose treatment. * Jennifer chose to get such help, which complemented the support she received from loving Christian overseers. “The elders are not doctors, but they have been so supportive,” she says. “Although the urge to hurt myself still comes at times, I have been successful in controlling it with the help of Jehovah, the congregation, and the coping skills I have learned.” *
Be assured that you can learn to replace this habit with more productive ways of coping. Pray as did the psalmist: “Fix my own steps solidly in your saying, and may no kind of hurtful thing domineer over me.” (Psalm 119:133) Surely, you will gain satisfaction and self-respect when you get the mastery over this practice so that it no longer dominates you.
^ par. 3 Some names in this article have been changed.
^ par. 6 For more information on self-injury—what it includes and its causes—see the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Do I Hurt Myself?” in the January 2006 issue of Awake!
^ par. 14 You might practice putting your feelings into words by writing them down at times. The writers of the Bible psalms were men of intense emotion who used words to express their feelings of remorse, anger, frustration, and sadness. As examples, you may wish to review Psalms 6, 13, 42, 55, and 69.
^ par. 20 Sometimes self-injury is a side effect of another condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or an eating disorder. Awake! does not endorse any particular approach to treatment. Christians should make sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.
^ par. 20 Past issues of Awake! have contained articles on matters that often lurk behind self-injury. For example, see the series “Understanding Mood Disorders” (January 8, 2004), “Help for Depressed Teens” (September 8, 2001), and “What Is Behind Eating Disorders?” (January 22, 1999), as well as the article “Young People Ask . . . An Alcoholic Parent—How Can I Cope?” (August 8, 1992).
TO THINK ABOUT
▪ What are some alternatives to cutting when you feel distressed?
▪ In whom could you confide if you have a problem with cutting?
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HELPING A SELF-INJURER
How can you help a family member or a friend who has a problem with self-injury? Since the sufferer may be in desperate need of a confidant, you can provide a listening ear. Try to be “a true companion” who is “born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) Granted, your first impulse may be to panic and demand that the cutting stop immediately. But this approach will likely alienate the sufferer. Besides, more is needed than telling the person to stop. It will take insight to help the self-injurer learn new ways to cope with problems. (Proverbs 16:23) It will also take time. So be patient. Be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking.”—James 1:19.
If you are a youth, do not presume that you can help a self-injurer on your own. Remember, there may be an underlying problem or disorder in need of treatment. Also, self-injury can be life-threatening—even when the injurer has no suicidal intent. It would be wise, then, to urge the cutter to bring the matter to the attention of a mature, caring adult.
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Never underestimate the value of confiding in a loved one and the importance of prayer