As the issue becomes more prevalent in our culture, there seems to be an increase of knowledge around the topic of self-harm. This is great, but there is always room to grow and learn.
One of the most common questions about self-harm is probably: why?
A handful of people (oftentimes teenagers) may engage in self-harm for attention. The majority, however, do it because they have so much pain inside that they don’t know how to deal with. Inflicting physical pain seems like the only solution. It provides relief … at least temporarily … and so people become trapped in the cycle. It’s vicious. Regardless of the reason, however, it must be taken seriously.
I have been on both sides of this heart-wrenching struggle.
As a 17-year-old, I was trapped in a prison of intense darkness. I had a cataclysmic hole within myself that kept growing. I dabbled in many vices to try and fill it … to feel happiness for a little while … or at least to feel something. Self-harm was one of those vices. For me, it was a combination of needing a way to release the pain I was feeling and of having such a low view of myself. I thought I deserved to be be marked or punished. Looking back, it’s heartbreaking to realize that my mind was in such a place.
That was over ten years ago. Since then, I have encountered friends who have been in this struggle. It’s so hard to watch and to know how much they are hurting—especially when you know there is a better way.
So here is the part where you may be asking: what can I do?
Please do not, in any way, say the words “just stop it.” Obviously it’s harmful, but if we are not careful we could communicate the message that they just need to cut it out because they are not being smart. This is true, but if they have gotten to this point, there are a lot of things that have probably led up to it. They will need help beginning a new journey, a journey of healing. They didn’t get there overnight, and they won’t get out of it overnight.
I think the biggest thing you can do is to simply be there as much as possible. This could be difficult if they are pushing people away, but do your best to spend time in the physical presence of the person. Call them, text them, etc. This doesn’t have to involve long conversations or “friend therapy,” where you are expected to have all the answers. In fact, that might just make them feel worse. Instead, distract them. Come cook for them or tell them you can just do homework or work together. If they are willing to talk, focus on deeper issues to try and help them see their true value. Don’t try to just talk about the self-harm, but rather things like insecurity, life circumstances, etc. … things that likely led up to this behavior. They need to get to the root! Asking them to describe their self-harm rituals to you is in no way helpful.
Simply being with them communicates that you care and that they aren’t alone in their struggle.
That being said, this could easily become a big burden if you are not careful. Remember that you cannot save anyone. Let go of that burden and self-induced responsibility. They must decide they want help and receive it. At the end of the day, you know you have done your part and that you are there for them. Everything else you must give over to God—you must give them over to God.
Finally, help them know that they are loved! If they hear it enough then hopefully they will start to believe it themselves, and changing their beliefs may be a big step toward overcoming their dangerous behaviors.
For more information and resources on self-harm, check out this awesome organization: To Write Love on Her Arms.
The following book may also be helpful for those seeking help from the bondage of self-harm or those wishing to learn more about it: Cut: Mercy for Self Harm.