What is self injury? Why would anyone do it? How do you stop?
If you or someone you know has purposely hurt herself, she has self-injured. Most people avoid pain, people who intentionally hurt themselves may believe it is necessary and normal. “In fact, like a diabetic giving herself an injection, it can feel like a temporary cure,” says Ed Welch of CCEF, a biblical counseling ministry.
Do you know someone who cuts? or punches herself? or digs her nails in her skin? or bangs her head against a wall? If so, you know who hurts so bad in her heart that she self injures for temporary relief. Other types of self injury include biting nails until fingers bleed, scratching at skin, burning oneself with cigarettes or a lighter, even breaking bones.
Self-injury seems weird but people who injure themselves — including Christian women who follow Jesus — think it makes sense. How can this be?
3 Pictures of Self-Injury (Me Included)
Consider Helena. In her thirties, she bangs her head against a wall. Sometimes she slashes the inside of her arms with a razor. Enough to see blood, never so deep to need a doctor. She’d explain that head-banging and cutting helps her feel better.
Or consider Lizzy. She seems the average teen with typical peer pressure. But when you delve deeper, you discover that when her well-meaning parents rag on her about her messy room or when she tells herself she’s fat and ugly and a loser, she finds a paperclip or a scissors, and cuts in inconspicuous spots on her body. She’d say cutting relieves stress.
Then there’s me. Decades ago in a new high school where I felt like an outcast and at home where my dad yelled at my mom and my mom withdrew in eerie silence, I sometimes dug my fingernails into arms. The pain felt wickedly good.
Angelina Jolie and Christina Ricci are two celebrities who have shared publicly their past problems with cutting. If you self injure, know that you are not alone.
What do we have in common?
Longing for Peace
People who self injure try to deal with intense emotions of loneliness, anger, and fear to feel better through self injury. Typically self-injurers are not suicidal, Welch says. People who are suicidal want life to be over; people who self-injure want to feel better.
For Helena and Lizzy, their repeated self-injury became an addictive cycle. Time and time again, they sought relief from self-injury and increased the harmful behavior. By the grace of God, my nail digging diminished as I felt less lonely.
Stress is a trigger for self-injury. However, if self-injury becomes automatic, the person may self-injure regularly because it provides an immediate sense of regained control and emotional relief. This relief is temporary, however, and the cycle repeats.
Some who self-injure may believe any number of lies. Here are a few examples:
- A woman who was sexually assaulted may believe her body is bad, so she hurts herself.
- Someone who doesn’t live up to her own standards of perfection may self-injure.
- An angry person may rage against herself and rather than taking it out on others.
Would you real, lasting peace?
Note: If you believe someone who know is in danger, stop the cutter before she does something serious.
Real Peace for Self-Injury
The “peace” of self-injury never lasts and often gets worse. The real peace you crave never flows from your actions, including self-injury.
Your trickling blood fails to do what only the blood of Jesus Christ has already done: pay the price for your sins and mine once and for all.
Here are 5 main ways to stop self-injury forever:
1. Let other people in. Speak openly and honestly to a trustworthy person, perhaps a friend, family member or counselor. Self-injury hides in privacy.
2. Recognize and believe that God wants to heal you. Feed yourself with Scripture such as Psalms 46:1-3, the Gospels, and Ephesians.
3. Learn how to think well. Replace lies like “I’m a loser” with God’s truth of “I am wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
4. Identify the pattern where self injury is a temptation. Develop plans on what steps to take long before your emotions overwhelm you. You may have plans to call certain friends or to listen to music or read in a public place.
5. When you blow it, choose to hope. Remind yourself of the reasons you want to change and remember that Jesus loves you and has forgiven you, and begin afresh.
If you or someone you know is struggling with self-injury, consider making an appointment with a pastor or counselor. If you’d like to make an in-person or Skype appointment with an experienced, compassionate counselor at Biblical Counseling Center, please contact us.