Discipling People Struggling with Self-Harm
These are pages taken from our ‘Good News For Real Life’ booklet. They contain short introductions to some common pastoral struggles. Think of them as conversation-starters to help us begin to understand and respond to complex issues. Not as experts but as brothers and sisters in Christ — pointing one another to Jesus with words of hope and grace.
In other words: to walk together as those with good news for real life
WHAT IS SELF-HARM?
Self-harm is the act of deliberately causing oneself physical pain or injury in order to bring about some kind of emotional relief. It can include cutting, burning, taking overdoses, pulling out hair, punching walls and depriving oneself of oxygen. The aim is not to end life but to manage emotions so people can keep on living.
HOW DOES SELF-HARM WORK?
There are 4 main ways in which self-harm functions:
- Punishment. Sometimes people feel guilty. Sometimes they don’t know what to do with the guilt. By punishing themselves, they can feel a little less guilty for a while
- Cleansing. Sometimes the pressure builds up. It can feel as if people are going to explode with stress. By putting a hole in their body, people can feel as if they are letting out the pressure for a few hours
- Control. Sometimes people feel as if life is completely out of control – everything they do is at the mercy of others. By hurting a small section of their body, people can feel as if they have a least a little control over a small patch of skin
- Sensation. Sometimes people suppress emotions, they push them down so far they end up feeling nothing. By causing themselves pain, people can begin to feel alive
Self-harm works for a little while but the relief doesn’t last. It becomes like an addiction.
HOW DOES SELF-HARM BEGIN?
Usually, 3 things have happened in a person’s life before they start self-harming.
- They have experienced pain: physical, sexual, emotional abuse or other difficult events such as early bereavement or growing up in a perfectionistic environment
- They have believed wrong things about themselves, the world and God: the pain they have experienced has encouraged them to think things like, “I am worthless”, “Everybody hates me”, “The world is out of control”
- They have come across self-harm in the life of a friend or on the internet
HOW CAN I HELP SOMEONE WHO IS SELF-HARMING?
Listen to what life is like and the pain they are experiencing
Encourage them to see their GP
Help them to see that God knows them and understands them (Psalm 139)
Help them to see that God accepts those who feel shame (John 4)
Help them to see that God cares when people get hurt (Amos 5)
Help them to see that God is sovereign, powerful and good (Mark 1-8)
Help them to work out when they are most like to self-harm (by keeping a diary)
Help them to find other ways of expressing their emotions (eg sport, writing, music)
Self-Injury, When Pain Feels Good by Edward Welch (P&R Publishing)