This week, we’ll be talking about some painful and difficult circumstances, and I pray that you can’t relate to what is said. But if you can, then know that this is a place of love. The articles may raise some uncomfortable questions for you, and we encourage you to speak to a trusted friend or church leader about these. We will also recommend some helpful resources to think about all the topics further.
I love a good shower. The feeling of the water pounding the back of my neck, or the moment it gets through my hair and the heat trickles down over my scalp. At the end of a hard day or a week when I feel like I can’t do anything anymore, I shower. For me, it feels like washing off the difficulty of the day and becoming fresh and ready again. Perhaps you have a sort of ritual, like my shower, that enables you to keep your head above water when you feel overwhelmed by life. Perhaps, for you, it’s an hour doing your make-up or going out for a run.
Research suggests that 13-17% of teenagers and young adults use self-harm as their ritual. That may come as a shock, I hope it does. This definition of self-harm by a biblical counsellor may help us to think about why it is so common:
Self-harm is the act of deliberately causing oneself physical pain or injury in order to address some kind of emotional need and bring relief – usually in ways that are hidden, always in ways that impact faith.
Pause for a moment: we cannot say that a person who has hurt themselves ever, is an addict to self-harm. So why talk about it this week? Well, because the addiction here is not to self-harm itself, but to the sense of escape it gives from the stresses of life. Just as I’m not addicted to showers, but the feeling that a good shower gives me. My showers achieve refreshment and energy and a sense of putting the week, with all its stresses, behind me. Perhaps you use Netflix or Instagram or sport or alcohol… all of these are coping strategies, just like self-harm, that promise relief from the stresses of life, but in the end accomplish little or make it worse.
So what makes a girl turn to self-harm rather than exercise or eating? Perhaps it’s guilt and feeling that harming herself enacts a just punishment. Perhaps it’s numbness and feeling pain is better than feeling nothing at all. Perhaps she was bullied growing up. Perhaps she’s seen celebrities talking about self-harm online. Perhaps she’s heard the world’s message that “you are perfect, amazing, strong, blameless and beautiful” and just couldn’t see herself in that mirror. She can see herself in the mirror of “you are useless, pathetic, disgusting, and worthless”.
How can she survive? Self-harm gives her a sense of relief that she is dealing with how disgusting and bad she is on the inside. It enables her to cope for one more day, until the relief runs out and she’s back in her bedroom the next day feeling worse than before.
Where is God?
God is holding up another mirror. We know it as the Bible and it tells us a different message: “You are loved, adopted, cherished, alive, and growing.” In Ephesians 1-2, God’s speaks forgiveness for the guilty, good works for the useless, and salvation for the worthless.
This struggling girl is addicted to survival. She just wants to cope and stay alive. What does God offer?
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV)
She can look into the mirror of scripture and see a beautiful bride, cleansed and flawless, without stain or scar from the pains of her history. She can take hold of the strength given to her, without having to search in vain for strength within, and live out the life she has been blessed with. Life to the fullest, and life without limits.
She has a long road ahead, and she will need many who love her by her side, but she doesn’t need to settle for survival anymore. She can be addicted to the life given by the Spirit, through Christ’s blood, that is given abundantly and never runs out.
Some links to check out if you want to know more:
https://www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk/video/2015-audio/ - (scroll down to the self-harm seminar)
 Swannell, S, et al. (2014). Prevalence of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in Nonclinical Samples: Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression. Suicide & life-threatening behavior. 44. 10.1111/sltb.12070.