A Note from Kelly King: The issue of self-harm is one that is hard for many people to understand, yet it is something that should be addressed if you are a girl’s ministry leader or a minister to women. While you think you may not know someone who is struggling with self-harm, chances are you do. I appreciate Deb Douglas and her desire to start the conversation. If you are in ministry leadership, consider letting this article be the beginning of that dialogue.
Some topics are so messy that we hide them under the table, in the closet, or behind our masks. We choke the hurt with a silence that isolates and builds walls around us. But over time, that hurt will bubble to the surface.
Anxiety soon follows, and unfortunately, the hurt can become so overwhelming, the sufferer will do anything to escape. The pain replaces basic sensitivities until the sufferer finds the only way to relieve the pain is to substitute it with another pain. Self-inflicted pain follows.
Self-harm comes in the form of cutting, hair pulling, starvation, reckless behavior choices, burning, and self-battering such as breaking bones and repeatedly hitting oneself. And there are other ways that self-harm is exercised. Desperation caused by deep hurt brings about desperately creative ways to relieve the original hurt through physical pain.
Before you click away to another article thinking there’s no one you know who self-harms, think again. Self-harming has developed a large following in big cities, small towns, and rural areas. In other words, it’s everywhere—in every neighborhood, every town, and every church.
Or maybe the self-harmer in your life is you.
Rarely do people who self-harm make a huge announcement or share their struggle openly. They do not wear “I cut” t-shirts. The first people I encountered who self-harmed were young 20-somethings and 30-somethings. But self-harmers are teenagers, single women, divorced women, or anyone who is battling in life. Self-harm usually begins in the teenage years and continues on throughout life until help is received.
Self-harm is not an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Self-harm is escape from the frustration of constant hurting. Often people who self-harm face other challenges such as depression, anorexia and eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, or personality disorders.
One young man who cuts described it as an addictive relief from life. Generally, small parallel cuts are made on the arms or legs. Sometimes the cuts are explained away as accidents or cat scratches.
What does help look like for the woman who self-harms?
- Counseling with a qualified, experienced counselor
- Antidepressants or other appropriate anxiety medications
- Support and encouragement in a loving environment
- Listening without judgment
- Discovering ways to lower stress
- Developing improved coping skills
- Reminding her that she is loved and valued by God
Self-harm is messy. It is hard to discover because the self-harmer is hiding her pain. Many cover the cutting scars with tattoos. Be brave, talk about self-harm, invite an overcomer to share her story, and be willing to listen. You may not understand self-harm, but your willingness to help shows the love of God to a desperately hurting person.
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.