How do I help someone who is self harming?
What you say and how you act can make a big difference to a person who is self harming.
If someone opens up and tells you they are self harming, the first helpful thing to do is to not act shocked or surprised. Your friend may already be feeling out of place or isolated, and seeing this reaction from someone close to them will only encourage them to believe that no one who will ever understand their struggles. This is completely different from showing love and concern, which you should definitely do! Initially, unless you are professionally trained in this sort of thing, caring for your friend is almost more important than trying to ‘fix’ the situation – even though it is tempting! Although you may already be friends, your friend needs to know they can trust you with this deeply personal and private aspect of their life.
Again, I want to emphasise that unless you are professionally trained, you should not allow yourself to be the only person in their life who knows about this. However, this is not a time to spread the news around or start gossiping – I cannot tell you how damaging this can be! Instead, keep talking to your friend and encouraging them to share with a trusted adult. And do offer to go with them for support.
The most important thing that your friend needs is someone beside them – not above them, not in front of them, and not abandoning them. They need someone who is on their side, who will listen with understanding and without judgement when they tell you the thoughts that are flying through their head, even if they seem ‘crazy’. They need someone on their level who can remind them of things that they enjoy in life. Someone to sit in silence with when they don’t know any words to say. Someone to help them not feel so deeply isolated.
What happens if I self harm?
If you find yourself already in the habit of self harming, please believe me when I say that you are not weird, you are not crazy, you are not dumb and you are not a hopeless case. However, please trust me when I say from experience - this is not the best solution. There are people who care for you and love you, and there is a way out. I know that it feels lonely. And I know that to hear about God or be thrown Bible verses by people isn’t always helpful. If verses and prayer worked like magic does, then you wouldn’t be here! Instead, I need you to hear me when I say that God DOES see you right now, and He sees and feels your pain. He hasn’t left you. But don’t be afraid to cry out to Him, even YELL out to Him – He can definitely handle that … like in Psalm 88 (I’ll explain more on this later).
Lastly, I desperately encourage you to speak to someone. It feels like you have nothing to say, and that’s okay. But sometimes there are things that you need to say that you don’t even know about! Find a trustworthy friend. Find a trustworthy adult. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, write it out. Write it. Write it. Write it! Keep your hands busy. Draw it. Even better, pray it out on paper or in a journal. Don’t allow yourself to be alone in your head.
What is an appropriate Christian response?
The important thing to understand is that as a Christian, it sadly wouldn’t be a surprise if you know someone who self harms. And sadly again, it shouldn’t be a surprise if they are Christian. As Christians, we are not exempt from the sufferings and pain of this world. The Bible says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12). The curse of sin affected the entire world, including God’s people, so you should never be judgemental of Christians who are going through this. And you have no reason to feel ‘extra guilty’ if you are going through this yourself. One of Satan’s best tactics is to make us feel alone from both God and from the people around us. The “father of lies” (John 8:44) wins this battle far too often.
Read the Psalms?
Something I found frustrating was that it felt like my friends wouldn’t understand me. This discouraged me from talking to anyone. If I did, they would say things like, “Just think more positively!” and, “Maybe just do some things that you enjoy” and, “Read the Psalms! They are about turning back to God!” I couldn’t stand those comments! I especially couldn’t stand being told to read the Psalms. I didn’t have the capacity to turn from, “O God, why have you left me?” to, “But then I remembered that you are God, and you are my salvation”.
That was SO far from my reality that it all seemed too fake.
But then I found Psalm 88 where there is NO happy ending – and I really liked that! It was helpful to see that God wanted to have this Psalm in the Bible. What I didn’t know how to express was that I just needed to know that someone was listening to me, and sitting in the deep, dark hole I was in. I needed people to understand that I didn’t have the strength to come out yet, but didn’t want them to force me to try anything. I would only disappoint them by not being able to do that yet! This Psalmist seemed to get it. It didn’t seem like he was getting immediate answers from God either. And yet, it’s still in the Bible! I didn’t admit this for about 6 months, but reading this Psalm really did give me hope in God.
God loves everyone - including those who self harm
From the Bible, we learn that we are to love and care, and carry each others’ burdens. In this situation, it is most likely that this is not something that YOU can fix. Instead, devote yourself to prayer even when it feels like talking to a brick wall. Entrust the situation to God. Believe that He cares and that He can bring the person through to the other side.
And do remember that God loves those who self harm. I know you love them, but know that He loves them even more. He loves them enough to have sent Jesus to experience suffering and pain and death. He loves them enough to defeat death with his own resurrection, and promise to take us with him to heaven so we won’t have to experience the unfathomable eternity of suffering. (“The Son of Man must suffer many things…and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Luke 9:22) He loves them enough to have brought you into their life to join Him in loving them as well.
Ultimately, “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and your friend needs your help to always be reminded of this.
Places to go for help
Some useful online resources to find information and help:
Headspace: find them on Facebook, and go to http://www.headspace.org.au/is-it-just-me/find-information/self-harm
Beyond Blue: find them on Facebook, and go to http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/factsheets-and-info/fact-sheet-15-managing-self-harm/
Lifeline: ring them on 13 11 14, (any time!), and go to http://www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/Facts---Information/Self-harm/Self-harm
National Self Harm Network http://www.nshn.co.uk/
Nightline. Help for University Students http://www.nightline.ac.uk/
NHS Direct: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Self-injury/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Reach Out: http://us.reachout.com/
1-800-334-HELP – Self Injury Foundation’s 24-hour national crisis line.
To Write Love On Her Arms: http://www.TWLOHA.com