The Path from Cutting to Healing
While cutting is on the rise, self-mutilation or self-harm has been occurring since biblical times.
The issue with cutting is that it is becoming prevalent amongst adolescents – even Christians.
According to Mental Health America, “Research indicates that self-injury occurs in approximately as many as 4% of adults in the United States. Rates are higher among adolescents, who seem to be at an increased risk for self-injury, with approximately 15% of teens reporting some form of self-injury. Studies show an even higher risk for self-injury among college students, with rates ranging from 17%-35%.” Of those who self-harm, 70-90% perform cutting.
In another survey, Today’s Christian Woman found, “Forty-one percent: That's how many respondents to our recent online poll at todayschristianwoman.com said they've either known someone who self-mutilates, did so at some point in their life, or have a child who has been a cutter.”
This means it is likely you know someone who is or was a cutter.
You possibly share a pew with a cutter on Sunday mornings.
Cutting should not be dismissed or swept under the rug.
It also shouldn’t be used as a target practice for shaming.
It should be dealt with using compassion and God’s love.
To help us tackle this difficult topic, we are using a variety of resources, including the booklet Cutting: A Healing Response by Jeremy Lelek.
Hold Your Judgment
Many people react in shock and horror when they discover someone they know is cutting.
It is shocking and horrible, but it is important to hold judgment in this situation (just as you are called to avoid judgment at all times).
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
– John 8:7
Consider this example from Desiring God by Emma Scrivener:
“Imagine that you’re running late for a meeting and have lost your house keys. How might you respond? On the outside you might seem calm. But internally you can hear yourself saying: Idiot! How could I have done that? I’m so stupid. Why do I keep making the same mistakes? Berating ourselves doesn’t make the keys suddenly appear and it certainly doesn’t get us to our appointment any sooner. If our spouses or friends spoke to us in this way, we’d challenge them. Yet we are routinely tempted to tell ourselves the same things — sometimes worse. Perhaps you can relate to self-harm more than you realized.”
While this is obviously different from cutting, this may help you develop empathy when speaking to someone you love who is hurting themselves by cutting.
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Self-harm, including cutting, is an individual’s attempt to find relief from what they are feeling at the moment (emotional distress, anxiety, hurt, anger, etc.).
To outsiders, this seems counterintuitive because the solution to their hurting is hurting themselves.
Some even consider it self-medicating.
Leslie Vernick, a licensed counselor at Christ-Centered Counseling for Individuals and Families featured in Today’s Christian Woman, shares this explanation: “A teen's really saying, Help, I'm hurting and I don't know how to deal with my pain! ‘Endorphins released during cutting often soothe some deeper emotional pain—rejection, depression, self-hatred, or helplessness,’ Vernick explains. A teen who self-injures finds instant release through the biochemical reaction and correlates cutting with comfort.”
Here are some of the other reasons people self-harm:
- To release emotions
- To show hatred for oneself
- To punish oneself
- To feel pain or see blood
- To calm thoughts
- To stop flashbacks or intrusive memories
Another reason people self-harm is to avoid suicide.
This sounds contradictory, but cutters are not intending to commit suicide when they cut themselves; they believe they are doing just the opposite.
That’s why medical professionals and therapists refer to cutting as non-suicidal self-injury.
The Problem with Cutting and Other Forms of Self-Harm
Self-harm and cutting is not God’s desire for His children.
In addition to being addictive, the act of cutting results in many other problems.
Today’s Christian Woman elaborates, “Though death isn't the goal of this deliberate, repetitive harm to one's body, it can cause scarring, infection, and even fatality if a cut goes too deep or an infection isn't treated.”
Cutting goes far beyond hurting the physical body.
Emma Scrivener writes, “Self-harm is a human antidote to shame. As one friend told me, ‘Every time I cut, I was trying to save myself.’ In other words, it’s a deeply spiritual problem.”
The Biblical View of the Body
The first thing to recognize is that our bodies are temples created by our loving Heavenly Father.
Lelek writes, “Since she [the cutter] has placed her faith in Christ, her body is now the temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore she is called to use her body to glorify God (1 Cor. 6:19). Cutting herself will definitely not serve that end. She needs to consider what it means to glorify God in her body and learn to root her behavior in her love for Jesus and nothing else.”
The Heart of the Issue
Ultimately, cutting is a heart issue.
Got Questions explains, “It will be important to recognize what is prompting the behavior so that the truth of God's Word can be spoken into the situation. Self-harm is often a symptom of not being able to adequately cope with one's emotions or the result of past abuse or trauma.”
In Lelek’s booklet, he emphasizes the importance of addressing the heart issues leading to cutting.
If someone simply tries to “stop cutting” without a heart change, the pattern will return.
Lelek says, “Her need to cure her own soul by lacerating her flesh reveals the object of her faith. Her efforts bring temporary relief, but fall far short of facilitating genuine change where change is essential – if she is to experience a true mending of her heart.”
Cutting is an Unconscious Rebellion Against God
Ultimately, cutting is a form of unconscious rebellion against God.
That sounds harsh, but it is true.
The Biblical Counseling Center explains, “The biggest reason why someone cuts has to do with God. When I cut, it is like saying to the great Creator who made me, ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I can manage my life better than you’ or ‘You are not giving me any relief so I’ll find a way’ or ‘I hate you for making me this way.’”
Cutting is the individual’s way of trying to make his or her life work without God.
To find true healing, this must be acknowledged, and control must be placed in God’s capable, loving hands.
Lelek writes, “[The cutter] needs to realize that her attempts to find peace, solace, comfort, and escape through self-mutilation is a rejection of God and all he offers in Christ. […] Instead of running to God, she is exchanging the truth about God for a lie, and therefore worshipping the creature rather than the Creator.”
Finding Healing from Cutting
The good news is there is a pathway from cutting to healing. This pathway starts and ends with trusting in Jesus.
Lelek says, “What [the cutter’s] blood and body cannot accomplish (freedom from guilt, fear, anxiety, and self-condemnation), Jesus offers her daily in his own!”
Jesus atoned for our sins when he gave his life on the cross.
All the individual needs to do is put her trust in Him.
This doesn’t mean that she will instantly stop cutting or that she won’t fall into temptation in the future.
However, with God on her side, it is much easier to find hope and continue to move forward.
Got Questions adds, “Also important will be finding practical ways to stop engaging in the harming behavior. Things like praying, journaling, doing artwork, going for a walk, calling a friend, taking a shower, or simply allowing oneself to cry can be helpful replacement activities when the urge to harm oneself arises. A counselor can help you come up with a good plan to help curb the damaging behaviors while also helping you learn better coping mechanisms for emotional stress.”
If someone you love is cutting, help him or her find professional help. South Bay Bible Church offers faith-based counseling and can help you find resources to help.
Please contact us to sign up for counseling.