Self Harm Overview

What is self harm?


Self-harm is a physical response to an emotional pain and can affect males and females of all ages. Self-harm is defined as any deliberate behaviour, action or habit that is of intentional detriment to our short or long term health. It's often assumed to be about cutting, when in fact it can involve a whole range of behaviours including bruising, scratching, eating disorders, self-poisoning and illicit drug use. In reality, it's not about the behaviour rather than the underlying distress. 

What causes self harm?

Self harm usually develops as a strategy for dealing with difficult feelings or emotions. It has a variety of causes and triggers. It's important someone's self-harm isn't measured by the severity of their injury but more by the degree of underlying emotional distress. Self harm often accompanies other emotional and mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders.

Can it be treated?


Treatment will vary according to individual need. Some people will benefit from psychological interventions such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, whereas others may require medication to treat any underlying depression. In-patient treatment isn't common but may be an option. In most cases, what people benefit from most is the opportunity to talk about how they're feeling and why self-harm seems to help before exploring alternative coping mechanisms. A supportive network of family and friends can make a real difference.

What about my faith?


Phillip Yancey writes that 'there's nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there's nothing we can do to make God love us less.' This is very helpful when we think about self-harm - the act of harming ourselves does not change God's view of us. The Bible says that we're 'fearfully and wonderfully made' and that our bodies are 'temple(s) of the Holy Spirit', but for self-harmers these verses can be difficult to read. Perhaps more helpfully the Bible says that God's love isn't conditional upon who we are and what we do (Romans 5 v 8), and that ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4 v 18).

God doesn't ask us to be perfect - He frequently uses people with different struggles and 'limps' to achieve his purposes (see the list of flawed 'heroes of the faith' in Hebrews 11). Self-harm is just one part of who we are, but it's our faith in God that defines us.

Kate Middleton, 14/01/2015
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