Sunday, February 28, 2010

Self-Injury - Compassion and Understanding

March 1st is Self-Injury Awareness Day, and I have to tell that I'm so hoping and praying that people are still stirred by the issue and wanting to be aware and help. The numbers of reported cases of self-injury have risen since I wrote about it through the true stories told in Scars That Wound, Scars That Heal--A Journey Out of Self-injury.

So let's take a moment to get self-injury back on our radar, continue to raise awareness, dispel the myths, and encourage sensitivity to the issue and to the individuals who struggle.

As a part of that, I'd like to share a post I wrote for my own site a couple years ago for teens helping teens, and yet it might offer some ideas for any who want to reach out to a friend who struggles:

Maybe you’re a friend to someone who self-injures. What do you do to help?

Does your friend know you know? Are you wondering how to approach her (or him)? Tell her you have seen the injuries, have noticed her sadness (or the signs and emotions that you have seen). Then ask if she wants to talk about it. If yes, listen and let her share what she’s able to. It may only be a sentence or two. If she’s not ready to talk, tell her you’re there to listen when she is ready. Sometimes just the awareness that someone else now knows and cares is a huge help.

Are you the only person your friend is turning to? That can become extremely difficult for you, if it isn’t already. Don’t do this alone. Self-injury is much deeper than a behavior or a coping mechanism. The emotion and pain and the stories behind the choice are much more complex than even she is able to handle. It would be a lot for you to try to carry for her.

Be honest and tell your friend that you can’t carry this alone and neither should she. Be a trustworthy friend in how you handle what she has shared with you in confidence, but at the same time know that it is helping both of you to get others involved.

Find a trusted and wise adult friend who you can talk to—preferably someone who knows about self-injury, who is able to help you bring God into the picture of healing, and who has good suggestions for balancing help and friendship with your own personal safety and emotional health.

Help your friend find others she can talk to who can help in the ways you can’t. If her family can be loving and supportive, offer to go with her to talk with a parent. Or help her set up a meeting with a pastor or community professional who has experience and compassion in helping those who struggle with self-injury.

Keep in mind that self-injury as a secret conceals more than the outer wounds and scars. The secrecy prevents the inner pain from being addressed and the person from moving toward healing. Connecting to a community that cares can be an essential part of moving out of the pain and toward hope. As her friend, your greatest contribution toward her healing could be helping her begin to make those connections.

Let's keep our hearts open to the conversations.


A few other posts and articles that might be of interest:

Helping Someone Who is Struggling, Part 1
Helping Someone Who is Struggling, Part 2
Helping Someone Who is Struggling, Part 3
When Someone Who is Struggling Comes to You
Parents Responding to Self-Injury (Guest post on Mommy Life Blog)
Long Sleeves in Hot Weather (Article that appeared in September, 2009 Light & Life Magazine)


Mariah said...

Thank you for raising awareness about self-injury. I wish it was something people knew more about. As a cutter, I don't want others to feel like they have to do this. I know the scars that it causes. Not just on the outside, but on the inside as well.


Michelle Gregory said...

thanks for highlighting this problem. there's a Christian group that deals with this and suicide. it's called To Write Love on Her Arms. great group.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize there was a day to be aware of self-injury. I heard on the radio while driving to work that it was "Peanut Butter Day" or something similair. In my house, we are aware of self-injury every day. We are aware of how many days it has been since my daughter cut herself. We are aware of the fact that every day she doesn't is a victory...and we are aware of what it cost her. I had to go pick her up from school today. She wonders if it is worth the emotional rollercoaster, wouldn't it be easier just to cut, to give herself a few minutes of relief? And me...I'd take every eraser bun, razor cut, pencil jab...every tear, every night of sleeplessness on me just to see her better. She told me last night she couldn't feel God anymore, that she couldn't feel love and so she couldn't feel God. I know He is still there. I know He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death...but the journey is long, perilous, and painful. But we and those on the path with us. We will stumble, we will fall, but we will with God's help, take it a step at a time.

Jan Kern said...

Comments were held back and the writers of this blog were unaware of them until now. I wish I could have more immediately responded to your very honest comments.

So, first--I'm with you, Mariah. I do hope and pray more and more become aware of self-injury, especially for the sake of more knowledgeable and compassionate responses. And I pray for healing, full healing for those who struggle. Not just the scars on the outside, but especially those on the inside.

Michelle, thank you for leaving your comment. I am aware of TWLOHA. They are greatly involved in raising awareness.

And Anonymous . . . you are courageous. I hear the sorrow and pain in your words describing the daily battle on behalf of your daughter. Thank you for sharing so honestly. May you feel God's presence ever more strongly as you take that one step at a time.

In His arms,