Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cutting.


Is cutting wrong?  The other week, I counseled with a girl named Katie who, after struggling with the habit for many years, realized it might be.  She explained that in years past, it brought the release she needed from anger and depression, but now it left her feeling guilty.  Did that mean she really needed to quit?

“I mean, I pray to God and ask Him for help with my problems and stuff, but I also need something that works right away,” she added.  “Cutting works.  Is it really wrong if it gives me peace?  God wants us to have peace, doesn’t He?”

I thought for a moment.  “If cutting really brings you peace, where does this guilt fit in?” I asked.

She shrugged.  “Yeah, I see what you’re saying,” she said.  “But then….what does it mean?  What should I do about it?”

A Reputation.

Katie isn’t to be blamed for the confusion brought on by her feelings of guilt.  As she is now fully aware, there’s a great deal of stigma associated with the habit of cutting, and those enslaved by the habit are often painted as victims: unstable and depressed.  Since she didn’t feel like an unstable victim, she questioned the validity of her misgivings, hoping the guilt was misplaced and not evidence of a deeper heart issue.

The truth is that many people who cut (unbeknownst to their friends and family) are easily accepted as normal, happy, and productive members of society.  They fear discovery because they know it will risk their “other” image forever.  “I don’t want this to define me,” Katie said.  “If people find out, they’re going to treat me like a mental case and I know I’m not.  I guess if the guilt means I’m being convicted, then fine, but if it’s just because I’m afraid of what other people think, then I don’t want to hear about it.  I know myself better than they do.”

Reasons Why.

Are cutters mentally unstable?  Many studies show that cutters are not necessarily unstable—they just have great difficulty managing their deeper emotions.  Either they spend too little time dealing with them—or too much.  The imbalance usually leads to unhealthy actions.

Is this a rare problem?  Not at all.  According to a poll done by Christian Parenting, 51% of all respondents said that either they, their child, or someone they knew were involved in self-injury.  Is this statistic shocking?  2% of the world’s population have already been treated for self-injury—imagine how many more are still dealing with it alone.

So, what makes people start cutting?

There are myriad reasons why someone might resort to self-injury.  It’s often the result of intense emotional turbulence, induced by such things as stress, abandonment, depression, relationship issues, failure, or general feelings of worthlessness.

Author and speaker T. Suzanne Eller recounts a conversation she had with a 17-year-old girl: "I've never told anybody before," she said. "I'm only talking to you because you didn't freak out. The last thing I want is for my Christian friends to think I'm evil or possessed.  I love God with all my heart.  But I feel so worthless.  I feel trapped."

Another teen admitted that cutting gave her a feeling of control when she was in the midst of turmoil that otherwise left her helpless.  “It’s my way of doing something.”

Eller’s article continues: “Leslie Vernick, author and licensed counselor at Christ-Centered Counseling for Individuals and Families, says what a teen's really saying is, Help, I'm hurting and I don't know how to deal with my pain!’

““The endorphins released during cutting often soothe a deeper pain—the pain of rejection, depression, self-hatred, or helplessness," says Vernick.  A teen who self-injures finds instant release through the biochemical reaction and confuses cutting with comfort.”

Wendy Lader, Ph.D,  describes self-injury as "self-medication." Cutters haven't learned to identify or express their emotions so the feelings persist. "The teen is using physical pain as a means of saying something she's unable or unwilling to put into words," explains Vernick. "She needs to be listened to and helped to process whatever emotional pain (even if we as adults might see it as typical teenage pain) she feels so she may learn healthy ways of dealing with hurt.”

Who Does it Affect?

Middle-to-upper-class female teens are most likely to fall prey to the habit, according to statistics, though no one is immune. 

One teen admitted that she began cutting because her family was under a lot of stress and she felt like adding her own turmoil to the mix would only cause a greater burden.  After trying to deal with her emotions by self-injury, she realized that she’d caused a greater problem.  When her parents discovered her secret, they were mortified and heartbroken.  Their disappointment not only increased the feelings of shame and inadequacy, but drove her further and further away from any chance of rescue.

The vicious cycle is plain to see.

Also, as is evidenced by this scenario, cutting seems to be especially prevalent among empathetic and introspective personalities.  These personalities are inclined to bottle up the frustrations and disappointments of others (as well as suppress their own emotional reactions) until they often feel the need for physical release.

The Temptation.

It’s difficult for people outside the situation to understand the true temptation a cutter faces.  According to Katie, the mere sight of a knife or razor weakens her resolve.  “It’s easy to be unsympathetic if it’s not your weakness.  But saying stuff like, “Why don’t you just stop!” or, “Think about how it looks to other people!” or, “Why don’t you just talk to someone about it?” only makes it worse.”

“Sometimes I think, ‘So what if I cut?’” said Katie.  “I mean, I have a whole life apart from it.  I do a lot of things.  I’m involved in church.  I go on mission’s trips.  My friends even ask me for advice on stuff.”

Is There Hope?

God asks a lot from us.  He desires that we rely on Him—not a person, habit, or substance—for our ultimate peace and fulfillment.

No addiction is easy to give up.  But at the same time, God never asks us face something He doesn’t also give us the power to conquer, through His grace.

In Leviticus, the Lord specifically forbids the Israelites to indulge in practices derived from the pagan cultures around them.  “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks upon yourselves. I am the Lord.”

In other cultures, death was received with much mourning and despair.  People cut themselves to display their grief as well as bring emotional relief.  As Christians, the Lord reminded them that they still had hope in such things as death—there was no need to ease pain or depression the same way the heathens chose to.  Sadness was expected, but it could be cast onto, and resolved through, Christ.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.”   We belong to Christ.  We’re set apart as His treasured possessions.  We don’t need the coping techniques of the unregenerate.  As Katie admitted, the cutting brought temporary relief, but the after-effects of shame drove her to cut herself over and over again until the habit just consumed her and she was broken.

As Christians, we also know that we are to respect God’s creations—especially what is made in His own image.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, ”Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God.  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”

While this entire passage is generally referring to sexual immorality, these two verses obviously speak about much more than our sexual conduct.  We are not our own—we were bought with a price: the price of Jesus’ death on the cross.  And now we belong to Him.  Out of love for Him—and gratefulness for His sacrifice—we are called to be obedient to His will—including the directive to honor Him with our bodies.

Lysamena, author of www.self-injury.org, comments: “God made our bodies (Genesis 1:27), and if we are Christians, the Holy Spirit lives in them. Therefore, a proper Christian life involves care not only for the soul but also for the body—even while the body must be kept under control and used to serve the Lord. Self-injury, then, is prohibited for Christians because it violates the principle explained here: that the Lord's holy people are not allowed to deface God's image in themselves.”

Cutting also demonstrates an acute lack of trust in God’s promises.  By defacing our bodies, using them as a release for deep feelings of depression and anger, and trying to “fix” things ourselves, we are basically telling God that He is no longer sufficient in our weakness.  We begin to trust our flesh.

When we put confidence in our own wisdom—doing things that are right in our own eyes—we step outside of the circle of blessing that is shown through obedience and in so doing, forfeit our communion with God.  If you find yourself in this heartbreaking condition, cry out for His rescue.  He is a God of pity and tender-mercy; He won’t leave you on your own.

A Call to Healing

Lysamena continues, “Does this mean that Christians never self-injure? Of course not. Both Christians and non-Christians struggle with self-injury.  The wonderful and glorious truth, however, is that Christians believe and trust that Jesus' death on the cross has already paid the penalty for all the sins they will ever commit.  Moreover, they have died with Christ and are dead to sin.  The life they now live here on earth they live by faith in order to please God (Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-13).  Does that mean ending self-injury?  Yes, it does.  Because of the Spirit's help, the Christian won't be doing it alone.”

Lysamena is right.  Thankfully, you aren’t called to fight single-handedly.  The Lord will give you “grace to help in time of need”.  If you’re trying to conquer the addiction yourself, you are likely to fail repeatedly and sink deeper into despair.  Ask the Lord to come alongside you and remind yourself that He is good—He will provide for your emotional needs like no one and no thing ever could.

And finally, realize that you can’t—and never will—be able to fix the pain in your heart without Him.

No addiction is easy to conquer and no one should pretend that it is.  As I’m sure anyone who has struggled with the habit could tell you: there’s no “quick fix” for cutting.  But there is an everlasting love and a perfect promise you can run to when you are faced with temptation or despair.

Is cutting wrong?  Yes, it is.  It’s a sin against God and against yourself.  But it doesn’t ultimately make you a victim unless you let it pull you under.  Choose God’s freedom over your bondage.  Cast your cares on Him.  And, according to your love for Him, strive to obey Him.

He loves you.



4 comments:

Jenna said...

:') thnks. this was awesome

Justin Scott said...

Wow this is a really thoughtful approach. Thanks Jenn. I passed it on to my co who leads the women's college ministry at my church. I know she's been looking for good resources.

Allie said...

this helped me sooo much

Cassandra said...

Another shout off from a fellow SCL fan! Your blog is awesome and when I finally get mine up I'll link you God bless!