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Self Harm -An Introduction

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I have come across many forms of self-harm/self-abuse/mutilation. For example, the pretty young girl who was a continuous mental hospital patient, with dozens of scars up both arms; the older man who swallowed razor blades; the man who butted walls until his head burst into a bloody mess; the woman who peeled large areas of skin off her body; the people who drink all kinds of harmful substances... I have come across all kinds. Generally, they do not do it as a suicidal measure, but to gain attention – which is why this kind of behaviour is usually associated with Borderline Personality Disorder. But, because of this kind of reckless behaviour some suicides have followed, inadvertently.

Though many reasons are given for self-harm it comes down to a very basic fact – people enter into their own fantasies and take to harming themselves either as a rebellion or as a graphic sign of their poor thinking skills. A small number also do it because they see ‘no way out’ of perceived intense pressure. Indeed, this is why some young homosexuals kill themselves – they cannot square their sexual deviancies with morality, because they are brainwashed and groomed by older male homosexuals (predatory or otherwise) into thinking their behaviour is ‘normal’. Thus, it is fellow homosexuals who cause their deaths, not disapproving society.

We may even loosely add tattooing to this very odd condition, especially as it hurts, and many who do it cover their whole bodies with unsightly designs! (In this paper I do not include self-harm associated with psychoses). In ALL cases, what is done is against biblical truth and teaching, and comes very close to the ideas behind suicide, which is condemned. Having said this, we should recognise that when a young person does this, it may be because he or she has not had proper guidance or help when suffering an horrendous abuse.

Some people self-harm for no known reason. But, many have a sense of hating the self; some do it because they have low self-esteem, and yet others for the apparent opposite reason – perfectionism (which may be used to hide low self-esteem). Christians must look hard at low self-esteem, because it suggests that we SHOULD have high self-esteem, which is not a scriptural status to aspire to. Self-esteem is very much vaunted in a ‘post Christian era’, by humanist thinkers and so it is a false criterion. On the other hand, there are vicious people who make it their business to drive another person into the ground psychologically.

Some people harm themselves because of a feeling of having no power to change things, or as a reaction to a high-pressure situation, even though common sense says that self-harm will not change anything. Because thinking on this and other ‘mental’ problems is led by atheistic/humanist theories, the real causes of the problem are not addressed, and medication is given instead. The success of the medication does not in any way ‘prove’ there is a ‘mental’ cause, only that medication can subdue emotions and reactions, good or bad.

Unfortunately self-harm is almost at cult status today, and younger people tend to be the usual self-abusers, mainly when they are put under immense pressure (or perceive it to be so) and their young minds simply cannot think in any other way, and also because of abuse from adults. It is said to be their way of coping with situations. Immediate images, pop-songs and other instant means of communication, do not help. Readers should understand that no matter what is said about this condition, even by myself, is all mainly theory (unless a direct reason is known). All we know is that self-harm makes no sense. We can apply many layers of intellectual thought to it, but it still comes down to one initiating factor. It is this underlying factor that must be cast aside.

But, even where no underlying cause can be found, the person must still be told their behaviour is wrong and ineffective, though emotionally and intellectually anxiety-led. Psychiatry spends far too much time on the ‘why’, thus failing to give a proper assessment of what is a very absurd way to deal with life. (Of course, to the one self-harming, there IS a purpose). Do not confuse what I say in this paper with lack of compassion, care, or understanding! Those who wish to retain the idea of sin needing support will automatically round on me for what I say, but a surgeon does not stop doing operations because he has to inflict necessary pain in order to get rid of a disease or condition! It is painful to be made aware of one’s sin!

Because the majority of so-called ‘mental’ conditions are not bluntly called useless and ineffectual, the ones indulging in them continue to perform whatever ‘mental’ activity they wish. They are even rewarded for their aberrant behaviour with state benefits, medical aid, and sympathy. None of this helps, but will certainly worsen the behaviour, which can escalate. At any rate, self-harm is viewed as a way to get away from pressure, unwelcome actions or speech, etc., or even as a means of getting what one wants.

Because of the result (self-harm), those who supposedly try to help, stop discussions or actions meant to deal with the behaviour, ‘just in case it sends them over the edge’. This reinforces the power felt by the self-harmer, who will resort to self-harm routinely to prevent anyone discussing their behaviour. In effect the very thing that could help – socialisation and facing the facts, is pushed away. We may thus conclude that some prefer this to getting rid of their behaviour, and so what they do is self-indulgence (the basis of almost all ‘mental’ conditions). This is the same explanation we can give for other chronic neuroses, where anxiety, fear and misery, etc., are preferred to healing.

The equation is very simple – if you want to stop self-harm, well... stop doing it! I have come under much abuse for saying that kind of thing, but the answer really is that simple. If a thought to self-harm comes to mind, then think about something else. If you are under intense pressure, then talk to someone. If you pick up a knife to cut, just do not do it. At all points you can stop yourself. This plain fact is usually overlooked by professionals, who prefer esoteric intellectualism to blunt truth. It is also ignored by those who self-harm, because they are told they are ‘ill’ or under pressure, so ‘cannot help it’.

Teaching avoidance techniques is only a half-way house. Far better to get rid of the influence behind the behaviour altogether. But, how do you do that if the one self-harming is not a Christian (yes – Christians are just as guilty: and I use the word ‘guilty’ properly)? It is not really an option, for Christian counsel will not affect an unbeliever. Nor will it help those who are the real victims – family and friends (the self-harmer is far too busy lost in his or her own feelings to think of others). Yes, we can teach avoidance techniques, but this does not deal with the basic sinful reactions that drive a person to self-harm.

I am aware of the kinds of arguments put up on behalf of people who self-harm, but, frankly, they leave me cold. Why? Because they provide an excuse for the ones who self-harm. Whilst there are many possible secondary reasons, there is only one actual primary reason – selfishness, which is sin. This selfishness can take several forms, but that is basically what it is all about. If the person has had a rough time as a child, for example, and then receives help with defining the problems, I would expect that person to then start to backtrack, by stopping the self-harm and thinking in a more rational manner.

It is when a person continually returns to their deviance (which is what it is) time and again, rejecting a better path, that I distance myself. I have to, otherwise, as with people with BPD, I would get ‘sucked in’ to the disordered life of the one self-harming (which happens with manic-depressives/bi-polars all the time). I know that the ones who reactively sent abuse about my BPD article will likewise send more after reading this brief paper! So be it. This same response from me is applied to ALL sinful situations. I can only help those who make an effort to change. If they continuously return to their sin, or rely on its fake fairy-tale causes, I cannot help.

Yes, a self-harmer may indeed have suffered some trauma in the past. But, the past does not rule the present or the future. Once you know what is happening you can do something about it. If, after counsel or help, you continue on a path of self-destruction, this shows something much worse – an inner desire to maintain the path of sin. It is at that point that further help becomes redundant and useless. The person must then carry on alone, for those who try to help waste their time, if no change is witnessed. The person has acquired a taste for suffering!

A self-harmer does not usually let others know what they are doing, though cutting wrists often shows itself at some time. So does drinking poison, or taking tablets, etc. Even so, the person’s character and behaviour would cause others to notice a strangeness. They also note how the self-harmer constantly tries to involve others in their messy lives, so that every family member is caught up in a stormy maelstrom, afraid to upset the person or to bring arguments on their own heads. This, in Christian terms, is intolerable and must not be allowed.

Relatives usually are the first to offer help. But, when the help is rejected and they are themselves given great grief by the self-harmer, they will be in a worse state than the one self-harming. And, the self-harmer will be far more open with family than with outsiders, causing mayhem and distress on a high level. Why? Because their behaviour gives them a leverage, a power over others. This is unacceptable!

Whatever has led to self-harm must be dealt with, but when help is given time and again and is rejected, there comes a point when help is of no use. In biblical terms, when a person constantly rejects help, they must be left to their own devices. It is the psychological equivalent of shaking the dust off the sandals. I have seen many families devastated by self-harmers (who usually have many other emotional or ‘mental’ aberrations), who appear to enjoy their lives more than their relatives do! Though it is perverse, adult self-harmers who have received help, who continue to self-harm, tend to be self-indulgent also, preferring their misery to the wellbeing even of relatives. They self-harm or stop only when they want a change... but hapless relatives and friends continue to suffer, worry and feel terrible, all the time.

Let me put it this way: If the original self-harm is the result of trauma ‘A’, and ‘A’ has long since gone, then the self-harmer who receives help must move on to an improved point ‘B’. If he or she returns time and again to ‘A’, then there is nothing anyone can do, except to leave the person at ‘A’. This is because the person MUST move onwards, or stay with trauma when the trauma is not even present. The person who is actually experiencing trauma at the time it happens, can almost be excused moments of anxiety that lead to self-harm. But, there can be no excuse when the trauma has long gone. Rather, the behaviour is a form of self-gratification, and an excuse used to deflect responsibility and truth.

The focus of help should be to recognise the trigger or original trauma for what it was, to condemn it or to simply face it, to recognise that self-harm was inappropriate, and that self-harm AFTER the event is not just inappropriate but irrational and useless. It should be pointed out that many others close to the person are hurt deeply by the actions, and for that reason alone self-harm must be stopped immediately. If this does not occur, then the self-harmer is no different from standard neurotics, who prefer their anxiety to ‘getting better’; their misery is their way of life!

Of course, what I have described is the ideal situation. It is ‘how it is’. But, people being people, this straightforward process and progress does not always happen. Even so, we must see some kind of moving away from trauma towards healing. Slow progress is acceptable, but the movement must always be from trauma and towards healing. If no such willingness is shown, then there is no point in assisting and ‘being there’. This is because by ‘being there’ we condone the bad behaviour and encourage it to continue, and we begin knowing misery ourselves.

Professionals (and reluctant relatives) tend to be very supportive, but this is questionable. It does not matter if the self-harm is a ‘call for help’ or not. The issue is whether or not that person is willing to move on and do something about it, without hurting those around them. If they are unwilling, then one has to seriously question why they are helping. If help is no help – it is worthless.

And, when self-harmers see a reward of people helping, even when they refuse to stop, well, they will just carry on self-harming. Thus, they get their own way, whatever it is, and no matter how perverse the aim is. These folks will learn that the quickest way to get what they want is to threaten, or perform, self-harm! In other words, they have been rewarded by constant attention.

Self-harming on a regular basis is just another form of neurosis, where responsibility is cast aside in favour of people running around after the person to ‘help’. The more ‘help’ is given the more the reward is, and so the behaviour continues.

This paper is ONLY an introduction to self-harm, so is very sparse on details. It does NOT offer unbelievers ways to guide a person out of the quagmire they find themselves in. Nor does it offer hope for unbelievers who self-harm, for unbelievers belong to their father, the devil. The same applies to any kind of neurosis. This might sound horrific, but it is how scripture would define it.

Ultimately, it is Satan who urges someone to self-harm. Christians can also self-harm (eating disorders are also self-harm), and whichever way one looks at it, it is sin and must be dealt with as such. Do not be fooled when a self-harmer ‘improves’ for a while. They do this as a respite from their own foolishness, and will soon be thinking of other ways to harm themselves and relatives! For these people, the anxiety of their mothers, fathers, is almost a game, a vicious activity they use to get their own way.

So, what parents in particular have is a big sense of relief when the self-harm is over, but an underlying fear that it will happen again – which it often does. Thus, the familial anxiety is greater than anything felt by the self-harmer, who is usually just performing a ‘bad habit’ for no good reason. And, sometimes, even enjoying it.

Do not feed the behaviour with undue attention! It is hard to reject it, because you fear it will happen again... but the onus is on the self-harmer to stop altogether; there is no excuse whatever for someone to self-harm when they live in a loving family or where help is always available.

To self-harm when a parent is showing much love and concern, is to act against the command of God to honour your mother and father. It is also a sin in its own right, for the body is harmed though it belongs to God and we have no right to harm it with grievous bodily harm! Yet, serial self-harmers tend to be almost nonchalant about what they do; it can be seen in their eyes and body-language.

They must begin with one simple fact – self-harm is wrong, against God, so stop it immediately! Anyone who says they ‘cannot stop’ a bad behaviour is really saying they are insane, for all people of any age over childhood are able to say yes or no to a desire. People (including professionals) who do not recognise that and allow self-harm to continue are just as guilty of abuse as the self-harmer.

It is absurd for professionals to side with the self-harmer by suggesting many psychological hurdles need to be jumped, with patience, when just the one command is needed – STOP DOING IT IMMEDIATELY! While the professional coddles the self-harmer, the next attempt may be the last. Then, what worth is the theory?

Note: Also see article on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

© October 2012 (Updated April 2015) 

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