Some depression sufferers resort to what is known as ‘self-harm.’ This may involve the person hitting or otherwise deliberately injuring themselves. While suffering from depression back in 1990, I too struggled with this issue.
The purpose of this post is to encourage anyone struggling with this issue that they can be set free from it, as I was.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ Galatians 5:1
Why do some people suffering from depression resort to hurting themselves? My diary entries from 1990 reveal some of the common reasons, which can be summarised as follows:
Reasons for Self-harm:
Stemming from despair, hopeless and unbearable frustration:
1. Self-harm can be an attempt to fight depression’s symptoms and make them go away.
2. Self-harm may be an attempt to punish our body & mind for seemingly ruining our lives and refusing to recover.
3. Self-harm can be a cry for help.
4. Self-harm can be an attempt to use the physical pain to distract us from unbearable inner pain.
Self-harm is typically accompanied with crushing waves of guilt and sorrow, in the aftermath of seeing the injuries we may have inflicted upon ourselves.
Changing our Attitude Towards Self-harm:
In order to break the habit of harming ourselves, we need to change our attitude towards it.
1. Self-harm may feel like a relevant outlet for our rage and anger – a way to fight depression’s symptoms in an attempt to make them go away. Self-harm may seem to give us some form of temporary relief, however, we must remind ourselves that this is a lie, another of Satan’s deceptions. The fact is that if we self-harm, the anger, injuries, pain and guilt make the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle worse by causing more fear-related adrenalin to flow. This makes depression’s symptoms worse.
2. As self-harm stems from bewilderment, despair, hopeless and unbearable frustration, it is imperative that we understand what depression is and how the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle works. Please read this post to understand that cycle, and let knowledge replace the confusion. Once we learn the technique on how to break that cycle, hope replaces hopelessness and the frustration fades away.
3. We need to teach ourselves to hesitate if about to self-harm. If we raise our hand or reach for something with which to harm ourselves, we need to pause and remind ourselves that this will make depression worse by causing more negative adrenalin to flow. Ask Jesus for the strength to resist the urge and then let time pass - the urge will lose its urgency and fade away.
4. As a Christian, we need to remind ourselves that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit – God lives in us. We need to be responsible and look after and respect God’s temple, rather than harming it. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
5. One thing that helps people to stop hurting themselves is to reflect upon the effect such behaviour has on their family and friends. Caring family members and friends grieve if they see us hurting ourselves. We need to change our focus from ourselves and focus on our desire to stop hurting them through our actions.
6. One thing that helped me immensely was this: if I felt tempted to hurt myself, I would picture Jesus standing before me, telling me that He accepted and loved me, that He wanted to take me into His arms and comfort me (He understood what I was going through), and that I did not need to react in such a manner. (This is what He showed me during a counselling session.)
If We Fail:
Keeping the above things in mind can help us break the self-harm habit, but we may still fail on the odd occasion. If we do, we must not let guilt have its way with us. Go to God, confess the sin, thank Him for His forgiveness and ask Him to help us resist the urge to self-harm next time, and then put the lapse behind us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9
However, if we find that the issue is not improving or getting worse, please see a doctor and/or a Christian therapist or counsellor, and get professional help. Do not struggle alone.
Other Things that may help:
Other things that may help us overcome a self-harm habit include keeping ourselves occupied with constructive activities, regular exercise, and spending as much time as possible with others who care for us, especially family or close friends.
We must not listen to the negative thoughts and voices (and memories of others) telling us that we are pathetic, useless and worthless. We must not hate our body for ‘putting us through this,’ as our body is not responsible, but the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle. We must ignore any feelings of self-hatred and loathing.
Instead, we need to fix our eyes upon Jesus, and upon the love that He has for us.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19.
Regardless of how we may view ourselves, Jesus does not reject us or despise us - He loves us so much that while we were still sinners He died for us so we can be restored to fellowship with God. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:37-40
Jesus treasures each of us so dearly that He wants us to share our lives with Him for all eternity. He died for us so that, whether we are awake (on earth) or asleep (in heaven), we may live together with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:10
Only by focusing upon God’s Word will we see our true worth - we are precious in His sight!
"The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17
All verses from the NIV.