They live in emotional turmoil, yet suffer in silence. Now a former cutter offers her view on a world she’s grateful to have left behind.
Age & Stage
Self-harm is an attempt to find relief from emotional distress. Here is what the Bible offers parents to help their kids who are cutting.
Mia grew angry when she found herself rejected by her stepdad and forced to live with her dad and his girlfriend’s son, a young man who had bullied her at school. After some months of counseling, Mia was able to verbalize, “I cut myself so I can show my mom how much I hate my stepfather and how much he’s hurt me. It makes me feel better when I cut, because it’s like the pain he’s left inside of me leaves my body when I bleed.”
While it seems counterintuitive, self-harm is an attempt to find relief from emotional distress. This explains why it’s labeled as a nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI.) Types of injury can include skin cutting, head banging or hitting, burning, drinking harmful substances or putting harmful items into body openings.
Even though the teen engaged in self-injury is not attempting suicide, self-injury can be addictive, cause serious damage and become life threatening. Therefore, if your teens are facing this issue or you’re caring for someone struggling, the first step would be to seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Once that journey is started, here are ideas to help teens face difficult feelings that may come up.
Truth: God promises your children a future and a hope. He will help them through their current circumstances. Teens may not see it right now and don’t understand how He is working in their lives. However, encourage them to trust Him still, and wait on Him (Psalm 46:1, Psalm 27:14, Hebrews 12:1-3; Proverbs 23:18).
Counselor suggestion: Have your teens think about past changes in their lives such as getting older and remind them change takes time. Help them understand it is OK to move as quickly or as slowly as they are comfortable.
Activity suggestions: Have teens write down negative statements they tell themselves on a regular basis that include the words never or always, such as, “Things are never going to get better” or “I always do the wrong thing.” Have your teens rewrite those statements in flexible terms such as, “Things could get better with hard work” or “Sometimes I make good decisions.” The idea is to recognize we rarely live life in the absolutes of “never” or “always,” and a good outcome is as likely as a bad outcome. Have them say the positive, flexible statements out loud whenever thinking the negative thoughts.
A good phrase: “This too shall pass.”
What to tell someone else: “I will be with you as you walk through this and wait for God’s healing.”
Truth: When Jesus allowed himself to be beaten, mocked and nailed to a cross to die, He paid the price for any wrongs. He bled (so we don’t have to) and gave grace, love and forgiveness. His perfect love casts out fear (1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 4:18).
Counselor suggestion: Talk to your teens about how they would want a younger child who is distressed to handle his/her feelings. Would they recommend the child hurt his/her body to cope? Why are they different than that child?
Activity suggestions: Self-injury causes harm. Ask your teens to think of three things to do when they want to self-harm, such as journaling, talking to a friend or taking a vigorous walk or run. Start with just one new way of coping and practice it for a week. Add other new strategies down the road.
A good phrase: “I am not a bad person who deserves punishment. I am a hurting person who deserves to be understood.”
What to tell someone else: “You are valuable to me, and it scares me when you hurt yourself.”
Truth: Because God loves us, He promises to never leave or forsake us. Explain to your teens how his love is everlasting; it will never stop, disappear or grow cold. Nothing can separate us from His love — not even the teen. God will provide mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16; 13:5; Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 8:35-39).
Counselor suggestion: We tend to attach human characteristics to God; yet God’s character does not resemble ours. Feeling abandoned by people in life does not mean God will do the same. Ask your teens to research the character of God. Do they see examples of His faithfulness, even when others are not faithful? How does this relate to them?
Activity suggestions: Listen to the song “You Are More” by Tenth Avenue North or read the lyrics. What can be taken away from the song regarding God’s forgiveness and love?
A good phrase: “People may abandon me, but God never will.”
What to tell someone else: “I’ve learned even if I can’t feel God’s presence, it doesn’t mean He isn’t there.”
Truth: When we came to Christ, He made us new. Remind your teens it takes time to renew our mind, body and spirit, but He has promised to change us no matter how we feel. He is reliable and faithful (John 15:15; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 10:23).
Counselor suggestion: Change is hard but possible if your teens are willing. Help them consider all of the things that will improve in life if they stop self-harming.
Activity suggestions: Teens also should consider what may get harder if they stop self-harming. Make plans for healthy ways to cope. For example, if they can’t cut to express the pain inside, perhaps they can express the internal pain through art, dance or talking with a trusted mentor or counselor.
A good phrase: “I have made good changes in the past. I can do it again.”
What to tell someone else: Point out and celebrate small, positive changes as they are made.
Truth: When Jesus died on the Cross, He demonstrated the ultimate act of love. God showed us the high value He puts on our lives when He paid the cost by giving the life of His one and only Son (Romans 5:6-11; John 3:16).
Counselor suggestion: Encourage your teens to ask a trusted friend or family member what he/she finds lovable about them. Help teens resist the urge to argue or disagree with the statements.
Activity suggestions: Then have your teens write down three personal strengths and put the list somewhere they can see it. Whenever they see the list, they should read it out loud. Try to do this three times or more a day.
Good phrase: “God loves me; therefore, I am lovable.”
What to tell someone else: “This is what I see in you that is lovable.”
Truth: Despite how teens see themselves, God sees us as blameless and holy because of what Christ did on the Cross. It’s hard to imagine, but God has completely forgiven us. When we confess sin, He is more than willing to forgive and cleanse us, no matter how many mistakes we make (Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:13-14; 1 John 1:9).
Counselor suggestion: We often find it easy to forgive other people but so hard to forgive ourselves. How have your teens been able to forgive others in their lives? Can they apply those principles to forgiving themselves?
Activity suggestions: Have your teens write a letter to God asking for forgiveness. Based on what they know about God’s character, the teens should write a letter from God in response. Then share these letters with a trusted Christian mentor or counselor and ask him/her to be with your teens as they pray for forgiveness.
Good phrase: “God can help me forgive.”
What to tell someone else: Share an honest story of a sin you committed, your confession and how God forgave and healed you.
Remember, change takes time. However, remind your teens about the truth of what God says and show them how to seek professional help. Through this, they can discover better coping and life skills. Trust God for His good plan for your and their life.
You may not know where to start to help teens who are suffering from depression, anxiety, bullying or suicidal thoughts. Whether it’s impacting them personally or something they are facing with their friends, there are resources that can help you guide them in the right conversations. Consider for example, Inside a Cutter’s Mind by Jerusha Clark.
There is help and hope for your teens. Through Alive to Thrive, a biblically based suicide prevention resource, you can help the teens in your life find the hope, healing and health that is found in Jesus Christ.
Joannie DeBrito is a mental health professional with over 30 years of experience working with individuals, couples, parents and families, and is the current director of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family.
Copyright © 2019 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.
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Read More About:
They live in emotional turmoil, yet suffer in silence. Now a former cutter offers her view on a world she’s grateful to have left behind.
When tweens and teens are experiencing psychological distress, they may cut themselves to cope with the emotional pain.
When my college roommate began cutting herself, I was afraid, concerned and didn’t understand why she hurt herself. Because of our friendship, I sought to understand who, what, why and how about the practice of self-injury.
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Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers.
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Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Married Sex, Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children. You can learn more about Gary by visiting his website, www.garythomas.com.
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Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be Men, Real Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.
Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.
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Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,
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Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married Sex, Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.
In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.
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Kevin A. Thompson (MDiv, Beeson Divinity School) is lead pastor at Community Bible Church, a growing multi-site church with four locations in western Arkansas. Every year he meets with nearly one hundred couples with a range of needs, from pre-marital counseling to navigating the most serious betrayals. A marriage and parenting conference speaker, he and his wife, Jenny, have two children and live in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He blogs at kevinathompson.com.
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Greg Koukl is a writer, public speaker and talk show host who’s spent 30 years advocating for and defending the Christian worldview. Greg has written or contributed to 15 books, including The Story of Reality, Tactics, and Precious Unborn Human Persons. Greg has published nearly 230 articles and has spoken on 80 college and university campuses in the U.S. and abroad.
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Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married Sex, Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.
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Unexpected Choice is told from the perspective of a doctor who actually performed abortions through Planned Parenthood. The book chronicles her journey from being a pro-choice physician to someone speaking on behalf of the pro-life movement.
As a latchkey kid, Wendy Speake turned to sugar for comfort. Every Friday, she would pedal to the candy show and use her allowance to fill her bag with candy. And one day, when she was older and a mom of three young boys, she came to realize that she was still “pedaling” away from her stress and using sugar as comfort, instead of turning to Jesus. She was joyless, worn out, tired, and in need of a change. In this interview, Wendy will challenge Christians to take 40 days to focus on fasting from something they turn to instead of Jesus for comfort. She invited people to break free from a dependence on sugar and taste the goodness of God.
With a background in Hollywood as a trained actress, Wendy Speake ministers to women as a bible teacher by applying the power of drama, poetry and comedy to the study of Scripture and real-life application of biblical truths. She has co-authored two books with Amber Lia titled Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and their latest, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New. Wendy is also the co-author (with Kelli Stuart) of Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom.
Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.
Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.
Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order Book, Have a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.
Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.
Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven
W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.
This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.
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