Self-harm - what is it?

Helen Thorne | 30 Apr 2012

It can seem a bit unfathomable: the fact that rational, intelligent human beings at times choose to cause themselves harm. People often ask “why?” because on the surface it makes no sense. But the reality is that self-harm need not be a mystery. It is understandable. It is a privilege to stand alongside those who are struggling. And those who are currently hurting themselves can be confident that there is a way out.

So this week on the blog we’re going to dip a toe into what self-harm is, how it functions and how we as Christians can support the many people who struggle.

And there are a lot of people struggling. A recent survey by the Samaritans suggests that between 20,000 – 30,000 young people a year attend hospital in the UK due to self-harming. A survey of 16-24 year olds indicated that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 13 men had self-harmed at some stage. Some of these people will be in our churches. Some may live down our street.

So, what is self-harm?

Self-harm is the act of deliberately causing oneself pain or injury in order to bring about some kind of relief.

It varies from cutting, hitting, hair-pulling and depriving oneself of oxygen to overdosing on prescription drugs. Different people use different techniques. But whatever people do it isn’t mindless violence. It always serves an important purpose.

That purpose is never to end life. Self-harm and attempted-suicide are very different phenomena. But instead it is a technique to help manage the pain of life. A short-term technique that helps people to keep functioning when everything seems to be hurting so badly and spiraling out of control. A far from ideal technique that tends to function in 4 different ways. And it is to those ways that we will turn in our tomorrow’s post …

Colin Johnson

11:01 PM AEDT on January 8th
This is a serious problem for many and I am glad to see that you are highlighting it. Christians are not immune from this and I have seen them come for counselling ashamed of what the church will say. For anyone struggling in this area please see the Association of Christian Counsellors web site for further help.