some thoughts on self harm and the church – Part 1

Some thoughts on self-harm and the church

Part one.

Something I have wanted to write about for quite a long time is self-harm.

Maybe about a year ago, an online community, which I have been involved with for quite a long time, started a discussion on the topic, which I suggested.

It was this … a) what is church’s response to self-harm … and b) what should the church response to self-harm be

Following those topic starters, there was a little conversation, which dried out after a few days, but it is one that does not go away for long, for me. Even if I don’t think about it for a little while, somehow, somewhere along the line it will come back.

I was going to write something on this a long time ago, and had lots of really interesting conversations with people about it… so thank you to those people who openly talked to me. I would like to point out I don’t have any answers, just thoughts.

Christianity is a faith, where on the whole people believe in Jesus. Christianity believes that Jesus has created all things, that Jesus is in control, and that He is Love.
But still, I have heard it said many times, by many people that they see mental health illness/issues as destroyers/wounding and something where hate filled thoughts can reign.

Those are two huge contrasts … God goes hand in hand with Love, and often mental health illness (including self harm) go hand in hand with Hate.
What happens when that Love and Hate collide?

(Thanks to Ali for discussing this topic with me too, and helping me form this post)

Personally, as someone who is both a Christian and a self-harmer, when that Love and hate collide it equals grey, not always a helpful colour to have.

I sit here, typing about this topic, not as an academic, in fact I am anything but, but as someone who has already got the life tattoo scars forever.
I sit here typing about this topic, without any degree, which says I should/could, or can but just as someone who has experienced the practice of self-inflicting bloodshed on my body.

I am worried/concerned/interested in this topic and how it relates to Christians and the church. I probably have more questions that I do anything.
I want to know how churches deal with mental health illness generally, but also the things that probably come under its umbrella but are an issue its own right.

Thing is, unless I am not being very generous, my opinion is that ‘the church’ don’t do a very good job of supporting people who self harm. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. Not sure that they are very good at responding, maybe that’s because they don’t know how to, maybe it is because they don’t want to.

(At this point I would like to point out there are some organizations that do some great work: and I will high light a couple of those in part 2)

Maybe it is pure ignorance, of the topic, the issues and what to do … maybe it is just that some people think that if they turn a blind eye and ignore it, then it will go away.
The news is: it wont.

I believe, firmly, that ‘the church’ has a responsibility to not brush this topic and many others that come in with the mental health illness thing, under the carpet. A responsibility to actively not ignore it.
The church has to open its eyes to the reality. The church needs to accept that with some things quick fixes are not ‘it’. They need to recognize and understand that ‘praying for someone’ is not going to simply make it disappear.

Is not one of the roles of the church to be a welcoming safe haven? Somewhere people can go … a place where there are people to turn to. A place to be secure, and safe in whatever reality is life for them at that time?

Too often people are turned away, or made to feel as if they have no place in a community such as a church. That is simply not good enough or fair.

The church should be a place where people are loved, welcomed, supported and accepted, not judged or condemned: which sadly is often the case.

Personally, it is my view that self-harm is a very misunderstood topic, and one that is very misunderstood within the church, that’s if some churches even know what it is.

Maybe it is time for the church to rise up, and challenge itself. To get itself more in the know, because in this day and age, especially with such methods of communication and ways to learn about things, ignorance and ‘just not knowing it exists/about it’ is not acceptable.

But maybe, somewhere in all this, there is a challenge for people like me too.
Because I sit here, knowing that churches need a better awareness, educating, to learn, to know, and I am fully aware it isn’t the easiest of things.

Maybe I could be as bold as to suggest that if there are people who have the ability/heart to raise this issue, and to see change come about within our Christian communities, and in how it supports and deals with people who self harm. Maybe there has to be a responsibility somewhere among people who do know about it? I am not suggesting that those who cant should, but maybe there are people out there now, right now, who have a voice, and are able to use it, express, talk openly, honestly, and by doing so in turn are then educating others … maybe there needs to be people who have a voice out loud on this issue, on behalf of people who don’t.

I am interested in letting people know self harm or not, we’re still loved, and accepted and I am interested in letting people know, in the church, the non self harmers that we are also loved and accepted.
I would like the taboo topic to be non-taboo. I have no idea how it’ll happen but I think that it should and that it is important.

While writing this, I asked on twitter, the questions, mentioned above. Many responses came. Below are three.

@revdal what should the church’s response be … ? coz I am not sure we’ve got one apart from ‘how we can help’?

@tschakaroussel : love, Jesus, love, friendship, love, gospel, love, acceptance, love, holy spirit, love

@bourach I think the church response should be love. I don’t think it should be to collude but love, acceptance and humility go well.

Thank you for those replies folks.
I’d be really interested in other peoples ideas/thoughts, so please feel free to respond. I have not written this to be controversial, so whether you agree with me or not please get in touch… and I have some more thoughts I’ll write up soon.

© fragmentz

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15 thoughts on “some thoughts on self harm and the church – Part 1

  1. “The church” is a body of people — individuals who share the same values and beliefs, but individuals nonetheless. The church does not respond as a whole to individuals with handicaps because as individuals, they do not know how.

    People with high profile handicaps have less trouble receiving the help and recognition they need then do people with lesser publicized or advocated for handicaps — but that didn’t happen inside or outside the church until voices were raised and the public was educated on the need for care.

    If you want to see change inside the church, step into the church and start the change.

  2. hey Quilly,
    thanks for reading, and responding. I appreciate and values peoples input and views.

    I hear what you say about stepping inside the church, and starting the change.

    its something I am being challenged with more and more at the moment.

    Fragz

  3. I can in no way claim to have any professional/academic knowledge on the subject, so my only experience of self harm is having had a few very close friends who do it. My overwhelming feeling about the church and self harm is that the church’s priority should be an absolute outpouring of love. Only God’s love and immense powers of healing will help a person in the long term, and this can be expressed in so many ways, including God’s work through others, which may well include Christians and non-Christians. The thing that has struck me most about being close to people who self harm is the hurt I see in them that I know only God can heal for good.

    I think it is fair to say that in many churches there may be little knowledge about mental health issues (as in a lot of other institutions!) and I think it will become more and more important for churches with enough resources to try to improve in this area. Regular methods of support are sure to be a good start (e.g. prayer, groups, mentoring…) but ultimately I think churches would benefit from officially learning more about mental health issues and ways to support and even refer appropriately.

    I’m waffling a bit now but I have to say that I think the discussions you’re trying to start are vital: everyone, regardless of their faith, needs to know that meeting with God and his church is about being themselves – the church should not be a place that we enter once we’ve fixed ourselves, but a place where we go to be renewed. It is easy for those who don’t self harm (myself included) to be reticent about getting involved because we may feel that we aren’t knowledgeable enough or that we haven’t ‘been there’ so can’t understand, but with God’s grace I think thhis is no excuse for the church not to take a stand for self harmers.

    • hey lucy, sorry i have been so lame in replying to the reponses on this particular blog! agh. but thank you for taking the time to read what i have to say, and to reply.

      its such a complex issue isnt, and then adding faith/christianity and church into the mix does nothing to make it lesser.

      fragz x

  4. Well said, fragz; and in my corner of the church, for what it’s worth, welcome.

    It strikes me as utterly bizarre that a church that professes faith in a self-harming God doesn’t understand self-harm. What was creating the universe but the most staggering, mindblowing act of self-harm? Did God not know what s/he was doing to him/herself, what the consequences of creation would be?

    And then we have the crucifixion. Don’t give me crap about penal substitutionary bloody atonement: this was God self-harming in extremis. This was God punishing him/herself for what s/he had done wrong. This was God saying, yes, I am guilty, yes, I created you, yes, I unleashed the horrors of infinite possibility upon you — and yes, I take all that upon myself.

    But then, after the nightmare comes the hope: after the horror of self destruction comes resurrection: new life, new possibility, new reality. This is the Good News: that there is life beyond self-harm, that there is hope of escape … but the scars remain and the memories linger and the pain … sometimes unbearable, otherwise bearable as the Cost, the price paid by self to self for self for other to be self … because without that ultimate self-harm there could never be other.

    And now he sits enthroned in heavenly glory surrounded by sycophants singing stupid songs as the world outside and down below continues to weep and tear itself apart. My God, if I were Jesus I’d be sitting there picking at my nail scars until they bled again and again, until the blood ran freely to the ground and new life blossomed once again.

    Life, with all its myriad possibilities, made possible by self-harm. Never, ever, condemn yourself or allow yourself to be condemned for the scars you bear and the pain you carry, my friend, because the God who carries you through those nightmares knows exactly what you feel because s/he has been there too; and everything that needs forgiving is forgiven and for every wound, healing is offered and for every drop of blood spilt, life is given.

    This is love. This is grace. This is the impossible made possible. This is God incarnate, a God who knows all, sees all, feels all and forgives all because s/he is all; and s/he is love.

    And I … can only apologise for not coming here more or sooner; and if all this, the insane ramblings of this deranged Christian, helps, well and good; but if not… you have your delete key; and for this moment: peace: may sleep find you as I hope it is about to find me.

    • phil, sorry its taken me so long to reply to your reply, but thank you for taking the time to write to me.

      its appreciated so so much. and so are your thoughts, you really challenge my taken on the whole faith thing. It always is challenged, but your above post just made think that little bit more

      hope to hear from you soon
      love
      fragz x

  5. I think love has to be the answer, and unconditional love too. To try to understand from the self-harmer’s Point of View – and personally I think the best people to minister to them is those who understand first hand what it means – ie someone who has done it themselves.

    Personally I think it takes a special person to stand up and say “me too”, a great deal of courage and personal strength is needed

    • loveheart, thanks for taking time out to reply, sorry i have been so late to respond to you though.

      i agree totally with the love thing, and it being unconditional, something that is hard for a lot of people isnt it … to give unconditionally and for some its the receiving thats tough.

      thanks for your thoughts x

  6. I think you bring up excellent points. In my experience many churches prefer to ignore those things that they don’t know how to deal with, rather than try to learn how to deal with them. It usually takes a courageous person or two standing up in the church and saying, this is what I have been through… I need help or we need to offer help to people who are where I have been.

    Specifically when it comes to self-harming, I think people are ignorant, and those who are not ignorant are frightened. They fear saying things that will make it worse. Fear and confusion abound. I believe they are a powerful tool that Satan uses to keep people who can most benefit from the loving support of a church, away from the church.

    In the end, I think someone needs to offer training and support to these churches to help them learn how to understand all of the issues that people walk through the door with, and how they can support each individual and the church body as a whole.

    • thank you achievingpeace,
      thanks for reading and responding, i am always honored people read what i write.
      i totally agree with you. And wouldnt it be awesome if there was training on this, accessible training.
      Fragz x

  7. Fragz,

    How amazing that I should come across your blog as I am preparing to write a second paper for a English class on this VERY topic! I’d LOVE to communicate with you directly about it.

    I personally have known one girl who is a Christian who is/was a self-harmer. Until I met her and she revealed her secret to me, I never knew about cutting (and that’s because I have been a youth leader in three different ministries). In reading up on the issue, and doing first-hand research of my own, I’ve learned that hers is not an isolated case. It’s also come to my attention that churches in the city where I live seem to not be prepared to minister to self-harmers directly; rather, they pawn them off on professional counselors–which is well and good, but the cutters have the relationship with people in the church. And to me, just sending them to a counselor doesn’t seem to give the right message. IDK. It is such an ardent desire of mine to sound a wake-up call for the church. Let me hear from you, please. ❤

  8. Hi RoFosHO,
    Thanks for reading, and responding. I am happy to talk further with you if you would like to. Not sure how we can connect though? Would you like me to email you?
    Fragz x

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