Self-injury (sometimes called “cutting”) is the intentional infliction of injury to self without the aid of another person for the purpose of venting anger or self-justification. The intent is typically not suicidal. The self-injurer wants to live, but is simply trying to cope with extreme self-hate or anger. Although cutting the skin is the most common form, self-injury can take a variety of other forms. Some people burn themselves, punch themselves, or bang themselves against a wall hard enough to break bones. Even the eating disorder known as Anorexia (purposeful starvation) is a form of self-injury. It is not unusual for this behavior to begin during early adolescence, even during the late elementary years. Without intervention, it can continue for many years. In Mark 5, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was “always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” (Mark 5:5) Even in the Old Testament, the Bible describes ancient idol worshippers who “cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” (1 Kings 18:28) This phenomenon is not new. Clearly, the determination that a student is intentionally injuring himself calls for an immediate response in the following ways:

  • Pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal to the student the destructiveness of their behavior and give them a desire for freedom from this bondage. Ask the Lord to give you spiritual discernment and wisdom as you proceed.
  • Listen for the student’s heart motive behind his self-injurious behavior. Generally, you will find that the self-injurer is either motivated by guilt over his own sins or anger towards God or others for perceived or real injustices committed against him. Self-injury brings a sense of self-atonement and peace from their guilt over their sinfulness, or a feeling of justice for the pain and suffering they have endured. Give them the opportunity to discuss the guilt or pain that they feel, and the feeling of relief that self-injury provides for them.
  • Respect the student by not “freaking out” as he talks about actions that probably seem bizarre or odd to you. Show him the unconditional love and acceptance that Christ offers. Remember that students who cut generally already feel unloved, unaccepted or unwanted. Work to build the student’s trust by demonstrating that you value him as a person and as a deeply loved child of the King.
  • Guide the student to see Christ as the suffering Savior who was wounded for our sins and the righteous Judge who will judge those who have sinned against us and rescue us from our oppressors.
    • There is no need for us to pay for our sins by wounding our bodies. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
    • Isaiah 53:5 presents Christ as the suffering Savior wounded for our sins: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
    • Psalm 72 says that God will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and needy. These are comforting truths all by themselves but the passage also says that the blood of the oppressed is precious in God’s sight. “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72:12-14) You can tell a cutter that his blood is precious to the Lord. When he locked himself in his room and cut himself until he bled to feel peace, God was there. When old wounds were reopened, God was there. When the self-injurer needed to see the sight of his own blood to prove he was in control, God was there. And He was not grossed out. The blood of the self-injurer is precious in His sight, because it represents the life that God has created and that He alone sustains. However, only the blood of Jesus can save, heal, redeem and restore. The critical question for the self-injurer is whose body and whose blood is actually effectual to bring true and lasting peace? Point them to the body and blood of Christ.
    • “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” (Psalm 9:9,12)
  • Challenge the illusion of control that self-injury provides. Although the self-injurer will frequently talk about how comforting it is to control the physical pain, it is important to remind him that true freedom is found in relinquishing control to a sovereign God who loves him and cares for him.
  • Refer. Self-harm is extremely dangerous. Even though the intent is not suicidal, the potential for causing serious harm or death is definitely present. This behavior requires immediate intervention by a pastor or counselor and may also require medical treatment.