Self Injury Part 6 – How Can We Help Those Who Self Injure?
Disclaimer – I write “Leadership Moments” for the volunteers at my church who work in the youth ministry. Each Leadership Moment is meant to equip the everyday youth worker with the knowledge and skills they need to help teens as best as they can. Because these articles are for people I know personally and meant for my own church and city context, they may not always be relevant to the wider public. However I put them here for anyone who might benefit from their content.
[This is part 6 of a series summarizing the book “Hope and Healing For Kids Who Cut” by Marv Penner.]
As those who want to help students experience the “abundant life” that Jesus spoke of, we play a role in the process of bringing teens out of their self-injurious ways. However, knowing exactly what role we play in that process can be tricky. Just how can we help teens who cut? Summarizing some of Marv’s basic points in the book, here is an acronym to make it easier to remember:
H – humble
E – educated
L – loving
P – present
Let’s unpack each of these concepts one at a time.
Being humble simply means knowing your place. When we start to feel a burden for struggling teens, it can sometimes feel like it is up to us to deliver them from their pain. We place the responsibility for their success or failure on our own shoulders. But this is not how it should be. Remember that Jesus is the Saviour, not us. He is the Deliverer, the Redeemer. We need to make sure that we let God be God. We can help people, but ultimately people need to help themselves and the power for life transformation comes from Christ alone.
This also means that we need to focus on prayer. Make no mistake about it – cutting is a spiritual battle. Our Enemy is at work. As humans we can only do so much, so it is important to rely on prayer for God’s strength and power.
Lastly, we need to be humble by knowing our own limitations. Marv states that in his own professional experience, it is rare that a teen overcomes cutting without professional help. As helpers, we need to understand that our help is limited and that other, more qualified people may need to be involved. Having a teen agree to this can be tricky sometimes, but ultimately it is the direction that we need to carefully steer them towards.
Helpers need to be informed people. It is our job to understand self-injury as best as we can so that we can be effective helpers. That is the purpose of this training series. Knowing what self-injury is (and isn’t), what causes it, how to recognize the warning signs, understanding the addictive nature of this habit, and knowing our role in the helping process will make us able to give teens the best support possible. We simply can’t afford to be naive to such an important and pervasive issue.
Self-injuring teens typically do not love themselves and do not feel loved by others. Quite simply, they need love. That is something any caring person is qualified to do. Teens need love in practical ways. They need to know they can trust us, that we care for them, and that we are being real with them. They need words of affirmation and acceptance. They need a friend to listen to them an empathize. None of this requires professional training. It simply takes patience and a caring spirit.
Self-injurers need caring adults in their lives. We need to be available to pray and to listen and to be with them. They need a companion on their journey towards hope. This does not mean that we are available 24/7. All leaders need to set up appropriate boundaries to protect their personal lives and sanity, and these boundaries should be communicated to students. Yet most teens will be considerate as much as they are able, as long as they sense genuine concern and effort on our part.
These are some ways we can begin to HELP teens break free from this destructive habit and find the freedom and joy that Christ offers them.