Sometimes I look up ‘self harm’ on Google just to see if any new resources for dealing with the issue are out. Most often there is nothing. Today, I was listening to some John Piper Q &A’s and in one he gave advice on how to deal with someone who is cutting. His advice, based on his experience with one sufferer, was so simple and had an honesty to it that made sense to me – hug them. It’s a strange thought that a hug will solve anything, but it does. I promise you, it does. Even just sitting with someone helps.
Most people know that I’ve got a history of self harm. It is there, and I can’t deny it, so instead talking about it to help others understand is the way that I deal with this messy part of my life. Here it is, then, some of my thoughts on how to deal with someone who struggles with self harm.
Don’t back away from them when you don’t know what to do. I have watched people back off when they knew someone was struggling and it hurts to see it happen, knowing how it felt when it happened to me. Backing away only validates their fear that they are a freak for doing what they do, and that they can’t possibly be worth anything. Don’t back away. Even if you simply follow John Piper’s advice and give them a hug. They don’t want you to solve their problems. They just want you to be there.
At one point, I was sitting outside church feeling sad after a sermon on a particularly sensitive topic. A friend found me and said, “we need to talk, don’t we?” We talked. Most people backed away at that point but the one friend who made a bold move to sit with me and just… talk, is the one that made the biggest impact that night. Don’t. Back. Away.
Encourage them to get professional help. It’s a big step that involves a lot of follow up, but it’s important. You’re not a professional counselor, and if you are, you’re not objective enough with a friend to help them as much as you could. Sit with them as they call for the appointment, offer to hang out after or before the appointment if you have time, and if you don’t, try and get another one of your friends to go. This isn’t shift work. It’s spending time with a friend when they’re fragile.
Pray with them and for them. It’s simple. Do it. Pray for protection, pray that God will be their strength when they feel like they’re at the end. I had a friend praying for me, and saw God working in huge ways as they prayed.
I’m not an expert, but I have been there and I hate to see people freak out when someone reveals that they are struggling with self harm, or if they spot cuts on someone’s arm. But we’re called to be lovers in broken places, and in the brokenness of addiction, a lot of the time the biggest help is simply a friend who will point them to God, and stick by them.
I thank God for the friends who stuck by me through those times. I will never forget their words and actions, and how they were God’s hands and feet and mouth into my life in such a crappy time.
Be a bold lover in a broken place.