Cure for Self-Harm

Help If You Sometimes Do Such Things As:

* Punish yourself * Hurt yourself * Cut yourself * Abuse yourself * Hit yourself * Pinch yourself * Beat yourself * Mutilate yourself * Whip yourself * Slap yourself * Punch yourself * Stab yourself * Starve yourself * Hit your head against a wall * Deliberately make yourself miserable * Overwork * Try to make yourself ugly by overeating or how you dress * Fantasize about suffering (being raped, tortured, mistreated, or whatever) * Deny yourself legitimate pleasures or happiness * Sabotage relationships that would make you happy

By Grantley Morris

Healing and Compassionate Understanding

This webpage has been translated into Serbian

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If right now you are teetering on the edge of self-harm
and cannot hold off while you delve into longer lasting solutions,
go to Self-Harm Alternatives: Emergency Relief
and return to this page when you are more able to focus

How to stop hurting oneself

Help when you deliberately make yourself miserable

A cure for self-abuse

How to stop cutting oneself

Help for

How to stop hitting yourself

A cure for hating yourself

Help for overwork

How to stop beating yourself

A cure for head banging

Help when you beat yourself up

How to stop pinching yourself

A cure for sabotaging your own happiness

Help when you abuse yourself

A cure for

How to stop punching yourself

A cure for
eating disorders

Help for when you deny yourself pleasure

How to stop stabbing yourself

A cure for ugly fantasies

Help when I harm myself

How to stop whipping yourself

A cure for

If you feel like hurting yourself, you are not alone, you are not weird and you are not a failure. In fact – although you will need to read much more to understand why – self-harmers fill me with admiration.

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More Effective Help

With the exact mix of factors behind self-harm varying from person to person, an adequate webpage on this subject cannot be short. If you are sometimes attacked by an urge to afflict yourself with pain or harm, you deserve nothing less than answers powerful enough to end your torment.

So revolutionary are the answers to self-injury and/or self-hate, that no matter how they are presented they can initially seem off-the-planet or not personally applicable to your situation until you have fully absorbed the entire webpage. So despite any initial qualms, I urge you to keep reading. It could change your life.

Self-loathing and/or self-injury is an exceedingly complex issue because it is an expression of the depths of one’s humanity. Self-harm is a manifestation of a need that totally eclipses animals or machines – the need to comprehend complex concepts and emotions and to communicate them with an equally intelligent being. It reveals that you, like all humans, are a breathtakingly intricate, sophisticated and noble being with lofty ideals and a deep yearning to understand and be understood.

As beyond belief as it seems, our dilemma is not that we are alone and not understood but simply that we have not grasped how totally known, valued and accepted we really are.

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When Truth Seems Untrue

I will quickly run through what we have just said, providing more confirmation that it is true but before this I should explain why it is so critical, and why it seems so unbelievable.

It might have been so much part of your life that you have accepted it as normal but if you engage in self-harm you have almost certainly been repeatedly and horrifically slandered – probably beginning in your most impressionable years. You might have been told by someone whose opinion you respect that you are hopeless, a loser, evil, stupid, or slut or some other putdown. The inevitable consequence is that, like being subjected to years of the cruelest brainwashing, you have come to accept those lies as truth. It has so distorted your perception of yourself that you have most likely deepened the insidious brainwashing still further by repeating the lies to yourself for years.

Like becoming an addict through being forcibly given drugs as a child, repeatedly putting yourself down and telling yourself negative things has become an addiction. Just as knowing that heroin is destroying you does not make it easy to stop, so it is with this habit. Anyone, no matter how smart, who has suffered as you have, would end up this way. A genius finds it just as hard to break an addiction as someone less intelligent. The delusion now feels more real to you than the truth.

Key people in your life might have treated you like trash but that says nothing about your value and everything about the depravity of those who treated you that way. No matter how numerous, respected or adamant they were; no matter how self-righteous, how much older and how much they beat it into you, they were wrong.

People typically get it wrong. They even treated atrociously the most honorable person in the universe. The eternal Son of God was good like no one else. He was innocent, perfect and always right. They repeatedly accused him of being demon possessed and people wanted him dead. Before long, they got their way and the most respected people in the land had him tortured to death like the vilest criminal. Their appalling behavior said nothing about Jesus’ worth. It simply highlighted how wrong they were.

So it is with the way people have treated you.

In How to Change your Self-Image I explain how difficult it is to break free from the brainwashing of continual mistreatment and putdowns. It can become almost impossible to resist their lies. They might have knocked all the fight out of you, but the truth remains: they were wrong.

Not all the slander in the world can change someone’s worth. No matter how much he is slandered, Jesus is truth. Neither can a mountain of slander render mistaken his assessment that you are of infinite worth.

Put yourself in a bygone era on a year-long trek through unexplored South American jungles. Your highly experienced guide points the way but everything within you screams that the correct route is in a very different direction. Your life hinges on whether you believe your skilled guide or your highly insistent gut feeling. That is close to the dilemma you now find yourself in. Your well-being and entire future teeters on whether you choose to believe what everything within you screams is true, or whether you put your faith in an entirely different Source of information that says something unbelievably different.

Permit me to identify that other Source. I graduated university with an honors degree in psychology but I chose not to follow that path because I discovered something far more powerful in meeting people’s deep needs. Had I pursued psychology I would have more status. It certainly would not have led to riches but I would have made a much more comfortable living than choosing to do everything for free as I do. Nevertheless, having discovered something more powerful than psychology could ever tap into, I refuse to offer half cures. You deserve the best. And that involves something you might have prematurely dismissed.

The Creator of the galaxies has infinite knowledge and understanding but that is not the issue: the rest of your life hangs on whether you choose to believe him, when everything within you insists – and your entire life experience seems to confirm – that the opposite is true.

God is truth and he longs for you to know the staggering truths about him – and about yourself – that will set you free. But since God is lovingly gentle and not some abusive tyrant who forces himself upon you, to be freed from the enslaving power of those deceptive lies, you must choose to co-operate with God by accepting the truth – even while it feels utterly unreal – and refusing the lies – even though they seem so seductively believable. This is what faith in God is all about – deciding that Almighty God is a more reliable source of truth than your feelings and so choosing to believe what he says, rather than what your feelings say.

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The Almost Unbelievable

Now, as promised, I will briefly expound a few points mentioned earlier, with a view to helping you grapple with some seemingly unbelievable truths. I can write – God’s compassion compels me to – but only you can persist in prayerfully reading.

Your self-esteem has been so crushed that it will take you enormous effort for even a small fraction of these truths to sink in, but since, as the proverb says, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, it is important to begin by making every effort to try to absorb the following and doing your utmost to resist the temptation to imagine that you – or anyone else – could somehow nullify the infinity of God’s love.

Why I Admire People Tempted to Self-Harm

People who feel so tormented that they feel like harming themselves unquestionably deserve deep compassion. More than this, however, they fill me with admiration. Here is one reason: Almost everyone engaged in self-harm sees himself as a loser but in my eyes every such person is not just a winner but a hero. I know how right your negative view of yourself feels to you but, nevertheless, I am certain that my view is the most realistic one. To explain, I’ll quote something I’ve written elsewhere:

    An athlete, in the midst of a record-breaking run, has never in his life been so fit and strong. Yet his pain-racked body may have never felt so weak. Likewise, in the midst of a spiritual trial, it is not uncommon to be stronger and yet feel weaker than ever before. And to fellow Christians you might seem hopeless. An ultra-marathon champion staggering up the final hill looks pathetic. A child could do better. Anyone not understanding what this man has gone through would shrink from him in disgust. Only someone with all the facts would be awed by his stamina as he stumbles on.

    Consider Scott and his team, who struggled to the South Pole only to discover their honor of being the first to reach the Pole was lost forever. Amundsen had beaten them by about a month. To add to the futility, they endured further blizzards, illness, frostbite and starvation only to perish; the last three dying just a few miles from safety. Yet today their miserable defeat ending with death in frozen isolation, witnessed by not a living soul, is hailed as one of the greatest ever epics of human exploration and endurance.

    Every fiber of my being is convinced that their glory is just a shadow of what you can achieve. Though you suffer in isolation and apparent futility, with the depths of your trial known to no one on earth, your name could be blazed in heaven’s lights, honored forever by heaven’s throngs for your epic struggle with illness, bereavement, or whatever. The day is coming when what is endured in secret will be shouted from the housetops. Look at Job: bewildered, maligned, misunderstood; battling not some epic foe but essentially common things - a financial reversal, bereavement, illness; - not cheered on by screaming fans, just booed by some one-time friends. If even on this crazy planet Job is honored today, I can’t imagine the acclaim awaiting you when all is revealed. Your battle with life’s miseries can be as daring as David’s encounter with Goliath. Don’t worry that others don’t understand this at present. One day they will. And that day will never end.

Anyone feeling drawn to self-harm is suffering immense inner agony and yet instead of going the cowardly way of suicide he staggers on. That is heroic.

Self-harm can be a dire cry for help and desperately craved attention. Such motivation in no way lowers the heroism: the inner pain is just as intense as when it is not a cry for help.

Here’s yet another reason for self-harmers capturing my admiration:

If you analyze it you will discover that what drives most people to self-harm is distress over their continual failure to reach the standards they believe they should achieve. They are so hard on themselves, however, that they forget that a lesser person would reduce his inner pain by lowering his standards – something self-harmers won’t let themselves do. They continue to maintain their ideals even though it brings them deep torment. How admirable is that! Sadly, self-loathing could have so wounded you that not only this, but much of the following, will initially stagger belief or bounce off as if it did not apply to you.

Imagine someone languishing in poverty despite receiving a check for ten million dollars. With the gift seeming too good to be true, he presumed it must be a hoax and never bothered to cash the check. I beg you not to be like that person. Please don’t miss out simply because what the good Lord has done seems too good to be true.

Even though God’s standards are terrifyingly higher than ours, anyone thinking himself not good enough is seeing things through human eyes, not divine eyes. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, reaches the Holy Lord’s humanly unattainable standards of absolute perfection. Again, this will seem unbelievable or irrelevant mumbo jumbo without serious grappling with truth and seeking divine revelation.

You Are a Sophisticated Being

I claw at words trying to describe you. Words like noble, regal, intelligent, important and valuable all fall short. “Priceless” and “irreplaceable” are applicable but still fail to embrace the full magnificence of who you are. You are God-like – and you are not some shabby imitation of God but the Almighty God of Perfection made you with God-like qualities.

    Genesis 1:27 God created man in his own image. In God's image he created him; male and female he created them.

This is solid proof that when the Bible speaks of “man” or “men” in general, it applies with equal force to females as to males. It is so important to God that we grasp this gender issue that he lays it out in the very beginning of the Bible. Moreover, Scripture also implies that God’s nature is most fully reflected not by males alone but by a combination of what is distinctively masculine and what is distinctively feminine. For more, see Gender in the Bible.

So, under the inspiration of God himself, Genesis 1:27, is declaring that, without exception, every human is in the image of the divine. Tragically, many children have been so grossly mistreated that they grow up to feel less than human. The devastating feeling of being less than human can be so strong that that degrading feeling can seem to be the truth. No matter how loudly they scream, however, mere feelings cannot change what God pronounces to be true. The truth is that you are fully human, which means you reflect the very nature of God – so much so that Jesus said, “Isn’t it written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods?” (John 10:34). Jesus was referring to this Scripture:

    Psalms 82:6-7 I said, “You are gods, all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like one of the rulers.”

In this Word from God, our mortality – a consequence of our fallen nature – is brutally recognized and yet still the Godlike aspects of our nature remain undeniable.

Finally, here are two more Scriptures affirming how exalted all humans are:

    Psalm 139:14 I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well.

    Psalm 8:3-6 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him? For you have made him a little lower than God, and crowned him with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet

You Are Not Alone

Let’s briefly explore several aspects to the comforting, liberating truth that no matter how alone you feel, you are not alone.

There is something devastatingly lonely and isolating about pain. No one but God could slip inside your head and feel your pain. And how you feel just cannot be put into words. Yet we yearn to break the torment of solitary confinement and be understood. We yearn to express the inexpressible.

It is a sad fact that because not everyone understands self-harm, some people conclude in their ignorance that self-harm is weird. In reality, you are not alone because almost the entire human race has engaged in some form of self-harm, even if it is just people wounding themselves emotionally by telling themselves they are stupid after doing something that is below their best. For anyone to regard his own form of self-harm as acceptable and think someone else’s is weird is hypocritical. It simply boils down to personal familiarity with certain forms of self-abuse.

Not just emotional self-harm but full-on self-injury occurs around the globe in every continent, and probably every culture. A dear friend of mine writes:

    I have had the honor of talking to many people who have self-harmed. They are of all ages, from all walks of life and from several countries, especially Latin America and Africa. My son has chatted with people from all over Asia who self-harm.

    Currently, in immigration detention centers all over the world, huge numbers are cutting themselves and self-harming. They have suffered torture, war and crimes in such places as Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. They feel trapped, isolated, oppressed. Their “crime” is wanting to live in a world that apparently does not want them. (Sound familiar? It sure does to me.) They are unwanted anywhere. The country they have fled to does not want them and they might be killed if forced to return to the land they risked their lives to flee from. They feel rejects, unworthy to be alive, and are plagued with nightmarish memories of what drove them to become refugees in the first place.

    They are among the countless thousands of people who are hurting and feeling deep pain right now.

    Oppression incites anger. When the anger is unified (in a mass demonstration or a revolution, for example) the whole world takes notice. When it remains confined to individuals, however, the anger and a loss of any sense of justice can intensify even more. Anger cries out for expression. It demands a voice.

    People all over the world struggle like me to be heard, to be understood, to be free from inner pain. They feel what I feel. If we swapped stories they would say I am okay. They know. Even if we never meet, this connects me to them. I am not alone with this pain after all. They understand.

    I am one with all the voiceless people out there who are screaming with their own bodies to be understood and allowed to exist like normal people do.

    I think of an African friend who begged me to understand that she wasn’t worthless. She was smart. She would have been someone, instead of a worthless refugee in a country that doesn’t want her, if only she had not been brought up in a war-torn country. She has terrifying nightmares and she self-harms. She learned that I self-harmed and we talked. We share a secret. We are not alone. We speak to each other. We connect. We have a voice together. It comforts me.

More than this, my friend is discovering something amazing flowing from the unique way that her suffering connects her with other hurting people: it empowers her to bring them hope and comfort like no one who has had an easier life can possibly achieve. Her suffering broke God’s heart and was the tragic consequence of living in a world that refuses to imitate God but acts in rebellion against his kind, gentle, loving ways. Nevertheless, that suffering has lifted her to a place of special honor in God’s eyes because it puts her in a unique position to help other suffering people – all of whom are so dear to his heart. To her astonishment, she has discovered that her past anguish, rather than being the useless waste it had once seemed, has immense meaning and value.

You Are Totally Known and Understood

Earlier we stated the obvious: No one but God could slip inside your head and feel your pain. But guess what! That is exactly what God does!

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you, cry, and you cry alone,” can only be true if you leave God out of the equation. And the stupendous news is that we don’t have to leave God out.

You are of such astounding importance and value to the Lord of the universe that every minute aspect of your life captivates his attention. He knew you and yearned for your companionship long before you had ever heard of him – before you even gained consciousness, in fact. He cares for you so much that ever since the moment of your conception, God has been with you, observing the multiplication of your every cell as you slowly formed within the womb.

Invest time trying to contemplate the overwhelming vastness of the number of grains of sand in a single bucket. Then multiply that by the total amount of sand on every beach on the entire planet and add the grains of sand in every desert. That incomprehensible number is equivalent to the number of thoughts God has had about you. Whether you are asleep or awake, no detail of your life, no matter how hidden and secret or insignificant or embarrassing, past or future will ever escape his intimate awareness. He has known your every thought and he knew every word you would speak before you even uttered it. And this mind-bogglingly intense level of concern for you will keep hurtling on like an unstoppable freight train fueled by limitless love for all eternity.

Add infinite intelligence to this unlimited knowledge and you are totally understood – not just more than any other human can possibly understand you but exceedingly more than you could even hope to understand yourself.

In the most intensely intimate, infinitely detailed sense of the word, God knows what you are going through.

Keep reading and you will see that your pain matters – so astoundingly so that, rather than luxuriate in ease, the most important Person in the entire cosmos would willingly suffer every trace of your pain for you. The stupendous Lord of the Galaxies, the Source of all beauty, feels for you so immensely that it would actually relieve his distress for him to fully bear your torment himself.

You are not alone: even though you are rarely even conscious of it, from the moment of your conception and for the rest of eternity you have the ultimate companion who is infinitely concerned about the tiniest aspects of your life.

For biblical confirmation of this, see Psalm 139.

God Has Taken Your Pain Upon Himself

God is highly personal. He is no machine storing incomprehensibly vast quantities of information. God is love. Infinite love not only cares enough to want to know everything about you; love feels. Your pain and distress sends him reeling in pain. Even imperfect humans can love with such intensity that they would rather suffer themselves than see their loved one suffer. And this is what God has done. Study this:

    Isaiah 53:4-12 Surely he has borne our sickness, and carried our suffering . . . But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed. . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . and stricken for the disobedience of my people . . . you make his soul an offering for sin . . . he will bear their iniquities. . . . yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

It is almost as if the magnitude of the agony God feels in identifying with your distress drove him to self-harm – except that it was so much more than just an emotional reaction; it was the meticulously planned solution for your needs. By identifying with you so utterly that he was tortured to death on your behalf, the eternal Son of God opened the way for your healing and other wonders of immense significance in your life. Now all that it takes is for you to accept it. Just as marriage requires not just love and commitment from one partner, but the other must also agree to the union, so it is with you and God. No matter how much love yearns to help, love refuses to force itself upon another. At whatever personal cost it takes, love restrains itself until the loved one is willing to receive.

You Are Valued Beyond Measure

To explain, let me quote from something I’ve written elsewhere:

A diamond is just a bit of rock. It can’t love, talk, think. Its worth is based not on what it can do but on what people are willing to pay for it. Diamonds are considered of great value simply because people will pay much to have one. You are far more precious to God than tons of diamonds and he paid a far higher price than all the wealth of a million earths to have you as his best friend. You have an irreplaceable place in God’s own heart. He loves you dearly and tenderly and devotedly. He paid the highest possible price – the willing sacrificial death of his holy Son – to have you as his best friend.

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Types of Self-Harm

If you feel pressured to inflict pain or discomfort upon yourself or make yourself miserable, a common response is cutting oneself but the range of possibilities is almost endless. You might, for example, bite yourself, not allow sores to heal by repeatedly picking at them, refuse to relieve yourself until the pain becomes intolerable, or deny yourself needed medical treatment. Eating disorders not only result in self-harm, they are often driven by forces similar to those behind other types of self-harm. It is not always the case, of course, but even overwork or sabotaging relationships that fill you with joy can likewise be a form of self-inflicted pain that this webpage addresses.

Irrespective of whether you happen to express your extreme distress in one of the possibilities listed in this page or you are even more creative in your choice of self-affliction, you are by no means a freak, nor are you alone in your distress.

Less well-publicized forms of self-harm can seem bizarre and inexplicable even to those hurting themselves. The perplexing behavior suddenly makes sense, however, when the person’s past is revealed. Strange forms of self-abuse often turn out to be re-enactments of sometimes-forgotten childhood abuse. Real-life examples can prove highly illuminating for some sufferers, but for a few people, details might trigger memories they are currently not brave enough to face. For specific examples, see Why Self-Harm is Normal for Abuse Survivors Who are Not Yet Healed.

In some cases, self-harm originates not from deliberate childhood abuse but from significant people in one’s life inadvertently giving the dangerously wrong impression that you are not quite good enough to be loved. Some people with eating disorders, for example, have gained – sometimes mistakenly – the impression that they are almost at the point of being accepted but they need to do just that bit extra to make it. Although the way they were treated is very mild compared to what abused children have received, they can still find it devastating and feel compelled to go to extremes to try to prove themselves worthy of acceptance.

Children’s need for parental love and approval almost rivals their need for oxygen, but even quite good parents can be rather miserly in giving it. It might simply be that the parent – especially common in fathers – is emotionally reserved and has no idea how much he or she is leaving the child with a gnawing ache for parental affection and/or approval. The result is what can feel like an unfillable hole in the child that refuses to diminish even after the child has matured into a capable adult.

People suffering this way usually downgrade the significance of having felt love-deprived as a child. They see it as minor, relative to obvious child abuse, but just as malnutrition in childhood can have serious, long-term implications, so can feeling love-starved. An unmet craving for parental approval can not only last a lifetime, it can transmute into a gut-wrenching feeling of inadequacy that produces an endless striving to be “good enough,” or even result in self-loathing. Even highly successful people can stagger through life little moved by world acclaim, but desperately pining for their parents’ approval, and never feeling they can get it. Sometimes an eating disorder, or some other unusual behavior, is a manifestation of this desperate attempt to be “good enough.”

The critical factor is not how loved, desirable, successful or capable we really are, but how we suppose we measure up. This, in turn, is usually strongly influenced by the self-image we gained during our most impressionable years – our childhood.

In cases of blatant abuse, even more devastating than the inflicted physical pain is the long-lasting psychological wounding. Abusers typically try to ease their own conscience for their shameful acts of cruelty by either forcefully declaring or implying that their victims are useless, or worse. The torment they inflict is so emotionally shattering that it leaves an indelible impression on their victims.

Putdowns can have serious implications, however, regardless of whether they come in the form of violent abuse, are solely verbal, or just the rationing of parental love. And regardless of whether the child is correct or mistaken in interpreting it as a putdown. What makes suffering perceived putdowns during one’s childhood particularly devastating is that not only did they occur during one’s impressionable years, those treating the child this way were usually older (and therefore smarter), and hence perceived by the child as reliable, authoritative sources of information. Moreover, abusers often keep their bad behavior behind closed doors and are respected by the community or thought by other family members incapable of doing wrong, thus reinforcing a child’s natural tendency to believe what they say.

Tragically, though not surprisingly, these factors combine to leave survivors with the mistaken but powerful impression that they must have deserved the abuse they received. Not only do they feel they deserved their past mistreatment, they are often specifically told, or come to conclude, that they are incurably wicked and so deserve continual punishment. For example, for thirty years after her abuse until she was healed, sexual abuse survivor Christine would cry out in her sleep, “I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m bad . . .” Like many people who practice self-injury, what she had suffered as a child amounts to brainwashing that proved far more powerful than her high intelligence in setting in concrete her feelings about herself.

Writes a Christian in her early twenties who finally found Christlike love and acceptance:

    I believed I was worthless inside and that I had to beat myself up because no one else would take the time to do it like I deserved. Eventually I learned that no one else wanted to beat me up because they didn’t see a need to. Even after I revealed some of my darkest secrets to them, they still loved me.

For many, self-harm is combined with masturbation and/or pornography – often mixed with fantasies of being humiliated, terrorized or physically hurt. This is particularly common among sexual abuse survivors, which is hardly surprising since their original suffering was associated with sexual stimulation.

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The Need to Feel

When people receive bad news they are usually left numb with shock. How long this lasts varies, with a key factor being how willing the person is to face the reality and full implications of the news. When someone has been traumatized, this numbness lasts indefinitely if the person is unwilling to face the full reality of what happened. People can be so determined not to let themselves feel the natural horror, grief and anger that such an experience produces that they become disconnected from their feelings. An added reason for this happening is that some people believe that anger, hate and bitterness are wrong. Some even feel condemned over experiencing deep sorrow. So, rather than resolve such feelings, many people keep suppressing the feelings, refusing to admit to themselves that these feelings/attitudes are boiling just below the surface. It’s like having cancer and supposing that if you stoically refuse to think about it, the cancer will magically disappear. Just as removing from our consciousness an unhealed part of our body does not cause it to heal, neither does removing unresolved issues from our consciousness cause them to become resolved.

This denial of one’s true feelings produces a numbness so unnatural and disconcerting that many people feel driven to inflict pain on themselves simply to give them something they can feel. Pain feels a particularly appropriate choice to them because deep down they know they should be feeling and expressing their pain over past suffering that still haunts them because it remains unresolved.

Inner pain is just as real, agonizing and debilitating as physical pain, and yet it seems vague, mysterious and hidden. Physical pain is less complicated, more understandable and psychologically easier to handle.

When we have inflicted physical pain upon ourselves, the reason for the pain is obvious, but with inner pain most of us cannot understand why we are so distressed. We typically tell ourselves, “That happened years ago, I should be over it now,” and/or “Others have suffered far worse horrors.” We are particularly likely to underrate the severity of our inner distress if we keep pushing the memory away and refuse to truly examine the extent of what we suffered. It is like a wound that will never heal because we refuse to admit that it needs to be treated.

A rewarding feature of self-inflicted pain – what keeps us repeating it – is that it provides a more intelligible reason for us being in pain and can temporarily distract us from the reality of our inner suffering. The real reason for our inner pain often remains buried because we are too scared to face it, and while it remains largely unexplored, the pain it produces remains largely inexplicable to us.

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Mysterious Inner Pain

An emotional wound – the aftermath of a long-passed trauma, for example – is very real. Despite its intensity, however, there is much about inner pain that is frustratingly vague, undefined and hidden. And the mystery is further confounded by most of us trying to cope with the anguish by suppressing memories, refusing to think about it, and so on.

In stark contrast, there is nothing complex or bewildering about a flesh wound. No one thinks you are weird for feeling pain when you are bleeding. No one says, “You should be over it by now,” when they see a gaping wound. When there is an obvious physical cause, the pain makes sense.

We can be driven to self-harm by the thought that if we are going to be in pain anyhow it might as well be pain that has an obvious cause and is easily defined and understood. Physical pain offers a moment’s respite from the frustratingly difficult to understand inner agony.

The anguish within seems inexplicable and yet we still yearn to define it and explain it, not just to others but to ourselves. As already mentioned, this need sets us apart from sub-humans. Refusing to think about the cause of inner pain, rather than being as macho as we might try to fool ourselves into believing, is contrary to our very humanity. It dehumanizes us and does nothing to end the pain.

If you have a huge splinter in your foot, trying not to think about the pain or stabbing yourself elsewhere to divert the pain will not end your pain. You cannot hope to be free from pain until you investigate the cause, face the fact that you have a splinter and then remove it. Inner pain might not be as simple but with the help of a counselor you can do the equivalent and finally find peace.

Later in this webpage we will discover solutions to these dilemmas that haunt and stymie us.

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Further Reasons for Self-Inflicted Pain

There are understandable reasons for people hurting themselves by what at first seems bizarre behavior.

One man would pay to get raped and treated vilely in order to reinforce to himself that he was despicable and unlovable. How could anyone find such suffering rewarding? He, like many others who engage in quite different forms of degradation and self-inflicted pain, did it to keep killing his hope of being lovable. Yes, crushing his hope filled him with despair but he considered it worth the physical pain and feelings of hopelessness because he saw the relinquishing of all hope as self-protection. He believed he was protecting himself from suffering ever again from the agony of dashed hopes.

Some people do such things as cut themselves, overeat, dress drably or neglect personal hygiene to kill hope. By creating good reason to expect to be rejected, they are not caught off guard or bitterly disappointed when rejection comes. Others engage in the same behavior to repel people because they fear attracting an abuser. Many, of course, are moved by both factors.

Self-abuse is often an attempt to protect oneself from what are essentially the minor risks of life – such as the possibility of attracting sexual assault by dressing normally – but to the person, these unlikely dangers seem highly likely. As far as general population is concerned, their view is statistically distorted, but it is statistically significant in terms of how often it occurred in the person’s own experience. To enjoy life in all its richness, these people need to learn to trust again. In this webpage we will look at how this can happen.

People who have suffered sexual abuse often combine masturbation with ugly fantasies in order to ensure that they remain totally turned off sex. They do this to protect themselves from the possibility of their sex drive or longing for love pushing them into a relationship that could end up hurting them.

For some, the inner pain and deep distress within them erupts in the form of inexplicable anger or intense frustration, that might be expressed as self-mutilation or some violent act upon themselves. Some dear people see self-harm as the only alternative to expelling their pent up feelings upon other people. They fear that if they don’t physically hurt themselves they will physically hurt someone else.

A girl was determined to keep her inner pain secret. By keeping herself injured she would always have something physical to point to if anyone caught her crying and wondered why she was upset. As she matured into a woman, that specific motivation for self-harm faded but it had helped to establish the habit. As she grew, other motives, such as an expression of her hatred of herself, then took over.

Someone filled with pent up anger and frustration might slam a table or even a wall with his fist, thus hurting himself. His aim is not to hurt himself but to release the explosive mix of feelings erupting within him. It is not a carefully thought-out plan; it is a barely-controllable reaction to extreme pressure.

Here is a variation on this: a child, enraged by the horrific abuse meted out on him, filled with an explosive yearning to violently retaliate against his abuser but the adult’s far superior strength made that impossible. The only option allowed him to express his irresistible craving for violent revenge was to direct it toward himself. This became a habit that lasted long into his adult life.

Tragically, even if hurting oneself momentarily reduces some of the pressure, it is not merely a poor way of coping with inner turmoil, it actually magnifies the problem because by deliberately hurting yourself you become your own enemy, with you 24/7.

Such examples vividly demonstrate the adage that unforgiveness usually hurts us more than it hurts the other person. On the other hand, what passes as forgiveness is often little more than cowardly truth-avoidance – an escapist attempt to live in denial of the reality that we have truly suffered grave injustice and that he deserves to be punished. As I explain in webpages on forgiveness, fully facing up to the gravity of what was done to us is an essential step on the path to genuine forgiveness.

In our brief overview we have by no means exhausted all possible reasons for self-inflicted pain or injury. What is particularly bewildering to many of us is that the exact cause of our distress can be so suppressed that we have no idea what is causing these intense feelings. The all-knowing Lord knows all the factors involved and as you keep seeking him for answers he will reveal them so that you can heal.

* * *

A Life Transformed

The truth that will heal you is so mind-boggling that I must reveal it carefully and gradually lest you think I am out of my mind. Let me start by proving that no matter how ridiculous they initially seem, these healing principles really work. I’ll do this by sharing with you Christine’s story. Past sexual abuse featured strongly in her torment. The source of your distress might be very different, but the secret of Christine’s transformation applies to us all.

A key factor in Christine being freed from self-harm was the realization that she was innocent. The first thing she grasped through reading my webpages was that feeling pleasure when being sexually abused is a normal bodily reaction, not a moral issue. Just as feeling pain is an unavoidable response to being severely beaten, so is feeling pleasure an unavoidable response to being forcibly, but sensually, molested. That’s a helpful insight that almost any counselor could have provided, but then she discovered something far more powerful. Let’s read her story:

    I expect I’ll remember till my dying day exactly where I was standing when the truth exploded within me and set me free. I was on my cell phone talking to Grantley (writer of this webpage), thanking him for his webpages that explain that the sexual pleasure inflicted on me by my childhood abuser was not my fault. I was thrilled to finally realize that my sexual feelings were an involuntary reaction to the abuse and in no way suggest immorality on my part.

    I could sense that Grantley was hesitant; wanting to agree with me, but sounding as if I had missed something vital. “What if you hadn’t been so innocent?” he asked. “Would you then be doomed to live with crippling guilt for the rest of your life?”

    Grantley had studied to be a psychologist but after graduating with honors he abandoned the field because he had found a way of healing that has far more power than psychology offers. He began to remind me of an ancient spiritual truth that has transformed the lives of countless millions. Suddenly I realized the ultimate in liberating truths: I don’t have to try to justify myself because God has justified me! The Judge of all humanity sees me as not merely no worse than average people; he sees me as spotlessly pure and perfect, just like his holy Son. This might at first seem uncomfortably religious but hold on while I explain how it transformed my life.

    On the cross, the Innocent One swapped places with me; suffering my humiliation so that I could gain his endless honor and, to use the astounding expression the Bible uses, he has made me “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). I had been aware of the truth before but now it hit me like a divine revelation.

    Suddenly Christ’s sacrifice became the most beautiful act ever made. I am fully accepted by the Judge of all humanity, the greatest intellect and highest moral authority in the universe, and since it was all finalized and sealed two thousand years ago, there is nothing I can do to mess it up. All I need do is cling to Jesus and bask in the wonder of what he has done for me and enjoy all the benefits.

    I am not just as good as most people but, in heaven’s eyes, I’m as pure and holy as God, because of Jesus – and I’m sharing this because it can be just as powerfully your experience as mine. It’s so mind-blowing that I’ve had to keep repeating the Scripture over and over to myself:

      2 Corinthians 5:21 For him [Jesus] who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    Until making this discovery, whenever anyone criticized me I would go into a tailspin; not only inwardly agreeing with the putdown but telling myself that I’m incurably wicked and deserve to be treated as dirt and ruthlessly punished. Quickly, the oppressive feeling would balloon until it was so overwhelming that I felt compelled to hurt myself (usually by cutting myself). After that, I’d feel so miserable that I’d be pressured to masturbate in a vain attempt to comfort myself.

    Now, everything has changed!

* * *

Is Christine Out of Her Mind?

I interrupt Christine to admit that what she has been saying initially seems not merely ridiculous but downright impossible.

To help you grasp a difficult concept would you mind letting your imagination run wild for a few moments before returning to cold reality? Suppose you had amnesia. After forgetting all of your past, snippets of memories are slowly returning. Eventually some of the jigsaw pieces slot together and to your horror you realize that in your past you had committed a hideous crime. For weeks you are petrified day and night that someone will find out and you’ll be jailed for life. Finally, you can bear the mental torment no longer. You turn yourself in to the police and confess. They confirm that you have correctly remembered part of your past. They inform you, however, that there are still parts you have forgotten.

Years ago, you had been arrested and tried for that crime. You were given a surprisingly light sentence and you have already served the time.

Imagine how relieved you would feel!

Now let’s plunge back into icy reality. What has happened to you is similar, but even more amazing. You are horrified by snippets of your past that you recall. It is nightmare material. You have been hurting yourself because you suppose you have not suffered enough, but what has been wiped from your consciousness is that there is a mysterious but very real sense in which you have already suffered for the past far, far more than you realize – so immensely, in fact, that every bit of punishment you deserve has been paid in full and you are now completely free.

Now here comes the part that seems utterly ridiculous: you have already paid the full penalty because Jesus was tortured to death for your past, totally absorbing within himself all your shame, pain and blame until not a shred remained.

“You’re mad!” you object, “Perhaps it somehow transformed Christine but no matter how kind Jesus might have been, and no matter what he did, he’s not me. What he did is largely irrelevant.”

I have to admit that you are right – if Jesus were an ordinary person.

What he achieved makes no sense until we realize that Jesus is not just a spectacularly special man, nor even the world’s greatest ever miracle worker; he is divine. With him, nothing is impossible. He is supernatural and he longs to give you the most profound supernatural experience imaginable – a supernatural union in which you and he merge with each other, melting into one so that, as the Bible declares, he is in you and you are in him.

Since Jesus is no abuser, he seeks your full consent before proceeding, but he is so devoted to your lifelong well-being and eternal happiness that he wants to bond with you so that you and he are inseparable. When this happens, both of you have the same spiritual bank account, the same status, the same spiritual genes, the same past (that’s why he suffered) and the same future (that’s why your future is unbelievably bright). For Scriptures about the amazing oneness with Christ that he wants you to enjoy, see One With Christ.

Even though we Christians tend to understate it, this staggering miracle makes you a totally new being, complete with supernatural powers and immortality.

Marriage makes a man and woman one flesh, with pooled assets and a shared destiny. Eventually their very genes permanently unite to form offspring. As this marvel commences with a few spoken words in a marriage ceremony, so a few words in a heart-felt prayer can usher in the spiritual transformation in which you and the spotlessly pure, eternal Son of God become one, with the same past and the same future. (For more about how you can experience this, see You Can Find Love.)

Often we hurt ourselves because we believe our stupidity or wickedness needs to be punished, but every trace of it has already been fully punished – with inhuman severity – when Jesus took upon himself all our imbecile goof-ups and depravity and was tortured to death for them. All the punishment was exhausted on him. There is nothing left.

When you are in spiritual union with the holy Son of God, you both have the same past. What happened to Jesus happened to you, and what happened to you happened to Jesus.

Do you think you need to be cut or deserve to be whipped or beaten? His skin was flayed to shreds. Think you need to bleed? All the blood was drained from his body. Think you should suffer? His agony was indescribable. Think you should die? It’s impossible to be deader than his corpse. And because it happened to him, it has already happened to you. When you and he are one, for you to punish yourself is utterly needless. The person who did things worthy of punishment is not only dead and buried, he died almost two thousand years ago.

Let me plunder a piece of fiction I wrote years ago:

    In my mind’s eye I saw myself charging into a burning building to rescue someone I loved more than life itself. Every movement began to slow down. Shielding her body, I suffer horrific burns to carry her to safety, where I collapse, writhing in agony. But it is worth every throb of pain because the love of my life is completely untouched by the fire. All that matters is that she’s unharmed. Seeing my wounds she says, “I don’t deserve such love!” I look on in horror as, overwhelmed by a feeling of unworthiness, she then runs back into the fire and kills herself; breaking my heart by her death and rendering all my suffering an utter waste.

    I had been on the brink of treating my heroic Savior like that. How dare I let Jesus’ agony be wasted! If I beat myself, Jesus was beaten for nothing. If I get angry with myself, Jesus bore God’s wrath for nothing. If I let shame overwhelm me, Jesus was humiliated for nothing. If I think of myself as morally defiled, the Innocent One was treated as a criminal for nothing. If I think I’m inferior, the King of kings was treated as dirt for nothing. The Lord of all suffered horrifically to give me the right of access to all God’s riches. For his sake, I must refuse to throw aside such a costly sacrifice. For some reason – sheer love I guess – he considered me worth it. I won’t let him down. No matter what false feelings flood over me, I’ll refuse to believe them. I’ll enjoy life for his sake. “FOR HIS SAKE!” I yelled. At last I found peace. “Yes, for Jesus’ sake!” I shouted in joyous relief, “For the sake of the One who died for me!”

    By thinking of myself as unworthy, I was seeing myself as I truly would be had Jesus never hung upon the cross for me. But he was crucified. He was tortured to death to swap my sin for his sinlessness. He took my guilt and gave me his innocence. And here I was on the brink of pushing it aside and, by caving into feelings of inferiority, reducing to a senseless waste his agonizing death for me.

Some children are beaten under the guise of the punishment making them good. Some carry that thought into adulthood. But for us to be punished doesn’t make us good. What makes us good is Jesus being so fully punished on our account that there is no punishment left. And in exchange for him taking our humiliation, idiotic mistakes and evil upon himself, he gives us his moral perfection and dignity.

Christ’s nature and achievements are so much ours that Scripture states such things as:

    John 17:22 The glory which you have given me . . .

    1 Corinthians 1:30  . . . you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption

    1 Corinthians 2:16  . . . we have Christ’s mind.

    2 Peter 1:4  . . . he has granted to us his precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature . . .

He became human so that divinity could flow through you. The Eternal died so that you could be more alive than ever before; took on your mortality to give you immortality. He wore your limitations so you could enjoy his infinity. The Almighty crumbled with your weakness to give you supernatural strength. The Pride of the universe agonized with your loneliness so that you would never be alone again; suffered your isolation so that you and he could be inseparable. The King of kings bore your shame and darkness so that you could be radiant with his honor; was humiliated with your depravity to infuse you with his holy majesty; lowered himself to the dust of death so that you could be enthroned with him in highest heaven. God’s noble Son shamed himself with your foolishness to give you his intellect; exchanging your dirty, cloudy thinking for his crystal purity; suffering for your idiotic blunders so that you could be dignified as a superior being, graced with divine wisdom. He let your sorrow crush him to let you beam with his joy; was impoverished by your debts so that you could revel in his riches. He absorbed within himself all your inadequacies so that you could overflow with his abundance.

Through your union with the holy King of kings, every trace of filth has been flushed out by a torrent of divine purity; all your guilt replaced by pristine innocence; all your shame by royal dignity; all your ugliness transformed into dazzling beauty. You are exalted to the very heavens as someone worthy of eternal honor. Who could punish such a person?

What makes it hardest for us to believe that we can enjoy this holy union that frees us from the pain, blame and shame of our past is that we know we don’t deserve it. “Why would God suffer such agony to lavish his goodness upon me?” we ask in utter bewilderment. The answer is that it is God’s very nature to do such things. He is a giver, not a taker. There is more that is mind boggling about him than the incomprehensible immensity of his physical power and intellect. God doesn’t just love us sometimes, he is love – overwhelmingly powerful, pure, selfless love that refuses to give up or count the cost.

I am reluctant to use the “L” word when talking about God. Too few people understand that genuine love has nothing to do with lust. Even those not using the word to con and exploit and hurt people, tend to use it as an excuse to seek their own happiness and pamper their egos. With so many people misusing the word, the true meaning drains away and it mutates into something hideous.

True love is so exquisitely beautiful and rare that you might not have witnessed even a shadow of it in humanity. Divine love is selfless giving taken to extreme levels. It is pure, nonsexual, humble, self-sacrificing and wants nothing but the other person’s greatest good. This rare beauty overwhelms God’s heart and flows freely to us all. He gives and gives and gives, not because of anything in us, but because of his goodness. He is so filled, driven and intoxicated by unlimited kindness, generosity, gentleness and purity that it is impossible for him to stop wanting to give you the best in his uniquely glorious, selfless, holy way.

This is hard for us to believe because it is so contrary to our experience with humans. But God is utterly different to frail humanity. He knows no human inadequacies, selfishness or lust. He is kind, warm and gentle, yet all-powerful and flawless. His motives are pure.

Now let’s return to Christine:

    Grantley taught me how to gain maximum benefit from my new understanding of how loved and accepted I am by God. I can now stop myself from spiraling out of control. I can pull myself out of a nose dive the instant it begins.

    Here’s how it works: the moment I sense myself beginning to feel negative about myself I inwardly shout, “No, that’s not true!” and begin thanking God that because of Jesus, God accepts me and believes in me. The Perfect One thinks I’m important, declares me to be good and pure and righteous, and has wonderful plans for my life. On and on I go, reminding myself of how loved by God I am; thanking and praising Jesus for being punished so that I need never punish myself, and rejoicing in all of God’s goodness to me.

    As I continue, savoring the implications of the cleansing that is mine through Christ, and of me being royalty – a child of the King of kings – my spirit soars to the point where the urge to hurt myself fades and I feel no need to seek empty comfort by degrading myself by masturbating.

    Just as bad habits are hard to break, good habits are hard to build. It’s been hard to keep remembering each time I begin to enter a downward spiral to pull myself up, tell myself, “No, that’s not true!” and begin thanking God for the way he sees me through rose-colored glasses – through the precious blood of Jesus drained for me. And it’s been hard dredging up a multitude of positive things about God’s view of me to keep thanking God for, and to keep praise flowing for long enough for my depressing thoughts to fade. But as I keep persisting, it is getting easier and easier, and I’m discovering that, once established, good habits grow strong and serve us well.

    I’ve also learned to, as it were, put money in the bank for a rainy day. Even when things are going well I regularly rehearse uplifting Scriptures and savor God’s love. Then when oppressive thoughts cloud in, I have in my mind a ready store of positive material to recall that will enrich my thinking. Gradually, to think well of myself – seeing myself through God’s eyes – is becoming second nature to me. As a result, self-harm and degrading myself by having sex with myself and ugly fantasies are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Moreover, life is becoming more exciting than ever before.

    Christ’s sacrifice is my anchor. No matter how violently stormy seas bounce me around, I’m safe because the anchor of my soul is embedded in the immovable, two-thousand-year-old bedrock of the holy Son of God swapping places with me. Christ has made me acceptable and lovable. It was settled two thousand years ago and nothing can change it.

* * *

Cutting Oneself Mentioned in Bible?

It was the showdown: Elijah versus 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:19). Whose God was more powerful? The Baal devotees prayed. No response. They prayed some more – and more and more. Still no response. Things were getting desperate. They used their ultimate weapon in getting their god to respond:

    1 Kings 18:28-29 They cried aloud, and cut themselves in their way with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the evening offering; but there was no voice, no answer, and nobody paid attention.

We can be strongly tempted to act like them; thinking that God or loved ones might take pity on us if we afflict ourselves enough or make ourselves sufficiently miserable. But God’s heart is already breaking over your distress. The last thing the loving, tender Lord wants is for you to further increase your suffering.

In the Bible, those who cut themselves were pagans who did not understand the heart of God. The emphatic teaching of Jesus is that faith is the key to answered prayer and to moving the hand of God. That makes praising God explosively powerful because praise is faith so purified and concentrated as to reduce problems to dust.

Praising and thanking God are not reserved for when things go well. They form a lethal spiritual weapon against everything that seeks to distress, depress or destroy us.

    Ephesians 5:20 giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

    Philippians 4:6 In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

    Colossians 3:17 Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him.

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.

    Hebrews 13:15 Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually . . . (Emphasis mine)

This is what Christine was working on. Her automatic, unthinking response to distress had been to stab or cut herself. Now she is establishing a new way of responding. This new habit, instead of acting like a drug that brings temporary relief but actually worsens the situation, is healing her inner pain, and dissipating her distress. Instead of begging God to intervene, she puts running shoes on her faith by thanking and praising God for loving and purifying and beautifying and exalting her.

When feeling down, thanking and praising God is as hard as dragging yourself out of a cozy bed on an icy morning, but despite the effort it takes, you soon discover that praising God transports you from frigid depression to the cheery warmth of victory over defeatism.

Louise, who often suffers deep depression, wrote a beautiful poem about a shoot pushing through a seed until finally emerging into the sunshine, only to be hit by the stench of fertilizer. That fertilizer, however, causes it to grow. Gradually the stench disappears and the plant blooms, producing a beautiful fragrance. “Beauty comes at a price,” says her poem, which I suggest you read.

In a personal e-mail to me, Louise made a comment about the poem. I’m reluctant to share it because of the language but it will be very meaningful to many readers:

    I keep saying, I am a piece of ----, but I am not. I am, however, covered with it from time to time in order to grow, to push up through it and be strengthened by it.

* * *

Practical Help

Anyone wrestling with self-harm is in a uniquely stressful dilemma. In any violent act, to be the victim is traumatic. It is even traumatic to be the attacker, since the attacker must act contrary to good conscience. But in self-harm, you are both the victim and the offender. How traumatic is that!

How can you flee from your enemy when you are your own enemy? How can you get any joy out of the defeat of your enemy when you are that enemy?

Forgiving oneself is a critical ingredient of feeling good about oneself and ending self-harm. Over the years, very many hurting people have shared their secrets with me. Their experiences have rammed home to me that forgiving oneself, feeling forgiven by God, and forgiving other people, travel together. They might separate a little, but progress with one type of forgiveness moves the others forward; holding back with one, holds back the others.

So here’s a practical tip of great importance in ending self-harm: when, despite your best efforts, you seem to have reached a stalemate with one type of forgiveness, try working on one or both of the other types. Each type of forgiveness can be exceedingly stubborn but as you keep working on all three, while looking to God for supernatural help, one of the three will eventually move a little and this will make progress on the others a little easier.

Since they are travel mates, each type of forgiveness is critical to feeling good about yourself and hence reducing the pressure to harm yourself. We dare not neglect any of the three types of forgiveness, so let’s list them one final time:

    * feeling/believing you are forgiven by God

    * forgiving yourself

    * forgiving other people

* * *

Becoming Whole

Near the beginning of this webpage we mentioned that people could feel unnaturally numb through being too scared or proud to connect with their true feelings about past traumas. This paralyzing reluctance to connect is highly understandable but gnaws away at a person. In an attempt to break the numbness and feel something akin to the magnitude of what they sense they should be feeling, many of these people inflict physical pain on themselves. After all, physical pain is less complicated, more understandable and psychologically easier to handle than the things that are really troubling them.

We can kid ourselves that burying or hiding past difficulties proves us to be the “strong silent type” but the truth is very different. It prevents us from emotionally connecting and coming to terms with what is really troubling us. It can keep us perpetually distressed; one possible manifestation of which can be self-harm. Acting this way can not only cause enormous problems, it is inconsistent with the Healing Lord’s ways. The God of truth says such things as:

    Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sins doesn’t prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

    James 5:16 Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. . . .

    1 Chronicles 28:9  . . . for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. . . .

    Psalms 44:21  . . . he knows the secrets of the heart.

    1 Corinthians 4:5  . . . the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts.

    Hebrews 4:13 There is no creature that is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.

This is not scary because, as stated in Proverbs 28 (quoted above), even when sin is involved, it is only the person who conceals it who has cause for alarm. Like air into a vacuum, divine mercy and forgiveness rush in to fill whoever admits to sin and genuinely wants to be free from it.

The beautiful thing is that we never have to revisit the dark places alone. We can take with us a warm Friend who dispels darkness. He is the Light of the world. We don’t have to fear our emotions because we have a God who deeply understands and empathizes. Jesus himself prayed “with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). Elsewhere it says about Jesus:

    Hebrews 4:15-18 For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need.

We don’t have to fear our emotions getting out of control, because he will carefully monitor them. He will not allow us to suffer what we cannot bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). And if we have anger, bitterness or hate, he does not condemn but freely forgives and cleanses, and empowers us to resolve destructive attitudes so that we can heal.

* * *


I have a down-to-earth prayer that could change your life. I’m not asking you to pray it. Simply read it. If you find it expresses your heart, you could then turn it into a prayer by reading it to God.

    Dear God,

    Could it really be that you are gentle and loving toward me? It seems too good to be true. I’ve loathed myself more times than I can count and I’ve assumed you felt like I do about myself. Could it really be that you see me so differently and are eager to warmly embrace me with your forgiveness and approving smile?

    You are an infinite God, so I concede that you have infinite love. That has to mean that your love far exceeds my own. But you are terrifyingly holy. How could you be less judgmental toward my failings than I am? Could Jesus dying for my sins have made that much difference? Could it really be that at last the pressure is off and I can bask in the sunshine of Almighty God knowing all about me and yet fully accepting me as his precious child? Could I be like Saint Paul, who saw himself as the worst of sinners and yet be special to God? Like that man of God, could I say, “ . . . but what I hate, that I do. . . . that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. . . . the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice. . . . What a wretched man I am! . . .” and then immediately follow that pathetic lamentation with, “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:15,18,19,24,25; 8:1)?

    I need more than fire insurance against hell. To live with myself I need somehow to be able to see myself as being of immense value and morally good. Is this possible for me?

    You have given your word that if I confess my sins, you will cleanse me from all unrighteousness, and in that same promise you vow you will do this not because I reach some arbitrary standard (we’ve all fallen short, anyhow – Romans 3:23) but simply because you are faithful and just (1 John 1:9).

    It would be so wonderful to be cleansed. According to the Scripture just mentioned, you and I both have a role to play in bringing this about. You have to be faithful and just; I have to confess my failings. I don’t have to ask you to do your part. Since you are perfect and good, you’ll never be anything but faithful and just. So I’ll do my part and confess to all the things that make me feel so awful– what I’ve done and even what has been done to me that devastates me. I’d prefer to bury the past and live in denial, but the truth is that the past still eats at me, no matter how much I try to suppress it. My sins and the acts of those who have sinned against me seem too disgusting for you to want to hear about them, and yet you are so interested in everything that hurts me that you ask me to confess them – to tell you about them. I don’t find this easy, but I’ve already prolonged my torment for far too long. I need to get this over and done with, so here goes . . . [I suggest you now share your heart with God, pouring out to him details of all the things that tend to make you feel guilty, ashamed or uncomfortable. You might find it helpful to write it out as a letter to God. Any moral means of expressing your heart to God touches him deeply.]

    Jesus was tortured to death to secure my forgiveness and yet here I am still torturing myself and at times wishing I were dead, as if I were unforgivable, when Jesus sealed my forgiveness two thousand years ago.

    Forgiveness certainly isn’t my strong point.

    I remember when Saul, who later become the great apostle Paul, was still hating and scheming to hurt Christians, the risen Lord suddenly appeared and said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). I’m told the picture is of an ox angrily kicking against a spike. Every time the ox kicks, he hurts only himself. Have I been like that? Am I hurting myself every time I inwardly lash out in anger or unforgiveness against you or against those who have hurt me?

    I recall the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Could it be that my difficulty in believing that my sins have been divinely forgiven – supernaturally wiped out – is connected to my reluctance to forgive those who have sinned against me? I wish Jesus hadn’t kept linking me receiving the forgiveness I crave with me forgiving others. How can I forgive anyone else when I find it so hard to forgive myself? And yet somehow these different types of forgiveness are inseparably bound, like different facets on the same diamond. I desperately need to forgive myself and to enjoy your forgiveness, so by an act of will, whether I feel like or it not, I activate the remaining aspect of forgiveness. I choose to forgive all who have hurt me. I don’t excuse what they did, nor pretend that what they did was even slightly defensible, but nevertheless, I forgive, just as I want you to forgive me.

    “The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” said Saint Paul (1 Timothy 1:15). He did some atrocious things, including torturing innocent Christians in the hope of forcing them to blaspheme the One who died for their salvation and turn their back on their Savior. Even if I were a thousand times worse than I’ve ever imagined, however, it cannot change the fact that Jesus died for the full forgiveness of the very worst of sinners – whoever that might be. So forgiveness is mine through Jesus swapping places with me on the cross and letting himself be shamed and violated so that I could be honored. I exchange my need to be punished for the fact that he was punished for me.

    I gladly remove my filthy, sin-stained clothes that fill me with shame. Here they are, Lord: I hand you my guilt and condemnation, placing it upon the bleeding body of my Savior and trade my shame for your forgiveness and the divine purity and honor that it brings. I swap my dirty rags, I put on Jesus’ robe of righteousness. Your forgiveness clothes me from head to toe. I accept you as Lord, and now, through the supernatural transformation you promise, I am born of you. As your Word boldly declares, I am your righteousness because of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now we belong to each other. We are one. No matter how atrocious my failings and how much they haunt me, the truth is that in God’s eyes all of us have messed up so badly that Jesus had to suffer a torturous death for us all. The degree of sin isn’t the issue. Without Christ, we are all in the same hopeless predicament, doomed to hell, but no matter how alone and hopeless I often feel, the truth is that I am not without Christ. As Jesus took upon himself my gross inadequacies and shame, I take upon myself his sinlessness and glory. Your righteousness is now my righteousness and your honor is my honor. From now on I will live for you and honor you just as you devote yourself to me and shower me with your honor.

    I don’t need to punish myself for anything because Jesus has already been punished for it. That’s so mind-boggling that I need to repeat it: the Person who will judge all humanity volunteered to be punished so that I would have no need to be punished – neither punished by God nor by me. Help me grasp the full implications so that this becomes not mere doctrine but life-changing reality.

    You pronounce me to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:21) – an excitingly new divine masterpiece, a work of art crafted by the Master himself. No matter what I see in the mirror, you, the Almighty Lord, declare me to be a totally new person, sparkling with the glory of God; nothing like what I used to be or how I used to see myself.

    I admit that I don’t feel like a new creature – in fact, I feel as bad as ever – but you don’t lie. I look at myself and see nothing new. I still don’t like what I see. But you say that those whom you declare to be good – your royal children – walk by faith not sight. So I need to believe you, and so believe I am different, no matter what I feel.

    I am one with Jesus, the holy Son of God, so all the pressure to be good enough, all the humiliation of my past, and all the fear of rejection is over.

    I want to honor you by breaking out of my former pattern of thinking. Like breaking any habit, it will be hard work but I will do my utmost to act like Christine, so that every time I catch myself beginning to think poorly of myself I will say, “No, that’s not true!” and start thanking you for who I am in your loving eyes. Thank you that although you require my full cooperation, me thinking this way is important to you because you are selflessly devoted to wanting the best for me.

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Physical Ways of Finding Relief and Comfort

Until the healing process takes full effect, however, you can benefit from practical alternatives to self-harm. So we will begin with this and then move on to deeper, longer lasting solutions.

Self-harm can seem to offer slight relief but there are many downsides. For example, one friend shared that although self-harm temporarily acted as a diversion, distracting her mind from other pressures, she was left having to cope for days with the soreness of the cuts and the embarrassment of having to dress differently to cover up her wounds. The biggest downside, however, is that self-harm is degrading and lowers even further one’s self-esteem by turning yourself into your own enemy. Consider how you would have every right to be outraged if someone deliberately hurt you physically. It would be a criminal act. To hurt yourself is akin to becoming your own enemy.

A dear friend – I’ll call her Emma – told me how, many years ago as a teen, she used to suffer overwhelmingly dark feelings. She found that self-harm brought temporary relief because it externalized inner anguish; affirming that it was real and excruciating and that it truly mattered (and therefore she mattered). The downside, however, is that it achieved this at the huge cost of her not just physically attacking and abusing herself but psychologically harming herself.

Bitter experience taught her that self-harm is actually sending oneself a depressingly wrong message. Hurting yourself reinforces the insidious lie that you are worthless, that you don’t matter, that you don’t deserve respect and kindness and that it is right for you to be brutalized and inflicted with pain. Feeling that way about oneself is the last thing anyone needs – especially when already feeling devastatingly low. It mocks and condemns you and ends up further intensifying the inner pain. Knowing no alternative, however, whenever the anguish grew unbearable she grew desperate for the quick fix self-harm offered, even if it ended in a downer.

One day, Emma was riddled with an overpowering need to alleviate her distress by physically hurting herself but she could not because her abusers were present. Self-harming in front of them would have incited them to oppress her even more. In desperation, she prayed for a solution.

The Lord told her to record her feelings on paper.

“But I can’t!” she protested. “They’ll read what I’ve written.”

“Use symbols,” replied God. “They know you often doodle. Only you and I will know what the squiggles mean.”

She tried it. It worked. She was able to express her deep feelings, and her abusers had no idea what she was doing. Moreover, unlike self-harm, there was no downside. She had avoided the emotional devastation of having sided with her abusers and turned against herself by attacking her body.

Once she experienced the benefits, my friend developed the idea. She identified twenty-four different feelings and invented a symbol for each of them. Like me, you might be staggered by that number but producing such a list is easier than I expected. I suggest you develop your own list. For some ideas that might help you start your own, see Starter.

Emma found a blank book that she turned into an emotional diary. She would date it and use the symbols to record her feelings. On each occasion, she would keep repeating the appropriate symbols until the oppressive feelings lessened enough to be more manageable. By this means she was expressing the inner pain; releasing it, instead of continually stuffing it inside where it remains vague and indefinable but remains frustrating and agonizing and keeps intensifying. She chose a thick book because she had much to record but when she was away from home, she would carry a smaller notebook with her, use it as necessary, and later transfer the contents into the larger book. That way, Emma had a record as permanent as a scar of how she had felt, but without sending her on the downer that self-harm inevitably leads to. At any time she wished, she could review her diary and see how she was now faring, relative to other occasions.

Self-harm can quickly become an enslaving habit – an automatic response to intense inner pain – and like all habits, it will take considerable effort to break it.

Our thoughts and beliefs drive us. The critical factor is not what we merely say we believe but what we truly believe in the deepest realms of our being. It is a long process getting new beliefs to stay deep within us so that they completely displace the mistaken beliefs we have harbored for years about God, ourselves and other people.

To win a war, it is vital to seize times of relative peace as opportunities to prepare for attacks by making weapons, building defenses, developing strategies, boosting morale and so on. Likewise, to be able to bask in the fulfillment of breaking a powerful habit one must make the most of moments when the pressure is less intense by using them as times to prepare for future attacks.

A friend of mine – I’ll call her Anne – who has had many personal battles with self-harm suggested the keeping of what we might call a Comfort Box or an Emergency Kit. In it she keeps things that help her cope with inner distress. As you make this idea your own it might take on an entirely new form. Possibilities include a computer file or, if you have the space, even an entire room. Basically it is gathering together, in an easily accessible place, resources that help defeat old, destructive habits by establishing new, healthy habits.

Since people differ, you might immediately dismiss as inappropriate for you some options listed in the link, and other ideas might require experimentation to see how well they work and still others might need modification or be more effective when combined with one or more other options.

On the other hand, what you find most effective on one occasion might not be the best option another time. A significant reason for this is that your best option will depend on what you are feeling at the time. On different occasions quite different feelings could be pressuring you to self-harm. So the first thing you should do is to try to identify what you are feeling. This can be quite difficult if you are used to pushing your feelings aside and not connecting with them, but please try.

I give examples of how to prepare but, since each of us is unique, only God knows what is the ideal method for you at any given moment and he is keen to share that information with you.

For understanding the temptation to self-harm, this divine promise is both enlightening and encouraging:

    1 Corinthians 10:13 . . . God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Since God will “make the way of escape”, keep seeking him for alternatives to self-harm that work best for you, remaining mindful that what is best could vary from one occasion to another.

Note, however, that there is no promise that the temptation will disappear – only that God will provide the way for you to “endure it.” God believes in you. His plan is to make you strong, not some weakling who caves into pressure, but a spiritual champion.

My suggestions appear in a link at the top of this webpage but let’s take music an as example of how the Comfort Box works.

Anne keeps in her box certain music CDs that she finds helpful in easing the smoldering turmoil within. You might have your music on an iPod or whatever, or you might have your own musical instrument but you can place in the box a list of certain helpful music and where to find it.

Anne uses soothing and/or uplifting music. Another friend uses anger music or songs dealing with loss, oppression or grief. This helps her express some of the deep feelings inside her. You might listen passively or sing and/or dance to the music. Worship music could prove powerful when you allow it to take you into the presence of the divine Healer whose compassion and devotion to you is boundless.

In addition, keep in the box such things as art materials, a journal or writing materials, contact details of helpful people who are able distract, comfort or support you, pictures or mementos that remind you of personal achievements or happier times, print-outs of webpages from the huge website, and so on.

Among my suggestions is to put together a video of people weeping and wailing. Since, as I said, finding suitable material will be challenging, it is good to begin a collection long before it is needed. I suggest making copies because web sites tend to have short lives.

The big advantage of having all the resources and ideas in one quickly accessible location is that when overwhelmed by intense feelings you could easily find yourself too stressed to try to hunt for them or even to think of all the options. So although in the link I provide some suggestions that cannot be put in a box, use the box to keep a list of the suggestions, in case some elude your memory at a critical time.

Here’s some valuable insights from another friend of mine:

    I used to cut my wrist where I was held down by my abuser. I can’t stand the memory of him holding me there. I used to try to cut it away. Now I rub smooth, nice-smelling lotion where I want to cut. (For most people, the sense of smell is powerful in evoking memories.) Doing the opposite of self-harm (self-care) does help. I’ve now gone 15 months without self-harm, though I originally didn’t give it up for my sake, but for God’s. Damaging his creation – me – must hurt God. If I take a lot of time and care to make something, I would be very upset if someone damaged it. Surely God feels the same way.

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Keys to a New Life

This webpage is so crammed with helps and ideas as to be initially overwhelming. It can initiate a powerful transformation within you, but it is like a spark that will blaze into a huge fire, or be quickly extinguished, depending on whether it is protected and fed. In order to ensure that it changes your life, you will need to re-read it several times to get it deep into your spirit and begin putting it into practice.

Not just this webpage but the entire website is like life-saving blood pressure medication: taking it once will do almost nothing. For the promised benefits it must be taken day after day after day.

Some people think of self-harm as releasing the inner pain. Some even visualize the blood flowing from self-injury as letting the inner pain out. The sad reality, however, is that this is nothing but a vain fantasy. It is as futile as the owner of a business who, rather than deal with the fact that his trusted employee is embezzling the company, cuts his arm to distract himself from the financial ruin his inaction is causing.

Seething inside of many people who self-harm are intense feelings they cannot even identify. Often they mistakenly feel too ashamed to admit even to themselves that they have those feelings. This false shame is devastating and needs to be exposed for the cruel lie that it is.

Irrespective of whether they are Christian, most people have a dangerously shallow understanding of morality, Christianity and/or healing from trauma. “You should be over it by now,” is as dumb as saying that someone with a hole in the heart should be running marathons because the hole happened decades ago. Time might heal minor cuts and abrasions but major things will never heal by themselves. “It’s unmanly to be afraid,” is equally dumb. Even war heroes hailed for their bravery can be safely tucked in bed at home years after the war and find themselves trembling in terror over memories of what they suffered. “It’s unchristian to be angry,” is likewise hopelessly mistaken. God himself is angry that people have been so cruel to you. Those who have not felt anger over what they have suffered have usually not fully forgiven at all but have simply short-circuited the forgiving process and deceived themselves into thinking they have forgiven. I expound in a link below how anger is an essential part of the long journey. Denial of one’s feelings is a very different thing to resolving the deep issues within.

A good counselor can help you through the maze but never forgot that the best counselor is the one who longs to be your best friend and closest companion; the one who knows you like no one else can and believes in you; the one who has all the answers and all the gentle patience you need – God himself.

Like the urge to scratch a skin disease, the urge to self-harm is just a symptom. Scratching might temporarily ease the itch but the itching soon returns and scratching actually ends up worsening the skin condition. To stop the scratching is good but treating the disease is more important still. Likewise, you need to treat the cause of your inner pain. So it is important to focus not merely on self-harm but on healing the underlying cause. For this reason, after fully absorbing into your spirit this webpage you will need to explore all the links below. Each webpage leads to many others, but if you are battling self-harm they are most important for your welfare.

Here is what I believe your next steps should be.

    1. Save the web address of this webpage.

    2. Re-read this webpage at least once.

    3. Read through the links below.

Keys to Feeling Good About Yourself
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Personalized support

Grantley Morris:

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