Self-Harm: 5 Ways to Respond with Love and Truth

Janice adores her eighth-grade Sunday school girls, and Susie is one of her favorites. She is vibrant, intelligent, and perceptive.

Do you know someone who struggles with cutting?

But lately Janice has noticed that Susie's mood is depressed and distant. She is often tired. Janice sees a lot of cuts and scars on Susie's inner arms—small, thin ones. Now Susie is wearing countless bracelets, long-sleeved shirts, and jeans even on hot, summer days. When asked about it, Susie says her friend's cat has sharp claws. But Janice is skeptical about the fierce feline.

Janice highly suspects Susie is hurting herself, but Janice doesn't know what to do.

Do you know someone who struggles with cutting? Self-harm is a common problem—a silent oppression—that quietly invades the church. How can we wisely respond with gospel truth and love to those suffering in silence?

1. Be Observant

A brief episode of sadness or long sleeves don't necessarily mean someone is cutting. The key is to watch for patterns of behavior similar to what Janice saw in Susie.

2. Simply Ask

Self-harm is fueled by secret emotional pain. Simply asking your friend if she cuts might bring the issue to light. Honor her dignity by talking in a private place away from listening ears. And always keep in mind that your hunch could be wrong.

If you think your friend isn't being forthright, continue praying and drawing close to her. And when talking with a minor, be careful about making promises you can't keep like, "I promise not to tell anyone if you tell me what's wrong."

3. Find Help

One who cuts needs care from someone who is specially trained in this area. If your friend admits to self-harm, or if you are concerned for her safety, ask for immediate help from a trusted church leader. If your friend is anxious about exposing her secret, assure her that receiving care from trustworthy people is for her ultimate good. If working with a minor, the parent/guardian should be informed immediately.

4. Endure With Them

Nothing expresses the gospel more than enduring love (1 Cor. 13:7). As your friend heals you can reflect Christ by being regularly available to listen, speak truth, and pray. If you are working with a teenager, the book Lies Young Women Believe could help in identifying root causes of emotional pain.

Those who cut often wear a cloak of shame. When a friend witnesses your enduring love throughout her healing journey, it helps her believe in Christ's enduring love poured out for her on the cross.

5. Point them to Jesus

Cutting is a mystery to many people. But it's the same as any other weakness a believer may face: it is covered by the blood of Jesus! Your friend needs to hear this gospel hope to know true healing.

Scripture says we are all condemned without Christ (Eph. 2:1–3). And because Jesus rose from the dead, nothing separates His children from His love (Rom. 8:1–2). So, as you walk with one who is hurting, help her throw away any condemnation by pointing her to Jesus. Tell her of His sacrifice that swallows all her shame. Because ultimately He is her true hope!

Have you known someone who struggles with cutting? How have you handled it?

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About the Author

Darla Wilkinson

Darla Wilkinson

Darla and her husband, Michael, reside in Cambridge, MA. In 2005 she earned a Master’s of Marriage and Family Counseling from Southwestern Seminary. For over a decade Darla has enjoyed the privilege of pointing women to the beauty and glory of Christ through service in women’s ministry, public speaking, and biblical counseling. Darla jumps at any chance to spend time with her husband or enjoy good food and meaningful conversation with friends.