By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – June 14, 2015) — Many parents are shocked when they first notice the cuts on their child’s arm.
One mother described her confusion over the matter, writing, “Now that I know she is cutting, I am not sure what to think. She volunteered that she’d stop cutting because she knows it hurts me and doesn’t want to do that. I tried to talk to her about why.”
Confusion. Horror. Helplessness. Loneliness. These are just some of the feelings that youth and parents express regarding cutting.
According to the Mayo Clinic, cutting is a condition of self-harm. The clinic defines self-harm as the “act of deliberately harming your body, such as cutting or burning yourself.”
The description continues: self-injury is “typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration.”
Kids Health adds further clarification: “Injuring yourself on purpose by making scratches or cuts on your body with a sharp object — enough to break the skin and make it bleed — is called cutting. Cutting is a type of self-injury, or SI. People who cut often start cutting in their young teens. Some continue to cut into adulthood.”
In an article for WebMD, Dr. Michael W. Smith quotes Karen Conterio, author of Bodily Harm. According to Conterio, “Self-harm typically starts at about age 14. But in recent years we’ve been seeing kids as young as 11 or 12.” Dr. Smith adds that Conterio has “also treated plenty of 30-year olds.”
Young and old, boys and girls, cutting transcends age and sex.
According to Wendy Lader, PhD, cutting can be associated with eating disorders, sub-groups (such as Goth) and various psychiatric problems (such as anxiety and bipolarity). Lader further states, “They may have a history of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse…Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers. The self-injury begins as a defense against what’s going on in their family, in their lives. They have failed in one area of their lives, so this is a way to get control.”
As confusing, sad, and helpless as both parents and cutters may feel regarding cutting, there is good news: Jesus loves cutters. Jesus had firsthand experience with people that harm themselves. In Mark 5: 2-5, Jesus delivered a man from self-harm. Furthermore, Jesus Himself was cut, bruised, and whipped for the sins of the world. While He didn’t inflict those injuries Himself, Jesus was well-acquainted with pain suffered for another purpose, and He had great compassion for the lost and suffering.
The history of the word “cut” derives from Germanic origins. Its root is found in the meaning to slice with a knife. Though the noun cut is not related to the sociological act of cutting, it first came into popular use in English in the 14th Century. The modern term cutting came to prominence in 1913 in a study by L. E. Emerson. In the 1930’s, Karl Augustus Menniger began to study the phenomena of cutting in the mentally ill.
The Bible describes different situations of people or groups that cut themselves.
Deuteronomy 14:1 prohibits the Hebrew people from cutting. The text states, “You are the children of the Lord your God: you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.” The reference here is for cutting for religious purposes.
Leviticus 19:28 expands upon the principle of cutting skin for religious purposes (mourning of the dead). It states, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.”
In 1 Kings 18:24-29, self-injury was connected to false worship. In this passage, Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal—testing the authenticity of their gods. When the prophets of Baal received no response from their false gods, the text states that they “cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets.” But we can’t jump to a conclusion here; not all cutting is related to false worship. As discussed above, most cutting is related to anger, frustration, loneliness, and depression. However, in severe cases, you can never rule out demonic spiritual influence.
As mentioned above, Jesus dealt with a man infected by a legion of demons, resulting in self-harm (see Mark 5). Again, we mustn’t draw strict conclusions between demon possession and cutting. What this text does teach, though, is that Jesus is capable—and willing—to help the afflicted in any condition. Shortly after He cast out the demons and healed the man, Jesus spoke these comforting words to a father grieving the loss of his daughter: “Do not be afraid; only believe” (Mark 5:37). The act of cutting doesn’t cut you off from Jesus’ love. Jesus heals broken lives; He restores hearts and hope.
Hebrews 15-16 describes Jesus’ empathy with our darkest moments, and what we should do in response: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
There are many plans for developing a strategy for helping people caught up in cutting. Focus on the Family suggests the following responses for the Christian: 
* Don’t demand that the cutter stop, but express love and concern.Don’t overreact or appear shocked.
* Seek professional help.
* Practice patience.
Another teen outreach group suggests,
* Have compassion.
* Find a trusted adult to help.
Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler suggest that Christians listen, empathize, affirm, direct, enlist help, and refer to professionals.
As described throughout the Jesus Loves series, we suggest that Christians LOVE the person who has resorted to cutting:
L—Listen to people. Make a sincere effort to get to know them and their situation.
O—Observe their life. Where are they coming from—emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually? What is the root of their cutting? Ask yourself, How can I assist them?
V—Voice God’s truth. What does the Bible teach concerning cutting? What does it say about God’s love, grace, and hope?
E—Embrace them with the love of God in Christ. Empathize over shared experiences, but keep Jesus the focus of your conversation and outreach.
To learn more about the Jesus Loves People series, click here: www.jesuslovespeople.com
 This reference is not meant to infer that all cutting is the result of demon possession (as Jesus dealt with in Mark 5). Rather, it is stated to give hope that Jesus can free a person from the action. Cutting does not equal demon-possession.
 http://books.google.com/books?id=ke4PAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA41&lpg=PA41&dq=The+case+of+Miss+A:+A+preliminary+report+of+a+psychoanalysis+study+and+treatment+of+a+case+of+self-mutilation.&hl=en#v=onepage&q=The%20case%20of%20Miss%20A%3A%20A%20preliminary%20report%20of%20a%20psychoanalysis%20study%20and%20treatment%20of%20a%20case%20of%20self-mutilation.&f=false, 12/31/14
 McDowell, Josh and Hostetler, Bob. Handbook on Counseling Youth. Word Publishing, 1996.
Photo captions: 1) Logo. 2) A teenage girl cutting her arm. 3) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist, Brian spends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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