Question: “Hello, I’m a typical teenage girl in my junior year of high school. While I’m not LDS, three of my best friends are, so I’ve had a lot of experience with the Church. With the three of them I have attended several sacrament meetings and various activities provided for the youth. One of the three friends, Jennifer, I’ve become especially close to this past year. Whenever she’s going through a rough patch or something with her other friends or family she’s allowed herself to open up and talk to me about her problems. This is a big deal for her because she usually bottles everything inside and doesn’t like talking to people about her emotions. Being the same way, I’m reluctant to tell her about problems. However, I feel horrible because when I refuse to tell her something she is very hurt because she was so open with me. This is understandable and I’ve been working on myself to try and be able to open up to others more easily. She understands that it’s hard for me but I think she believes that if she can do it than so can I. However, one thing that I’ve never told any of my friends or family is that I used to self-injure. It is something I’m ashamed of and can’t really bare to talk about. However, my previous psychologist told me of course that a step to recovery is to talk about it. I’ve been doing so well in recovery in every aspect except this. I haven’t been able to tell anyone about my past due to my own fears and insecurities. Now, Jennifer seems like a person in my life who is genuinely concerned about my problems and I want to let her in but that seems too far. However, I suppose I could eventually work myself up to tell her but my real concern is that she wouldn’t be able to handle it. Because of Jennifer’s upbringing and in addition her beliefs and involvement with the Church, she is extremely “conservative” so to speak. In health class the topic of self-injury came up casually and she expressed to me how repulsive she thought it was and how she couldn’t understand how anyone could do that to them self. So I’ve found myself between a rock and a hard place. Jennifer will become hurt when I don’t let her into my life but even more so, I don’t want to speak for her, but from what I know about her if I were to tell her about my self-injury I think it might be the end of the line to the point where she wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore. Right now I guess I’ve been pushing away because I’d much rather have her temporarily mad at me than to lose her as a friend because I’ve grown to value her so much in my life. Nonetheless, I realize that friendship is built upon reciprocation and that this is unhealthy. So I guess my question to you would be are there any specific views of the Church on self-injury (besides that the body is a temple and obviously God doesn’t want this for me) and just any advice in general on my situation. I’m struggling because I know friendship shouldn’t be this hard and I’m unsure what to do. Thanks in advance!”
Answer: I first want to applaud your submitting your question and vocalizing your feelings. Secrets keep people stuck, in fact, secrets have power and are a key part in keeping you in the self-injurious behavior. I’d support what your past psychologist said that you need to open up. I am not talking about verbalizing it all over with your friends but rather opening up with people you love and trust. Now, concerning your friend that I renamed ‘Jennifer’, I have a couple pieces here for you.
I’d ensure that you are disclosing and talking to her in a framework of confidence and trust. If she cannot support you by listening or at least seeking to understand then she may not be the right friend to disclose with. By speaking with her, you need to understand that she may tell others and be prepared to deal with that outcome whatever that may be. Is she someone that keeps confidences? How might you explain your past cutting? Would you be telling her about the therapist you saw? You’ll need to think through these questions first prior to speaking with her. She’ll likely not understand why and how you’ve been involved in self-injury.
Are you still involved with your therapist? Also, remember, if/when you feel you are a risk to yourself you need to seek appropriate medical attention by dialing 911 or visiting a local emergency room. If you are still self-injuring I’d highly suggest a few things. I’d suggest you speak with your parents and inform them of your struggle. They can be of help you to. If they are already aware and unable to help you you can direct them to me, I’d be happy to educate them. Also, I’d say you’d need to see your therapist and have him/her create a plan with you to work through (not around) the core issues that fuel the self-harm. Again, remember the secret has power, and with self-injury the secrecy and pain involved is in large part what keeps people stuck in that pattern of behavior. You can heal, but it takes risk. Risking by opening up with others, journaling about your thoughts, prayer to God for help, and working through with your parents. With cutting, it is typically fueled by pain and a reservoir of unresolved issues that once worked through, the behavior will slow down and eventually cease. You will need to learn new ways of coping with upset, insecurity, sadness, anger and other emotions that may fuel your self-harming. If you do not work through the main issues trying to stop to the cutting by singing a song or merely stopping will likely not yield long-term results. Also, you may want to see my past blog article on self-injury at http://www.ldsphonecounseling.com/blog/?p=191
Also don’t forget the help that the Lord can offer you. He can help you! Ensuring you get a good solid dose of spiritual work (prayer, scripture study, meditation/pondering, etc) can help you be spiritually centered and help you lay claim in the blessing that the Lord can offer you as you move forward on your journey. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find frest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:25-30