How to break the cycle of self-harm

Braeden Howard


Where do you go when everything hurts, when your feelings overwhelm you? We can only hold our emotions in for so long before we burst. Like an overfilled balloon, we’ll explode if we try to hold everything in. 

Some release emotions by talking with friends. Others turn to writing, painting, or music to set their feelings free. Some work it out in the gym or on the track. For the person who cuts, that first twinge of pain and trickle of blood feels like a sweet release. 

One of the greatest misconceptions about cutting is that the person who cuts is violent or suicidal. But the reality is self-harm is often a way to cope with strong emotions, intense pressure, and relationship problems. 

The Danger of Self-Harm 

If self-harm is a coping mechanism, what’s the harm? While most people don’t set out intending to do permanent damage, cutting can become a compulsive behavior, starting impulsively and growing habitually. This is dangerous physically and spiritually. 

The physical dangers are well-documented. But the spiritual danger comes in submitting ourselves to a cycle of addiction and shame. Hurting leads to cutting, which feels good in the moment. But then what felt good one time doesn’t feel as good the next time. So we cut more to hurt more. The more we cut, the more we have to hide. The more we have to hide, the more shame we feel. The more shame we feel, the more we want to cut. And the cycle begins again. 

We were not meant to be controlled by anyone or anything other than the Holy Spirit. Cutting might seem harmless at the moment, but just like Paul warns the church in Corinth: Just because it feels good doesn’t mean we should do it (1 Corinthians 6:12). 

God made each one of us and loved us so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to die so He could have a relationship with us. God paid a high price for each one of us, and He cares deeply how we treat these bodies we’ve been given. 

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 

You may think your feelings are too difficult to bear, your circumstances are too bad to overcome, or your habits too ingrained to change. But all of us can find healing, peace, and a new identity in Jesus. 

A Better Way to Find Relief

When emotions are getting the best of us, the Bible tells us not to trust in our own way of dealing but to lean on the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6). We can rely on His power to help us navigate through the ups and downs of life. 

Jesus promises to give us rest if we will turn to Him when life is overwhelming. At the end of Matthew 11, Jesus reminds us that following Him is the way to a peace-filled life:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG). 

The Lord is tenderhearted toward His children. When we surrender our overwhelming emotions to Him, He is gentle with our hearts and gives us rest and healing from within. 

Where We Go From Here

We are God’s children, and He only wants what’s best for us. Instead of living in fear or anxiety of being found out, we can take our pain and our shame to God in prayer knowing He will hear us and help us (Psalm 91:15). And instead of letting our worries and fears drive us to old habits, we can take our concerns to God and exchange them for peace (Philippians 4:6-7). 

Our relationship with God is marked by His love for us (1 John 3:1-2). When life is overwhelming and self-harm seems like the only way to escape, remember: God has good plans for you. He is not distant or uncaring. He is with you, ready to help you, and eager to hear from you. 

We won’t always understand why things happen the way they do, but we can know that the God of the universe has not forgotten us. He does not turn a blind eye to our pains and struggles. He reaches out His hand and offers love, comfort, peace, and hope. 

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