Sunday, March 6, 2011

Inside a Cutter's Mind

Inside a Cutter's Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure
by Jerusha Clark, with Dr. Earl R Henslin (contributor)
NavPress Publishing Group, 2007
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781600060540
Very Highly Recommended

Considering recent statistics, chances are you know someone who deliberately harms himself. In fact, you might know several, though their behavior may remain hidden from or a mystery to you. Experts estimate that millions of people engage in some form of self-injury, a shocking physical expression of emotional and spiritual pain. Because "cutting" is so misunderstood, some people believe it's just a bid for attention or an adolescent phase. Others assume self-harm is a girls' problem only and doesn't happen to "good" people, let alone Christians. Yet this practice has quietly spread into mainstream America, crossing all age and gender lines and even into the church. When confronted with this silent epidemic, how can we respond and help those in desperate need? Drawing from a rich blend of research and interviews, best-selling author Jerusha Clark, with Dr. Earl Henslin, explores this complex problem that has no easy solution. With an empathetic heart and a compassionate voice, she brings light to a dark condition and delivers hope to victims and their loved ones.

My Thoughts:

Inside a Cutter's Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure by Jerusha Clark, Earl R Henslin presents a balanced perspective on self-injury. Clark writes: "I want you to know from the outset: Self-inflicted violence is all at once a psychological, physical, and spiritual battle. Consequently, this book will examine all three aspects. But we will do so with balance and patience, recognizing that discussing biochemistry, psychoemotional issues, and spirituality can be intimidating." (pg. 16)

This book is mainly written for the family and friends of cutters to help them understand and empathize with what self-harmers feel while dealing with their own conflicting emotions. The authors do a great job covering all aspects of self-injury while presenting it in such a way that the information is very accessible. "I decided to write Inside a Cutter’s Mind because I believe that a vigorous and tangible hope can be found. I have witnessed the freedom of people brought back from the brink of self-destruction. In their lives, the power of redemption overcame the pull of devastation. But I have not merely observed redemption at work. I have personally experienced the wholesale rescue of my mind, body, and soul from the ravages of self-annihilating compulsion." (pg. 17)

Clark is very empathetic and sensitive while explaining the behavior and the many ways of treating/helping people who struggle with self-injury. She clearly understands that in order to assist self-injurers, a variety of treatment methods are necessary because every person is a unique individual. Dr. Henslin does an excellent job explaining the physiological and clinical sides of treatment. The information on SPECT brain scans shows that self-injury also can have a physical component.

While it is written from a Christian point of view, it is very non-judgmental while covering all aspects of self-injury. Clark, in fact, points out that "...overscripturalizing or spiritualizing people's struggles or their paths toward recovery usually arrests rather than encourages recovery." (pg. 145) So, although specific information for Christians is definitely included, it is presented as just another aspect to helping in the recovery process and not as condemnation for the cutting.

It is interesting to note that: "A diet high in protein (including soy products and fish), whole grains, and vegetables gives the nervous system the nutritional support necessary to combat self-wounding impulses." (pg. 112) and "Taking brain-boosting vitamins and supplements (especially omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E) may help self-injurer's mind and body be better prepared to deal with urges to self-harm. Sometime vitamins and supplements can actually decrease these cravings." (pg 113.) Clark also mentions other specific ways to help self-harmers or assist them in their recovery, including simply being available to be with them during difficult time periods or encouraging them to lengthen the time between episodes of self-injury.

I can't recommend this book highly enough for friends and family members of someone who self-injures or any one, like a pastor or youth minister, who might be asked to counsel someone. The myth that they are doing it just to get attention is exposed and the information included that can really lead to recovery is priceless.
Very Highly Recommended


If someone you love intentionally hurts himself or herself, you may have run the gamut of these emotions — frustration, anxiety, despair, helplessness, confusion, desperation, and even repulsion. Maybe you’ve felt all of them at once. Maybe, more than anything else, you have wanted to run away, to withdraw from the unnerving, painful reality. Still, the idea that your loved one might take a blade or a cigarette lighter to his or her own skin haunts you like a waking nightmare. Saying the wrong thing terrifies you. But you have to, you want to, do something. pg. 15

The act of intentionally wounding oneself goes by many names. Self-injury, self-harm, self-inflicted violence, and self-mutilation are the most commonly employed terms. Vernacular descriptions such as cutting, burning, slashing, or scorching reveal specific methods people use to wound themselves. Medical professionals use other descriptors, including Deliberate Self-Harm, Syndrome 5, and Self-Injurious Behavior Syndrome (SIBS ). pg.21

The majority of sufferers, like....Princess Diana, cut or burn because they seek relief from seemingly uncontrollable pain or deadening numbness. pg. 21

Likewise, as you care for and work with people who self-injure, I urge you to choose your words carefully. When in doubt, listen to the language the person who self-harms uses and mirror his or her vocabulary. This both honors individuals and their unique experiences and shows a desire to meet them on their turf. pg. 22

Over ands over, self-harmers chronicle feeling anger, anxiety, or sorrow so deep that it seems the world was unraveling around them. In the midst of this chaos, a thought "popped" into their minds: You can cut [or burn or break] this out of you. pg. 35
On a positive note, the sometimes ritualistic nature of self-injury can actually benefit those who want to help....simply being with a self-injurer during a particular difficult time of day or through a painful situation can significantly decrease the likelihood of self-inflicted violence. pg. 38-39

Self-injury is most often used as a survival technique rather than an exit strategy. pg. 42

Self-harmers substitute thoughts about hurting themselves - and then add the act of self-inflicted violence itself - to deflect negative thought patterns. Pushing aside obsessive thoughts with focused, if self-inflicted wounding, ones does work. Sadly, people often find it more effective, and definitely more immediate, than healthier methods of processing distressed thoughts and feelings. pg. 56

Recovery does not correlate so much with the severity or frequency of self-injurious acts as it does with the presence of ongoing support, vigorous and committed pursuits of care....and a willingness to look at one's self, family, and coping mechanisms openly and honestly. pg. 60

Self-injury does not often "travel" alone.... [M]any self-injurers battle one or several accompanying problems while fighting self-injurious impulses. pg. 63

Self-harmers may also experience symptoms associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). pg. 68

In order to begin healing, many self-wounders need help expanding their time horizons, lengthening the moments between urge and action by analyzing their situation and emotions.....
Fortunately, people can learn to expand their time horizons in the same way we all learn that a sensation of hunger does not mean we have to eat immediately. We may feel that we need to, but if we want to or must wait, the intense feeling will fade or pass with time. pg. 71

...self-injurers can heal best as they learn their own spiritual value. They can also benefit from developing communication skills that allow them to express their woundedness... pg. 135

...self-injurers are doing the best they can presently can to deal with emotional pain. We can trust that with time and help, as they are enabled, they can learn to cope in healthier ways. Shame and guilt will not help them get there. pg. 146

If you take the time to uncover why self-harm seems to make sense for the person you love, you will be better equipped to help over the long haul. pg. 147

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