I recently saw an article in the LA Times referencing a recent study that stated 8% of teens cut or inflict self-harm to themselves. However the study also indicated that the majority of these teens voluntarily stop the practice as they progress into adulthood, with only 1% continuing the practice by the age of 30.
Now, you have to keep a couple of things in mind here. First, they only polled 1,800 teens and they were all from a British and Australian population pool. We also have no idea what questions were asked, how they were worded, and how the population pools were further broken down. (How many girls to boys, single parent to dual parent households, geographical factors, etc…?)
What actually caught my eye though was the statement, “However, youths who practiced self-harm at any time were 3.7 times more likely to have depression or anxiety…. and also had a higher risk of antisocial behavior and drug use.”
My first thought was, “You think?!”, with it obviously being more of a statement than a question.
What the statement alludes to that many of us already know within recovery circles is this: Until one deals with the root issues fueling the destructive behavior, one will continue to be caught up in destructive behavior, often trading one hurt, habit, or hang-up for another.
In my nine years of both working with hurting people and dealing with my own issues, I have found that most often, self-identity, (the issue of self-worth), is the number one root issue.
I believe that our most important spiritual need is to trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I also believe that according to Mark 12:29-31 our second most important spiritual need is to have self-worth.
I do not believe one can truly love others the way God intended until one loves himself or fully understands his or her worth and value because of what Christ did for us.
I was once working with an individual who had a severe addiction to pornography. It was not uncommon for this individual to go on daily binges for hours at a time. At the onset we worked together to encourage and help him setup some healthy, specific boundaries to deal with the immediate behavior. However I knew these boundaries would only be a temporary fix. His root issues had nothing to do with sex. Rather the porn was just a way of dealing with, or medicating, pain in his life that he had not yet processed through.
However in the case of sexual addiction you often have to get the immediate behavior under some control before you can begin to move forward to exploring the underlying issues.
After a few weeks of getting some initial victories with his initial behavior I finally asked him if he was angry. He immediately got quiet and looked at the floor. After a brief pause he finally lifted his head, looked me in the eye and said, “Yes…I’m angry and I’m hurt…”
I thought to myself, “Honesty…the greatest tool for breaking through denial!”
Feeling that he had deemed it safe enough to be honest and that this was a critical moment for him in his acknowledgment I followed up with, “Who are you angry at?”
He responded, “My dad…..and God…”
It is not a coincidence that he listed both.
Over the next several weeks we continued to talk and this individual was able to express his feelings and thoughts, some very raw and explicitly honest, about being abused by his father and others at a young age. To feeling like something was wrong with him that made him unlovable. At one point he asked me, “Is it okay for me to be angry with my father?”
My response was, “Absolutely. It is not un-Christian to be angry at sin…you just don’t want to stay there. You need to process it and move forward.”
In the end his specific issue wasn’t really about sex or pornography. It was about identity and self-worth. He had been operating for so many years on the fear of rejection instead of the truth of who he really was as a believer.
And like this individual, until we nail this down and understand it, we will continue to trade one issue for another.
Colossians 1: 21-22, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you holy and blameless and beyond reproach.“
The question to ask yourself is this: as a believer in Jesus Christ can you look yourself in the mirror and say out loud, “I am holy, blameless, and beyond reproach…”
Do you make life decisions out of this truth as well?
If not I encourage you seek out a local recovery small group in your area that can help you work through these issues. If you don’t have access to a specific group then I suggest reading Robert McGee’s Search For Significance book.