Fundamentalist Christianity And Self Injury

I saw something tonight that took my breath away. This:

 

This was a trigger for me – it triggered past pains, memories, smells… bad stuff. I personally know seven people who used self injury at some point in their lives. All of them were/are fundamentalist Christians. At least four of those people harmed themselves for reasons almost identical to those reasons listed above with the picture: feeling worthless, guilty, and in need of punishment. Those feelings (and self injury) are certainly not unique to fundamentalism… but fundamentalism creates the perfect environment for them to thrive. Fundamentalism is a world fraught with rules, judgements, punishments, rules, expectations, hierarchy, and did I mention rules? 
For the person who went all the way – attended church, went to the church school, the summer camps, fundie college – the amount of judgement and negativity that was faced is astounding. 
  • In church – hearing terrifying messages about Hell and all the people who would be going there (what child wouldn’t want to pray a prayer to get away from that?); that we deserve punishment, fiery death, and pain because we aren’t good enough for God (without Jesus); hearing Sunday School lessons about those terrible little children who mocked God’s prophet and were then mauled and eaten by bears, or of the many people God told the children of Israel to slaughter simply because they weren’t Israelites and worshiped the wrong god(s); women must behave differently and be submissive to men because Eve screwed up in the garden, not Adam; repeatedly hearing that we can do nothing good as humans because we are nothing, and all that we do is filthy rags because we are vile, “dirty rotten sinners” “but for the grace of God.” 
  • In church school – further ingraining of the teachings from church; teachers, preachers, special speakers railing at you about the evils of things as stupid as women wearing pants; getting a terrifying sermon on sexual sins as a sixth grader who didn’t even know what sex was; struggling with fight-or-flight through the messages of special speakers in chapel as the screamed and yelled and acted like angry devils. 
  • In camp – God is powerful, we are weak, so stop trying to do anything out of your own strength because you don’t have any; wait for God’s will, because your life will be terrible if you miss out on it; don’t let yourself have romantic feelings for many people because your heart is like a bag of Skittles (if you keep giving pieces away there won’t be anything left for your future spouse); guys/men are dirty-minded, lustful animals and us girls have to take every precaution possible to keep the guys from having any trouble at all with their minds.
  • In fundie college – further ingraining of all the previous messages listed above; the people in authority matter more than the people beneath them; us young adults are actually very immature fifteen year old kids who need our hands held and someone constantly telling us what to do, where to live, who we can and can’t date, etc.; that people who fall outside the box of acceptability must be crushed and broken, with no regard for their personal well-being (all in the name of love and turning someone back to Christ).

And I could go on and on… but that’s enough. Anyone see a few things that might lead to depression, feelings of guilt, or a sense of worthlessness? Anyone see why women in particular might come out of all this feeling broken and insecure? 

I began this post by saying that the image about self injury was a trigger. Cutting is the form of self injury I’m most familiar with because six of the seven self-injurers I know cut themselves. One cutter was a close friend of mine in college. I still remember the day I found out she had literally carved the word love into her arm – I felt sick and cut a class because I needed the time to process what had happened. I told her to come to me in the future if she felt like cutting, because I thought that maybe I could help save her from the pain. Other friends I made while in college struggled with cutting as well, and I jumped into trying to help them with their struggles as well. Not the smartest thing I could have done, but I was naive and thought that I could “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Instead of saving people, I found myself completely overwhelmed by this new world where people weren’t always happy and everyone didn’t have a happy ending. Then my health crumbled in the face of an unknown illness (eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia and lots more) and I found myself in a black hole of depression. I wanted to try cutting, but a promise made to a friend held me back. I found other ways to hurt or punish myself, though, and it felt good. In a world where I was suddenly in control of nothing, I found a way to control something. At one point I discovered I could get a high off of not eating, and since it was my body that made me so sick I thought it could use some punishment. Then I started hearing and seeing  death and suicide in things around me, and I prayed for God to kill me. I wrote a poem around that time that illustrates a lot of things:

It is cold, terribly cold.
I am tired, no strength left.
I must push on.
I must fight through.
I must prevail.
It is always with me.
Escape has been forgotten.
I embrace it when I awake.
I tuck it in at night when I sleep.
It is my constant companion.
The battle is long.
I am weary and worn.
Is there an end?
I fight on.
But what?
The enemy is cold.
The enemy is weariness.
The enemy is pain.
The enemy is without name.
The enemy is within me.
 
I have wept for this enemy.
I have bled for this enemy.
Sweetness has been lost.
Sharpness has been gained.
Perspective has changed.
Where was I in the beginning?
Where have I been?
Where am I now?
Where am I going?
Where will the battle end?
Will the battle end?
Will I push on?
Will I fight through?
Will I prevail?
Will I win?
The cold enshrouds me.
The weariness encloses me.
The pain envelopes me.
A veil lies over my face.
Who can see me through this veil?
 
Who can see past the pall over my visage?
Who sees through to the hidden man?
Who will melt the ice seeking to encase my soul?
Who will lead me through this valley?
Who?
God is light.
God is love.
God is strength.
God is all knowing.
God is.
God will take my hand and lead me.
God will thaw the ice and warm my heart.
God will see what I hide from the world.
God will see the truth through it all.
God will.
God sees where I have been.
God sees where I am.
God sees where I am going.
God sees what I have lost and gained.
God sees.
God knows my enemy.
God knows my weakness.
God knows I have fought.
God knows the outcome.
God knows.
The cold still grips.
The weariness weighs heavy.
The pain gnaws and bites.
My enemy remains nameless.
But God is, sees, and knows all.
That is enough.
I will push on.
I will fight through.
I will prevail.
God will grant me victory (even through death).

I wrote that December 31, 2010. At that point in time I was still clinging to the concept that only God could save me and fix any of my problems. Everything and everyone else had failed me at this point, so I thought God was my only hope. A few months later I began to discover that what I needed lay within myself. People weren’t the answer. People with fancy letters attached to their names and lots of schooling weren’t the answer. Not even the God of the Bible was the answer. I had to learn that happiness, strength, and so many other things I needed were inside me all along. Had I been instilled with that mindset (at church, school, camp, and college), instead of being bombarded by my supposed worthlessness and inherent evil, I don’t think I would have ended up in that hole in the first place. How many of my friends who have struggled with self injury would have found themselves in a different place if their churches, schools, and families had not broken them?

For all the fundie folks (formerly or current) out there who have struggled with any form of self injury… know that you have inherent worth, you have immeasurable strength, you have unlimited potential for good, and that you can be happy. What you need lies within you.
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