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One of my readers wrote:

I am a Baha’i of 18 years. I am working my way out of traumas from early childhood. I am trying to learn to connect to and love my body. I was a cutter and spent a lot of time denying that my body was even mine. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to view my body differently and I am primarily looking to the Baha’i Writings to do this. I will also take any other advice that is helpful. I’m having a hard time finding anything on my own. Any insights you can offer are truly appreciated.

I don’t have any personal experience with cutting, but when I was a teenager trying to cope with ongoing sexual, physical and emotional abuse at home, I used to eat highly flavored cough candies, a bag of salt and vinegar chips; and Fudgsicles every day.  I now know this was my desire to “feel” something (on my mouth, just as cutters need to feel something on their bodies); instead of dissociating and stuffing our emotions.

Of course, I had a weight issue as a result; and was always taking diet pills.  Once I moved out of home and was surrounded by peers and adults I could trust, it went magically away; and I haven’t really thought about it till this moment!

This is the third time the issue of cutting has presented itself, so I can see that it is not an isolated incident, but an issue affecting our Baha’i youth and junior youth.  Since our Institutions will be faced with it sooner or later, here are some thoughts that come to mind.

What We Know About Cutting:

  • For most, cuttingis an attempt to interrupt strong emotions and pressures that seem impossible to tolerate. It can be related to broader emotional issues that need attention.
  • Most of the time, cutting is not a suicide attempt.
  • In many cases, cutting — and the emotions that go along with it — is something teens struggle with alone. But because of growing awareness, more teens can get the assistance they need.
  • Parents can help teens who cut — and the earlier, the better.
  • Cutting can be habit-forming, and sadly, many people underestimate the risks of getting seriously sick or hurt that go along with it.

 In an article called Self-Harm/Self-Injury the author tells us:

Many people, particularly teenagers, who suffer from a variety of mental disorders cope with their inner pain by physically harming themselves, most commonly by cutting. Self-injury seems to be becoming more common and well-known these days, but myths about the self-injurer’s intentions have not gone away.

No matter what it looks like, self-injury is not a failed suicide attempt. Some self-injurers harm themselves over and over for years without having a single injury that would threaten their life, which would be an amazing record of failure if they were actually trying to die. Many people who self-injure are actually trying to avoid suicide by letting out their feelings in a (somewhat) safer way.

Many people also believe that self-injurers are just seeking attention. This is true of a few people, especially since self-injury is becoming more well-known and almost popular, but most self-injurers actively try to hide their injuries by wearing long sleeves or pants, or by cutting in a place that is usually covered by clothing, like their upper thighs or stomach. Some self-injurers desperately want someone to find out about their behavior so they can get the help they need, but even many of them are too frightened of another person’s reactions, and ashamed of themselves, to actually point out their injuries. Besides, even if someone decided to injure themselves to get attention, shouldn’t you be very concerned about be what problem could be causing them to need attention so badly that they harm themselves to get it? 

Why Do Teens Cut? 

1.  Some teens cut because of peer pressure — and once they start, they can’t easily stop.

Encouraging these teens to join junior youth and youth groups will give them a different peer group, hopefully one that focuses on the betterment of the world, will take them away from negative peer pressure.

These quotes might be relevant:

Fully alive to the unfailing efficacy of the power of Bahá’u’lláh, and armed with the essential weapons of wise restraint and inflexible resolve, let him wage a constant fight against the inherited tendencies, the corruptive instincts, the fluctuating fashions, the false pretences of the society in which he lives and moves.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 130)

To be approved of God alone should be one’s aim.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)

. . . at all times seeking the approval of men is many times the cause of imperiling the approval of God.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, June 24, 1915)

Man must seek to gain the acceptance of God and not that of the different classes of men. If one is praised and chosen by God, the accusation of all the creatures will cause no loss to him; and if the man is not accepted in the threshold of God, the praise and admiration of all men will be of no use to him.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 158)

2.  Other teens feel pressure to be perfect and struggle to accept failures or mistakes.

These quotes might be relevant:

We humans are never going to become perfect, for perfection belongs to a realm we are not destined to enter. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 453)

What every believer, new or old, should realize is that the Cause has the spiritual power to recreate us if we make the effort to let that power influence us, and the greatest help in this respect is prayer. We must supplicate Bahá’u’lláh to assist us to overcome the failings in our own characters, and also exert our own will power in mastering ourselves.  (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny. p. 442)

The Cause is not so fragile that a degree of mistakes cannot be tolerated.  (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)

A wide latitude for action must be allowed them, which means that a large margin for mistakes must also be allowed. Your National Assembly and the Local Assemblies must not react automatically to every mistake, but distinguish between those that are self-correcting with the passage of time and do no particular harm to the community and those which require Assembly intervention.  (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)

3.  And still others contend with powerful moods like anger, sadness, worthlessness, and despair that feel hard to control or too heavy to bear.

This quote might be relevant:

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you.  ([The Research] Department has found that these words were attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in an unpublished English translation of notes in German by Dr. Josephine Fallscheer taken on 5 August 1910. As the statement is a pilgrim note, it cannot be authenticated.)

And this on self-hatred:

Women and children must be helped to avoid … blaming themselves.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1994 May 26, Creating Violence-Free Families)

These books might be helpful:

Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness 

Learning How to Forgive

Darkness into Light – Overcoming Depression  

4.  Cutting is sometimes the result of trauma and painful experiences that no one knows about.

Early childhood trauma definitely has a lasting effect, and those who have been through it need help from both professionals and the Baha’i Writings to help them make sense of experiences they never should have been exposed to!  The sooner they can get help, from someone able to listen and validate their horrendous experiences, and give them another perspective to consider, the sooner the cutting will lessen.

With regards to cutting, this guidance might be appropriate:

As this physical frame is the throne of the inner temple, whatever occurs to the former is felt by the latter. In reality that which takes delight in joy or is saddened by pain is the inner temple of the body, not the body itself. Since this physical body is the throne whereon the inner temple is established, God hath ordained that the body he preserved to the extent possible, so that nothing that causeth repugnance may be experienced.  (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 95)

Most especially, nothing should be done that would be harmful to one’s body. Bahá’u’lláh says: … Beware of using any substance that … inflicteth harm upon the body. We, verily, desire for you naught save what shall profit you, and to this bear witness all created things, had ye but ears to hear.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Par. 155, p. 75)

Man is the temple of God, the image and likeness of the Lord. Surely if one should destroy the temple of God, he will incur the displeasure of the Creator.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 373)

 Is there a link between cutting and body piercing and tattoos?

There seems to be a connection; and it may be a better choice.

In a recent study called Tattoos, Body Piercings, And Self-Injury: Is There A Connection?   researchers found that the self-harmers reported that they often had their skin tattooed or body pierced to help overcome a negative experience, or simply to experience physical pain. Another clue that self-harm and piercing/tattooing might, in some cases, be linked, derives from the fact that many of the self-harmers said they had ceased cutting themselves after obtaining their first piercing or tattoo.

Body piercing and tattooing seem to reflect more self-care, and might protect some patients against more self-harm such as cutting.

All three behaviours (cutting, tattooing, piercing) were significantly more often linked to substance use and abuse. 

What Do the Baha’i Writings Say About Tatoos and Body Piercings? 

There are no specific injunctions against them, but the following principles might apply:

Our bodies are God’s throne, so we need to keep it clean:

O Son of Man! The temple of being is My throne; cleanse it of all things, that there I may he established and there I may abide.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 58)

Let there be nothing in your demeanour of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant:

In reply to your enquiry, nothing at all has been found in the Holy Texts on the matter of tattooing. There is, of course, the following general counsel given by Bahá’u’lláh: “Let there be naught in your demeanour of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant. Well is it with him who hath adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character.  (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph 159)” Generally, what is appropriate in such matters will clearly vary from culture to culture.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 19 August 2003)

Moderation should be observed. One is not to become a cause of displeasure to others, as pertains to one’s dress and appearance.

On a similar subject, the Guardian has written: “Regarding Bahá’í women using facial make-up: individuals are entirely free to do as they please in such purely personal matters. As Bahá’ís are enjoined to use moderation in all things, and to seek the Golden mean, the National Spiritual Assembly can, if it deems it necessary or advisable, counsel the believers to use moderation in this respect also.  (Shoghi Effendi: Dawn of a New Day, p. 193)

If you have a youth or junior youth in your community who is cutting, asking these questions might give you the insights needed to help find the best help possible for them:

  1. What childhood traumas led you to start cutting?
  1. What attempts did you make to get help?
  1. What was going through your mind when you started cutting for the first time?
  1. What caused you to disconnect from and hate your body?
  1. What happened to cause you to reach out for help?
  1. You said you were a cutter . . . what helped you to stop?
  1. What’s been helpful in your journey and what’s been harmful?
  1. If you were able to reconnect with your body; and start loving it again, what would you do differently so you knew you’d been successful?
  1. What non-Bahá’í resources have you found on cutting that were helpful to you; and how?

I asked the person who wrote to me these questions, and put together another article, to give her a voice:

Cutting – One Woman’s Experience

Here are some resources which might be helpful:

1.  This is the compilation of quotes which helped me to understand and deal with my childhood trauma:

Violence and Abuse:  Reasons and Remedies 

2.  Although cutters are not trying to kill themselves, there might be some relevant information in this article which could help:

Suicide 

3.  Those who cut themselves often feel rejected by those closest to them, and may believe they are unlovable. I wonder what would happen if you believed that God loved you and has been with you always, ever ready to help if asked. Would it change things?

Love Letter from God 

How has this been helpful in understanding this topic better?

If you are a cutter; or someone who has lived with a cutter, I’d love to hear your experiences.  Post your comments below!