The following content is upsetting and may be triggering. If you have felt the need to self-harm in the past, make sure you are in a safe place and have some stimming strategy in place before reading on. If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, please seek help immediately. There are many free government resources that you can call confidentially for assistance.
Australia 13 11 14 – Canada: 1833.456.4566 – UK: 116 123 – USA: 1800-273-8255
Wikipedia contains a comprehensive list of free suicide support lines for almost 100 countries at International Crisis Lines that is kept up to date. There is also a large community of current and former Jehovah’s Witnesses at reddit.com/r/exjw that can answer questions and provide support.
I slit my skin to let myself in;
I slit the shroud to let myself out
This article discusses what Watchtower says on the topic of cutting and provides examples of how to find help. If you are struggling with self-harm, it is nothing to be ashamed of and there is help available. Being raised as one of Jehovah’s Witness, you have unique reasons that may be the underlying cause of self-harm.
Self-harm is explained as follows:
“Self-harm is any behaviour that involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself. Self-harm can include behaviours such as cutting, burning, biting or scratching the skin, pulling out hair, hitting oneself, or repeatedly putting oneself in dangerous situations. It can also involve abuse of drugs or alcohol, including overdosing on prescription medications. Self-harm is often used as a way to respond to and manage emotional pain, overwhelming feelings or distress.” (Lifeline as of Mar 2023)
Watchtower has published the following articles on the topic.
- Why do I Cut Myself? – Young People Ask Mar 2023
- When Your Teenager Self-Injures Awake! Aug 2013
- Why Do I Hurt Myself? – Awake! Jan 2006
- How Can I Stop Hurting Myself? – Awake! Feb 2006
Whilst these appear to have been written with good intentions, the advice may make you feel even worse.
Watchtower experiences shows some Jehovah’s witnesses self-harm due to guilt, a result of feeling unable to live up to Jehovah’s (or Watchtower’s) standards.
“Hannah, aged 18, suffered from a severe lack of confidence. She was raised by parents who serve Jehovah. Even so, she doubted that she could live by Jehovah’s standards. Why? Hannah had developed a very low opinion of herself. At times, she felt so bad that she would deliberately injure herself, which only made things worse. “I never told anyone about what I did, not even my parents,” she says, “and I imagined that Jehovah would never want me because of what I was doing to myself.” What Prevents Me From Getting Baptized? Watchtower (Study)—2019 Mar p.3
“Sara, for example, was in the throes of what she calls self-abusive perfectionism. While she had made serious mistakes and had received help from Christian elders, she felt exceedingly guilty over her daily imperfections. “I figured that I had to ‘get tough’ on myself,” Sara says. “To me, self-injury was merely self-discipline. My ‘self-discipline’ included pulling out my hair, cutting my wrists and arms, hitting myself and causing deep bruises, and sentencing myself to such punishments as keeping my hand under scalding water, sitting outside in the freezing cold without a coat, or going an entire day without eating.”
For Sara, self-injury was a reflection of a deep self-loathing. “There were times when I knew that Jehovah had forgiven me for my mistakes,” she says, “but I did not want him to. I wanted to suffer because I hated myself so much.”” Why Do I Hurt Myself? Awake! Jan 2006
A post created on Reddit (God’s channel have a new article on JW org on self harm and cutting) regarding the Young People Ask Mar 2023 article showed Jehovah’s Witnesses that harmed themselves often did so as a result of feeling unable to live up to the religion’s standards.
“I knew I shouldn’t exist. I knew that I deserved to die for having been born, and my only hope was Jehovah forgiving me for being part of my family. And Jehovah had given me a job I could do to prove I was someone he would want to forgive. …I couldn’t allow myself to find joy in anything but what was supposed to my greatest joy, but gave me nothing at all. So I gave myself a reason to feel pain. A reason to be allowed to feel pain. To be justified in feeling pain. I cut myself. I knew I wasn’t allowed to. I wasn’t mine. But I was worthless to begin with, and I’d become worthless again. The people around me said the truth had nothing to do with it. I was just that sort of person.”
“Yep, that‘s what it feels like when you are a teenager and become aware that you have no clue who you are, alive and completely dead inside at the same time, because you need to put on the uniform new personality. It does cause extreme distress.” lacretba
“I started cutting when I was a teenager struggling with homosexual feelings and thinking that I was going to die in Armageddon because I couldn’t make them go away. I remember praying and feeling nothing in return, wondering if something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel the peace others said they felt. I have scars, emotional and physical, from years of self abuse.” Legitimate-Cat-9106
“Now, at 28 and deep in my deconstruction, it was really eye opening to accept how growing up this way led to things like my depression and self harm.” _celestialreasonings
Watchtower advice on overcoming the desire to self-harm emphasises two main strategies: confiding in others and prayer.
“The Value of Confiding If you have succumbed to self-injury, you will benefit by sharing your troubled feelings with a trusted and mature friend.” Awake! Feb 2006
“The Importance of Prayer … Jehovah knew that in my heart I really wanted to stop cutting,” says Donna. “Once I started praying to him for help, it was amazing. Little by little, I kept getting stronger.” Awake! Feb 2006
However, prayer can have the opposite effect and make people feel even worse about themselves.
“It is NOT enough to pray. How might someone feel if they pour out their feelings to god and absolutely nothing happens? They end up feeling EVEN MORE ALIENATED.” fader_underground
“The “help” from JW publications and prayers only made me feel worse about myself. I know people in my congregation saw the cuts and scars and did nothing about it. They would just say something like “your cats like to play too rough huh? How silly”. Even my parents pretended not to notice. It wasn’t until I was about 20 when a “worldly” person at work noticed the scars and fresh cuts and started asking questions. She took the time to listen to me and begged me to get professional help. She would sit with me and let me talk, always being encouraging. Imagine that lol These people I had been told would use me, abuse me, and did not have my best interest at heart were the ones who made an effort to help someone who clearly needed help.” Legitimate-Cat-9106
If you self-harm, it is important to seek professional assistance. Whilst Watchtower does not actively promote professional help, it does allow it.
“Kathy: … I also got help from a doctor, who helped me and my parents to understand what I was going through.” Young People Ask Why Do I Cut Myself? Mar 2023
“Often, self-injury is a symptom of depression or another disorder. In such cases, medical help may be needed. Awake! does not endorse any particular approach. However, Christians should be sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.” When Your Teenager Self-Injures – Awake! Aug 2013
Watchtower advice on cutting is quite lacking, but other organisations such as Lifeline provide comprehensive information about self-harm, excellent strategies on ways to cope, and links to free support.
“It can be hard for people who self-harm to stop it by themselves. That’s why it’s important to get further help if needed; however, the ideas below may be helpful:
Delay — try waiting 10 minutes before self-harming. If this works, try waiting 20 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour, one day etc. This may allow you to find other ways to cope and manage in the meanwhile.
Distract — you can use distraction when you feel the urge to self-harm or when you are self-harming. You may want to try some exercise, call a friend, play with a pet, take a shower, go for walk, play a game, call a helpline, play loud music, clench then relax all your muscles.
Divert — find an activity or perform an action which is similar to self-harm but does not cause injury, such as holding an ice-cube, having a cold or hot shower, punching a pillow, eating something with a strong taste like chilli.
Deep breathing — count to five as you breathe in slowly – then count to five as you breathe out slowly. You may also try any other relaxation method that works for you.
You may find that some of these strategies work in some situations but not others, or you may find that you need to use a combination of these. It is important to find what works for you. Also, remember that these are not long-term solutions to self-harm but rather, useful short-term alternatives for relieving distress.” Lifeline (as of Mar 2023)
Lacretba, quoted earlier, no longer feels the desire to self-harm. Along with professional help, she recommends the following strategies.
Preparation is key. If you don’t have a plan, the go-to solution during periods of emotional distress is usually the one that works from experience – self-harm.
Create a toolbox for “when it gets bad.” Build a step-by-step list of what to do in case of emergency, providing things to try first, one by one. If one “distraction” on the list doesn’t help, try the next – “delay.” What works varies for every person, but strong sensations that help someone feel connected to one’s body again usually work best. For example: pull ups or push ups until the muscles give out (in emotional distress sometimes you have so much energy), ice-cold showers, eating chilli peppers raw, smelling very strong smells such as from a small bottle of ammonium, loud singing or going for a run in the rain.
If you were raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and your desire to self-harm is related to religious based trauma, removing yourself from the religion may be the solution, as shown in the following examples.
“I haven’t self-harmed since I left the Borg… I can’t think of a single occasion since where I’ve felt compelled. I thought it was something I’d be dealing with my entire life.” QueerPuff
“It wasn’t until I started waking up and left did the self harm completely stop. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, I knew I wanted to, but I stopped because I stopped listening to how inherently bad I was, and how I was nothing without the org.” _celestialreasonings
“I cut myself for 10 years. I tried to not do it, it was impossible. I injured myself with my fingernails until I bled at the kingdom hall. I used razors or shards at home. It is not an addiction (as they told me). It is a coping mechanism, and I no longer needed it once I woke up and stayed away from the kingdom hall. The pressure simply went away.” lacretba
As mentioned repeatedly on this site, your age and family circumstances may prohibit you from leaving just yet. But having a plan and knowing that you will be able take control of your life will help you feel better about your future.
Be assured that you can overcome the compulsion to self-harm. You are valuable as a person, not broken, sinful or worthless. Professional, kind and supportive help is available from people that won’t judge you and want to support and help you live a happy and pain free life.