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posted May 31, 2012, 4:52 PM by Susannah Francis   [ updated Mar 5, 2015, 5:56 PM ]
by Zachary T. Francis

I love prisms because they redirect light focusing all the beams in a different direction. Due to a principle called refraction, light slows down as it moves from the outside air into the glass of the prism. As a result, the light changes direction and comes out of the prism in a different spot than where it came in. I believe we struggle with seeing life through our own personal prism, of our emotions, upbringing, and even genetics coloring the way we view conversations, how we "see" the world, and even our behavior. When we see people who self harm, I believe we sometimes struggle at seeing them through a prism of fear. Let me give you some examples. 

  1. A mother is horrified after finding her daughter Sam lying in the kitchen floor after cutting up her arms with a steak knife. Seeing Sam bleeding all over the floor, her mother yells at her. Telling her "What are you trying to do. Kill yourself? You need to promise me you'll never do this again!" After that, her mom check's Sam's arms daily looking for new marks. Two years later, her mother gets a call from her best friend who tells her that she caught Sam in the bathroom taking a knife to her leg. Horrified and distressed, she calls a psychiatrist saying "I don't understand why she's trying to kill herself. I think that she's doing it for attention." Never in the two year span of her checking her daughter’s arms every day did she ask her daughter "How are you feeling?" or "Are you OK?" 

  2. Jack Morris goes out to the car to catch his wife Sarah before she goes to work only to find Sarah burning herself with a hot cigarette lighter. He quickly starts putting the pieces together. Her desire to wear long sleeve shirts in the summer, the strange bruises on her arms that Sarah keeps insisting is because she's clumsy, the scabs that seem to never heal. It hits Jack that he has dismissed these "life threatening" things for years. Realizing this in a flood and upset for her "life", Jack yells at his wife saying "What are you, crazy!?". Never in his rant, however, did Jack ask his wife "Are you feeling alright?" 

  3. Jane follows her best friend Joanne into the bathroom to find her throwing up again. Jane, who has seen Joanne do this before, is angry that Joanne seems to care so little about her life. To Jane, Joanne is already 20 lbs. underweight but still seems to think that "throwing up" is the way to make her look good. Jane has repeatedly tried to tell Joanne that she's skinny and very attractive, but it doesn't seem to have an effect on her best friend. So seeing her today hurting herself AGAIN, Jane tries a different approach. Jane begins to yell at Joanne saying "You're going to die you know. You keep this up, and you're going to die!" And to add affect she says "And don't come crying to me when you end up in the hospital because I won't be there. I've had it!!!" But after every episode, Jane has never asked Joanne "Are you doing okay? How is life at home?" 
What's going on here? Did this mother, husband, or best friend not care or even love the person they were trying to help? Or were their eyes colored by fear? In a prism, light moves in at one point but comes out in a new direction. If we see someone hurting themselves and we fear for their life, we begin to see their situation through that reality and it colors our behavior.

These thoughts came into my mind last week after a former self-injurer told me something profound. She said, “I resent the fact that I can't cut anymore. I resent it." This person goes on to explain that others can drink, eat, do drugs, you name it when they’re upset, but she can't cut because her coping mechanism is too "harmful." In her own words, this person states that "other people drink...why can't I cut? I understand, but I resent it."

If you hear other parts of the story, this woman will tell you that she never wanted to stop cutting on her own. This person only stopped because her family and friends wanted her to. This person is grateful for others wanting her to quit because "she wouldn't have wanted to stop on her own." That said, this woman kept repeating that same phrase, "I resent it. I still resent it."

If we tell an alcoholic, "If you don't stop drinking, I'm going to divorce you." will they stop drinking? If we communicate to our child, "If you don't stop doing heroin, I'm going to kick you out of the house" will that be enough motivation to quit? Even though our motivation is driven by a desire to see them safe, will that be enough to change their behavior?

There is a danger that many addicts have. When we stop one bad habit, we replace it with another. For instance, we quit smoking but we start overeating. We quit drinking and we take up over exercising. We stop cutting and we'll start becoming sexually promiscuous. But why would this happen? Why do addicts transfer one behavior to another? I spoke with a wonderful expert on this subject last week who stated that when you don't fix the cause of why a person is using the drugs, you will never get them to stop. Another words, you can't help someone without dealing with their inner pain.

There was something else that the former cutter said that has stuck with me. She had a Christian counselor tell her that God hates the fact that she cuts. At the time, I didn't know how to process this. But as I began to think about it, I thought, does God want us to cut ourselves? No. It says the body is the temple and we are supposed to take care of it. But 1 John 4:8 states that "Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love." So if "God is love", He would always see things through the prism of love. Furthermore, if God, who always sees things through the prism of love, saw a girl cut herself with a steak knife would he immediately be focused on the cutting and not hurting the "outer temple" or would He think "Boy, you must be going through some really bad stuff to want to cut yourself." Perhaps God might add, "what can I do to carry some of your burdens today?" Jesus even says in Matthew 11:29-30 to "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:30)

Why do we yell at our wife to stop burning herself before we ask if she’s OK? Why do we not hear our friends past when she is throwing up in the bathroom? Is it because we don’t love them? Or is it because we love them SO MUCH that we are afraid for them? 1 John 4:18 states "There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out all fear." I believe that when we force things out of fear, nothing will be solved. A dry alcoholic is still an alcoholic. A person who has switched from cutting to bulimia is still purging out their emotions and harming their body. If the emotions aren't healed, if the pain isn't remedied, if the trauma isn't faced, it doesn't matter how something looks on the outside. In the end, nothing has changed. But when we look at things through a prism of love, real change can happen because we are looking at the why and not the what. Why are they cutting? Why are they burning? Why are they bulimic? We cast out all fear, deal with things through the prism of love….look at the person and not their action. And let the power of grace heal the individual.