This post is a review of “The Cutting Edge: Clinging to God in the Face of Self-harm” by Jess Wilson (Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2008)
This 73-page book is, as the title suggests, a specifically Christian book about self injury. The author, Jess Wilson, is a former self injurer herself, and the book relates her story, as well as containing several chapters of advice.
The story Wilson tells of herself is of a girl who set herself unrealistically high standards (such as getting 13 A*s at GCSE) and who then punished herself when she failed to meet them. She describes having a bubbly exterior while underneath she suffered from low self-esteem and self-hatred. Her story is not told in huge amounts of detail – good in that I would say it is non-triggering, bad in that she doesn’t really unpack how self-injury feels emotionally. This may be because this book seems intended for teenagers in particular who already self-harm and who are looking for an alternative viewpoint on the issue. One aspect of her story – caused by the brevity of her story, is that she describes how she told a teacher about her self harm, and thereafter was able to avoid cutting for eight months. She then in the next sentence talks about now being free of any urges to self harm. I feel she abbreviated this a little too much, although she does talk about struggling to remain self-harm free elsewhere in the book, she does not go into detail about the emotional turmoil that I know can be the result of trying not to give in to those urges. I would have preferred her to talk in a little more detail, to give a realistic impression of the struggles that many self injurers go through when trying to kick the habit.
Elsewhere in the book she talks through some questions, such as “I’m a Christian so why is this happening to me?” (Her answer, in brief, is that God is with us through our trials and gives us strength – I agree with this!) She also talks, several times, of the pressure put on girls (and this book seems specifically written for girls, not boys) by the media, magazines and so on, to look a certain way, dress a certain way and so forth. She brings up the issue several times and rebuts it with a focus on how God sees us, as people who he loves and who will not love us more if we look a certain way, or love us less if we fail to look that way.
She includes two case studies, those of Clare and Richard. Clare’s story is one of a young woman who has severe body dissatisfaction, and who attended an Ignite meeting, where she was given Psalm 139 to focus on. Richard’s story is one of drug-taking and self harm which seems oddly out of place in a book which otherwise does not focus on drug use, or even mention it prior to this testimony.
Wilson talks through some spiritual/psychological disciplines, such as cleansing by means of confession of sins, taking time to be with God through prayer, having a quiet time, praising God in bad times as well as good and not taking God for granted. She also suggests making a date with Jesus, dressing up and spending time with him as though he were a boyfriend you were going on a date with. I found this slightly strange, although I have heard of similar things before. The author is quite keen on the Song of Songs, the erotic poetry of the Old Testament, and identifies with the woman in the piece, identifying God as the lover. As far as I understand things the trend in interpretation has moved away from viewing Songs as a depiction of God and the church, and more toward an ideal (heterosexual) partnership.
She suggests non-spiritual things too, such as using talking therapies, being accountable for your self harm to another (older, wiser) person, and using alternative coping mechanisms such as ice, elastic bands, writing, and so on. For a list of these ideas I would suggest the one on Secret Shame.
Throughout the book Wilson focusses on trying to see through God’s eyes, seeing ourselves as loved by him, and following on from Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 and not judging ourselves, not being so harsh on ourselves because God is not so harsh on us.
I found this an interesting book, although I did find it noticeable that it is really intended for teenagers. It is quite simple, and I found that a lot of the content was not directly applied to self injurers, but was a more general sort of advice. The advice was pretty good, although I didn’t feel it took into account the struggles we have and the shades of grey there are in the Christian life.
Overall, this wouldn’t be my “best” self harm book by a Christian, but I would certainly have no problem recommending it to others, especially if they are teenage girls. I think that a man/boy would not find this terribly useful, and I found the language a little ‘young’ for me.
“The Cutting Edge”, available on Amazon UK for £6.99 (4/9/12)