Bieber fever has spiked a dangerous high in the past week. #Cut4Bieber began trending as a prompt for female fans to cut themselves in order to protest Bieber’s alleged smoking of pot. Beiber was caught on camera holding what looked like a joint, so an anonymous source began a campaign on a message board encouraging Bieber fans to cut in protest. According to Topsy (a trending tracker site), there were 26,000 hits in 12 hours in response to the idea. Girls were prompted to upload pictures of themselves cutting. Many did–some real and unreal images.
The concern reached such a peak that another celebrity responded. Miley Cyrus tweeted, “CUTTING is not something to joke about. There are people who are actually suffering from self-harm, this is so disrespectful.”
And while I hardly look to Miley Cyrus for any advice on mental health, she is right. Boy Justin did not respond to the accusation directly. He did tweet, “Trying to be better.”
The “joke” represents a new low in American pop culture. Some of you may remember an earlier stunt when someone tweeted that Justin Bieber had cancer and girls should cut their hair to show support. This is really sick. Who would want to encourage teen girls to cut themselves or use a false report of cancer to garner sympathy?
More importantly, we need to attend to the girls who would actually engage in such behavior in response to misguided pop star admiration. This is dangerous idolatry!
Self-injury is a real mental health problem that I have treated numerous times in my therapy practice.
Girls who self-harm often do so because they feel emotionally distant or invalidated by their parents. Some are rewarded for this behavior by a peer group that also engages in self-harm as a coping mechanism for stress and feelings of disconnection. Others describe feeling “dead” inside or invisible to parents, and feel alive or confirmed in their existence when they cut. For many, cutting is a way to manage overly demanding parents.
Self-mutilation is often hidden under clothing. Cutting usually takes place on the arms, thighs and legs and/or the abdomen. A sibling might notice the marks or a parent may find a razor or sharp object in the adolescent’s room. And if a teen has a habit of becoming highly distressed and locking herself in her bedroom, she may be inflicting self-harm as a form of self-punishment. This is often the case with the eating disorder girls I have treated. They would rather harm themselves than openly deal with a conflict or challenge a parent.
Obviously, self-harm requires intervention by a mental health professional. The best treatment is family therapy with a skilled and trained family therapist. Therapy usually focuses on improving family communication, lessening expectations and demands, teaching conflict resolution, problem-solving and developing closer and more meaningful relationships with parents and siblings.
In addition to family therapy, girls who self-harm have to learn to identify the triggers that lead to cutting, learn to control their thoughts and solve problems. They need to be taught that harming themselves is not an appropriate way to feel alive or cope with emotional pain.
Spiritually, feeling connected to God, their Father and developing an intimacy with God is the best way to feel validated and alive. Understanding that God unconditionally accepts them regardless of their accomplishments, accepts their failures, promises peace in the middle of their emotional storms and is always present and willing to help can be life changing. The momentary “high” that comes from cutting can be replaced with God’s peace and transforming power. Learning to bring all burdens to the cross is key. The truth is that the blood of Jesus has already been spilled and no other blood sacrifice is required.