Friday, March 20, 2009

Crying Scarlet Tears

Book Review: Crying Scarlet Tears: My Journey through Self-harm, Sophie Scott

Another somewhat challenging topic to be reading about, but this can be the reality of pastoral ministry. Not that we are talking to anyone dealing with this, but G was lent it and it pays to be aware of the possibility and be a little bit prepared.

While obviously about the concerning and depressing topic, it was very good. Scott speaks openly of her struggle with self-harm as a teenager and young-adult, and how as a Christian she struggled to understand how God could love her through what she was doing.

Throughout the book she reveals more about the circumstances which led her down this path in the beginning. What struck me though was that it was nothing entirely concrete. She started after unconsciously hitting herself, which over time escalated into episodes of self harm, including cutting herself with razors and broken glass. As she got older, it developed into other forms such as bulimia, overdosing and putting herself in dangerous situations (eg walking the streets at night). While the book does outline some of the factors which led to it, I found myself thinking that there was no clear reason why this girl chose this path, whereas others could have either chosen other destructive behaviour, or chosen not to do so, even with the same background. Of course, that is obvious - 2 different people will always respond to something differently. But I suspect that makes watching someone go through it even harder - why are they doing this when someone else isn't?

I found it quite a challenging read on a number of levels.

1. It made me realise again just how many problems that women have are related to self-esteem. If we could find a certain way of instilling a sense of worth in children and young women - that they are truly loved by God for who they are and they are treasured by the people around them - I wonder how many of these issues could be reduced.

2. Related to this in many ways is the again saddening realisation of just how many women (& men) are abused in childhood. The effects of these sins against children have such awful and far-reaching consequences.

3. The reaction of her parents stunned me. Her ministers convinced her of the need to tell her parents, and dragging up all her courage she did, and they had almost no reaction. She heard her mother crying that night, but after that it was never mentioned again. What a wasted chance her parents had - here was their daughter opening up to them and they did not jump at the chance to help her. I was really challenged by this. Why not? How many parents just ignore problems in their children and hope they go away? I have seen this in other circumstances too, and the effect this has on teenagers or young adults is huge - essentially their parents seem to be saying, 'we can't cope with this problem, and so we won't help you' - honestly what are parents for?? (I speak as a parent here, not as a teenager). What an effective way to shut down any communication with your children.

Some of the good things about this book:

1. I was very encouraged by how all of the Christian ministers, youth workers, mentors etc that she came into contact with were helpful, appropriate and willing to be there. They challenged her in her misguided views about God and his ability to love her, they set up ways of helping her, they were available and able to cope with her honesty. So many books about these types of issues also include lists of inappropriate responses of Christians and ministers. I was so happy for Sophie that she encountered people who were helpful and godly.

2. The chapter on 'how to help' was very heplful. Good instructions, ideas on what to do for people and how to be a support person for someone with self-harm issues.

3. She had a mentor who set up a relationship with boundaries. This older woman, Bev, with her own family, was happy to be called by Sophie and able to talk with her, but she set up clear guidelines, eg how she could never call after 9pm, so as not to impinge too much on her time with her husband and family. Sophie was honest that she found these boundaries hard to accept at first and got angry about them, but she came to respect them and in time realised that they were essential to ensure that Bev was able to support her without burning out herself.

So, if you are concerned about someone with potential or actual self-harm problems, this book is worth reading. I do NOT recommend it for anyone actually facing self-harm issues themselves, Sophie acknowledges herself that parts of the book would just give a self-harmer more ideas.

And, we should pray that young people find their self-worth in the God who made them and who loves them, no matter who they are or what has happened to them.

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