Losing my pastors; losing my anchors

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

This is probably a stupid question, so thank you so much for being willing to use your time to read it if you do. I used to hurt myself. I mainly bit or pinched myself until I started trying to stop and found way more ways to hurt myself. It almost never drew blood, but bruising or picking off skin was not uncommon. Anyway, I did it to take away stress, and to drown out physical and emotional pain. I also did it to punish myself for mistakes.

It has been almost a year since I started trying to stop, and it will be one year on April 10 since I hurt myself, but the desire to hurt myself is still really strong sometimes. It has especially been bad recently because my grades are not very good, and I had been denying the reality that the youth pastors at both my churches are leaving at the end of the year, and I got reminded of it.

It scares me because one of the churches I have been going to since I was about 3 years old, and I probably will not get to go back when the pastor leaves so I will lose all those friends. The other one is the first person who I told about hurting myself, and also the first person who made me feel like I belong at the other church.

I am afraid that this stuff will be ‘too much’ and I will hurt myself again. How can I make these desires go away? (I guess I should probably say that because I was not doing anything really harmful that there are barely any people who know that I ever hurt myself, so I do not see more than a couple times a week the people who know about it.)

A: First, there are no stupid questions. You were right to reach out for some help on this. Teen years can be confusing and emotionally really hard. The kids who seem to manage the turmoil the best are those who either have a very stable and loving family or those who have found a “second family” in a group activity that means a lot to them. Some kids are lucky enough to have both.

It sounds to me like your pastors and your churches are central anchors in your life right now. Thinking about losing them frightens you because you’re not sure you can manage on your own. But pastors (and other significant people) move on. Loss is part of life. Treasuring the time we have with important people and keeping what they’ve taught us in our hearts is one of the things that makes us stronger.

I don’t understand why you would lose the church when your pastor leaves. Your friends there are your friends. It’s only fair to give the new pastor a chance. New people give us new opportunities to expand our support network and to learn new things about ourselves. As for the other pastor, he or she helped you face a problem. The best way to honor that relationship is to maintain your resolve not to hurt yourself.

My best advice is to keep attending the youth groups. Focus on doing whatever activities happen there. If you haven’t yet made friends, give it time. Doing things together without pressuring for more can help friendships just naturally evolve. Since you have a life of faith, practice prayer and meditation when you are stressed. Research shows that self-harm may release stress in the moment but it also teaches a person to do more self-harm. Quieter forms of destressing such as prayer and conscious breathing have longer-lasting effects with no shame or self-blame attached.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Feb 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Losing my pastors; losing my anchors. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/02/27/losing-my-pastors-losing-my-anchors/