Self-harm is behaviour that deliberately causes pain to yourself — usually as an extreme way of trying to cope with distress.
While some people hurt themselves to try and cope with distress, the relief is usually short-lived, and can result in the desire to self-harm again. With support and understanding, you can learn new strategies to cope, and you can move on from self-harm altogether. Here are some positive steps you can take.
Give some thought to reasons you might use self-harm to cope. Is could be to:
Acknowledging why you use self-harm gives you a better chance to find a safer way to meet that need.
The better you understand your self-harm, the better equipped you are to make different choices. Keep a diary of what happens before, during and after self-harm. This can help you do three things:
Triggers are the things that set off your desire to self-harm. They could include people, situations, anniversaries, times of day, physical sensations, thoughts or feelings. In your diary, write down what was happening before you last self-harmed.
Write down what your urge to self-harm feels like, so you can recognise it in the future. Urges vary from person to person but can include:
Positive self-talk can make a difference to how you feel. In your diary, write down everything you like about yourself, no matter how small. Don’t worry if it feels weird or artificial at first. Do this as regularly as you can.
Some of these will work for you and some won’t. That’s normal. Find what works for you and make those your personal strategies.
Wait ten minutes before self-harming. If it works, try delaying for half an hour, an hour, a morning, a day, a week. Give yourself the time to try other, better ways to get what you need.
Interrupt your urge to self-harm by doing something else. You can use distraction when you are feeling the urge, when you are aware you are actually self-harming, or even if you think you might feel your urges soon.
Here’s a list of distractions: choose the ones that work for you, add your own and write them in your diary.
If you’re struggling to delay or distract yourself, perform an action which is similar to your self-harm, but doesn’t cause injury. Try our suggestions, find what works for you and add them to your diary.
Lie in a comfortable position and breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly, making your out-breath longer than your in-breath.
There are a lot of excellent deep breathing and other relaxation resources available online. Try Smiling Mind, search YouTube or your phone app store for ‘relaxation’ or ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ or read our post on mindfulness apps.
Self-care helps you feel more positive. Everyone has their own needs, but these are some suggestions that are known to help:
For more ideas, read the SANE Healthy Living Factsheet.