Self-Harm Help: 5 First Steps to Health
Self-harm and cutting are things that some young people use to cope with the problems that they experience in their lives. Some find that it allows them to express feelings which they struggle to put into words. Others find that it is a way of releasing the emotional pain they’re experiencing. Usually, those who harm themselves feel better for a short period of time, but inevitably the painful emotions and feelings will eventually return and the urge to self-harm will return.
For anyone who wants to stop harming themselves but isn’t sure how, we have five tips to help steer you in the right direction.
What Exactly Is Self-Harm?
The term “self-harm” is used to describe any way of intentionally injuring yourself as a way of dealing with and expressing emotional distress and pain. Some people think that self-harm only involves cutting, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. Some of the other forms of self-harm include:
- Scratching your skin severely
- Scalding or burning yourself
- Banging your head or hitting yourself
- Punching things
- Hitting parts of your body on hard objects or walls
- Sticking sharp objects into your skin
- Preventing any wounds or cuts from healing deliberately
- Swallowing inappropriate objects or poisonous substances
Self-harm also includes some ways to hurt yourself which are less obvious. This may include dangerous driving, binge drinking, unsafe sex or taking drugs.
Whichever method of self-harm you’re using, injuring yourself often is the only way you feel able to do the following:
- Handle your feelings of rage, guilt, emptiness, self-loathing and sadness
- Express your feelings and release your inner emotions
- Feel more in control or relieve your guilt
- Distract yourself from difficult circumstances or overwhelming emotions
- Feel something rather than numbness
What Are The Consequences Of Self-Harm?
Although self-harm may bring a sense of relief, this only lasts a short while. It also creates a lot more problems in the long term. Self-harm results in feelings of guilt and shame and it also prevents you from being able to learn or find better strategies to cope.
Most people keep their self-harm a secret. This is hard and it can be very lonely. Many people who self-harm are ashamed of what they do and they worry that nobody understands them. This is a major burden on young shoulders and this guilt and secrecy ultimately affect relationships with family and friends as well as self-esteem.
It’s also possible to badly injure yourself through self-harm, even if you aren’t really trying to. Wounds can easily get infected or you could misjudge how deep the cut you’re making is, especially if you also use alcohol or drugs.
In the end, self-harm also poses bigger risks in the future. When you fail to learn better ways of coping with your emotional problems, you have a much greater chance of developing depression and addictions. Some people also become addicted to self-harm and it can become a form of compulsive behavior which is hard to stop.
Luckily, no matter how hard it seems to stop practicing self-harm, the good news is that it is possible to bring this damaging behavior to an end if you know which steps to take.
Here are our five top tips to help you take action in the right direction to stop self-harm.
1. Confiding In Others
When you are finally ready to get some help for your self-harm habits, you should always confide in someone you can trust. While it’s hard to speak up about your secret, you’ll almost certainly find it a great relief to share the truth with another person.
You may find it hard to know who you’re able to trust with this personal information. Always choose somebody who won’t try to control your recovery or gossip about you. Ask who you know who helps you to feel supported and accepted as you deal with your self-harm stresses. It may be your teacher, friend, a relative, counselor or religious leader. It’s often easier to speak to someone who isn’t too close to you as they will find it easier to be more objective.
When discussing your self-harming behavior, focus on the way you feel rather than what you actually do. Pay closer attention to the situations or feelings which lead to your actions as this will help whoever you’ve chosen to confide in to have a better understanding of your motivations.
Don’t be afraid to communicate in a way that makes you feel comfortable. You may feel too afraid to speak to someone in person. That’s ok – try sending a letter, text or email before following up with a conversation face-to-face. You mustn’t allow yourself to feel any pressure to share things you aren’t yet ready to discuss. You don’t need to show your self-harm injuries and you don’t need to answer anything you’re uncomfortable about answering.
Remember that the person you are telling may need some time to process the information. If you’ve chosen a family member or close friend, it can be especially difficult to cope with this new knowledge and sometimes the initial reaction may not be the one you’re hoping for. It’s important to remember that if they display fear, anger or shock, this is only because they’re worried about you and understand the dangers of self-harm.
It is stressful to discuss your self-harm habits, and it isn’t unusual for you to feel worse for a little while after you’ve first shared the secret. Confronting and changing your long-term habits will always be hard, but once you’ve passed the initial stage, things will soon begin to get better.
2. Identifying Your Triggers
Having a better understanding of why you’re self-harming is a key step towards your recovery. When you know which function your self-harm is serving, you’ll be able to find other ways of meeting those needs and thus reduce your need to harm yourself. Focus on the feelings that you are experiencing which result in your self-harming behavior. Do you feel angry? Lonely? Sad? Anxious? Empty? Ashamed?
If you’re struggling to pinpoint which feelings are triggering your behavior and sparking self-harm, you could benefit from working on emotional awareness. This will help you to identify your feelings and to express them more effectively. It will also help you to understand how your feelings connect with your actions.
Although it may sound frightening to have to pay attention to the way you feel rather than trying to numb those feelings or release them via self-harm, you’re sure to find that your emotions will rapidly go if you allow them to. You won’t be stuck with those emotions forever. If you avoid judging yourself, fighting the emotions or beating yourself up about the way you feel, those feelings will soon fade and be replaced with different emotions – you’ll find that feelings only persist when you are obsessed about them.
3. Finding New Ways To Cope
You are using self-harm to deal with difficult situations and unpleasant feelings. If you are going to be able to stop, you’ll need to find different ways to cope so you’ll be able to respond in a different, healthier way if you feel as if you need to hurt or cut yourself.
If you’re practicing self-harm in order to help yourself express intense emotions or pain, you could:
- Draw, scribble or paint in red paint or ink
- Begin journaling your feelings
- Write a song or poem to express your feelings
- Write down your negative feelings before ripping up the paper
- Listen to some music which expresses your emotions
If you’re practicing self-harm to soothe and calm yourself, you may:
- Take a hot shower or bath
- Cuddle a pet
- Wrap yourself up in a blanket
- Massage your feet, hands, or neck
- Listen to some calming music
If your self-harm habits come about because you’re feeling numb or disconnected, you could:
- Telephone a friend
- Put an ice cube against your elbow or knee
- Take a very cold shower
- Chew something that you like that has a strong taste such as peppermint, grapefruit peel, or chili peppers
- Visit a self-help message board, chatroom, or website
If you’re self-harming in order to release your anger or tension, you could:
- Take some vigorous exercise
- Punch a mattress or cushion
- Scream into a pillow
- Squish some clay or Play-Doh
- Squeeze some stress balls
- Rip up some paper
- Bang some pans or play an instrument
If you want to find a way to substitute the sensation that cutting gives you why not try one of these three things as alternatives:
- Marking on your skin with a red pen where you would have cut it
- Rubbing ice on your skin where you would have cut it
- Putting rubber bands onto your legs, arms or wrists and then snapping them rather than cutting
4. Distracting Yourself
A good way to prevent yourself from self-harm is to find a way of distracting yourself. Of course, not all distraction techniques work for everybody, so you’ll have to experiment to find which work best for you and minimizes the urge you feel to self-harm.
The Butterfly technique is often effective. If you feel the need to harm yourself, draw the image of a butterfly on that part of your body and give it the name of someone you love. If you decide to cut yourself, the butterfly will die. If you manage to avoid cutting and the butterfly eventually wears off, you have released it to live a free life.
Try styling or brushing your hair, making a hot beverage, counting to 1000, working on a complicated puzzle, playing an instrument, watching a movie, painting your nails, organizing your closet, working on a piece of art or playing a sport. All of these can be helpful in taking your mind off your emotions.
5. Practice Positive Self-Talking
Positive self-talking involves finding a more positive way for your inner voice to speak to you and for you to view yourself. This voice will impact on your self-esteem, motivation, well-being, and outlook, so positive self-talking helps boost your confidence, improves your lifestyle and reduces your negative thought patterns that may lead to self-harm.
You can practice positive self-talking by leaving reminders around your home. Post-it notes left on your fridge, in your bag, on your mirrors or windows will help to reinforce positivity in your life. Every time you see them, your mood will improve. Some positive phrases that you could write include:
- I’m special
- I’m lovable
- I’m confident
- I’m able to achieve the goals I set
- I’m beautiful
- My emotions won’t last forever
- My feelings are only feelings
- Self-harm won’t solve my problems
- I’m able to overcome my feelings without harming myself
- I can get help
- I’ll make it
Many people find that a journal helps them to understand their thought patterns which lead them towards self-harm. Acknowledging those thoughts is the first step. By writing thoughts down, it’s possible to think critically about the way you feel and think so you can identify ways to handle them in a better way rather than reverting to self-harm. Your goal isn’t to change what you think but to actually become aware of what you’re thinking.
Once you’ve written down your thoughts and feelings, you can assess them. Are those thoughts actually true? Have you learned anything from the same situation when it occurred in the past? Look for negative statements with words such as “must”, “ought” or “should”. Then think about alternative thoughts which you could have instead. Turn the negatives into a positive.
Getting Professional Help
If you need some help to overcome your self-harming behavior, there are trained professionals out there who can help and support you. Therapists and counselors can work with you to develop ways to cope more effectively and new strategies which will stop you from practicing self-harm. They will also help to identify the cause of your self-harming behavior.
Self-harm is an outward way of expressing the pain that you feel inside. However, it is possible to seek out the professional help you need and to start a journey to a new and healthier way of thinking, feeling, and coping with any negative emotions and situations that you encounter in the course of your life.
Once you have identified your triggers and found new ways to help yourself, you will be on the road to recovery away from self-harm.