Self-harm can become addictive. It may start off as an impulse or something you do to feel more in control, but soon it feels like the cutting or self-harming is controlling you. It often turns into a compulsive behaviour that seems impossible to stop. Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. As counterintuitive as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself makes you feel better. In fact, you may feel like you have no choice. Injuring yourself is the only way you know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage. The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. It’s like slapping on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fix the underlying injury. And it also creates its own problems.
If you’re like most people who self-injure, you try to keep what you’re doing secret. Maybe you feel ashamed or maybe you just think that no one would understand. But hiding who you are and what you feel is a heavy burden. Ultimately, the secrecy and guilt affects your relationships with your friends and family members and the way you feel about yourself. It can make you feel even more lonely, worthless, and trapped.
Talking about self-harm can be very stressful and bring up a lot of emotions. Don’t be discouraged if the situation feels worse for a short time right after sharing your secret. It’s uncomfortable to confront and change long-standing habits. But once you get past these initial challenges, you’ll start to feel better. Remember, self-harm is most often a way of dealing with emotional pain. What feelings make you want to cut or hurt yourself? Sadness? Anger? Shame? Loneliness? Guilt? Emptiness?
Once you learn to recognize the feelings that trigger your need to self-injure, you can start developing healthier alternatives.
•Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
•Express your feelings in a journal
•Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
•Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
•Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling
•Take a bath or hot shower
•Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
•Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
•Massage your neck, hands, and feet
•Listen to calming music
•Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
•Take a cold shower
•Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
•Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel.
•Go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board
•Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
•Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
•Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
•Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
•Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)
•Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
•Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
•Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs and snap them instead of cutting or hitting