What would be a better, non-harmful, alternative to self-harm?
Last Updated: 04/07/2020 at 2:15am
Lisa Meighan, BSc Psychology (Honours)
Hello, I am Lisa and I work in a person-centred approach mixed with cognitive behavioural therapy. I believe we all have the potential to be the best we can be.
Top Rated Answers
An alternative to self-harm can be expressing your feelings. Drawing where you want to harm might help. Squeezing an ice cube, hit pillows or cushions, flick an elastic band on your wrist or take a cold bath can also be alternatives.
If you cut to express pain and intense emotions: 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 If you cut to calm and soothe yourself: 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 If you cut because you feel disconnected and numb: 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 If you cut to release tension or vent anger 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) Substitutes for the cutting sensation 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
From my personal experience, a good alternative for self-harm is running or working out. Another non-harmful alternative would be listening to music. It really just depends on the person.
In my experience normal techniques that you would use to decompress can work if the urge isn't that strong (e.g. listening to music, drawing, reading, taking a hot bath, etc.), but sometimes when you're just starting to get better it can be helpful to use ice or a rubber band (If you're somebody who self-harms for the physical sensation), or you can draw on yourself in pen (sharpies always worked best for me). Another thing that I used to do which might seem a bit weird, is draw on bandages in pretty colours and designs, and then wrap the bandages around where I used to self harm whenever I got the urge; almost like a shield =)
Draw in the areas that you would normally harm. Use something soft, like felt tips that wash off. Draw patterns, and it will help much more. Make sure you don't use anything sharp or dangerous.
holding ice cubes in your hands, draw on yourself, rip paper, play with a pet, talk to someone, do some creative writing
In my case self-harming was an attempt to release all these painful emotions by causing physical pain. It was sort of an physical distraction. So the best alternative I could find was sports. This had several positive effects on my condition. First of all the direct comparison to self-harming: sports is tiring, it makes your body and muscles weak, You lose this strong exertion due to that exhaustion. In that case you don't release the emotional pain with physical pain, but by letting this energy out for something positive. The tension in your head is replaced by the exhaustion in your whole body. This immediate alternative has further positive effects, too. Exercise causes the brain to produce more serotonin, which makes you feel happy (or at least better). Plus sports is a great distraction. So to me sports has been the best solution yet.
You can always always find someone to talk to on 7cups, some people find it easier to talk to a stranger rather that someone they know, or talk to family members
Using a sharpie on where you want to cut, drawing on yourself, cold baths, holding ice, working out, screaming..
make yourself busy. try different kinds of sports. write a bucket list and start doing them one by one.
Self harm has the potential to be dangerous and is addictive, it's better to find less addictive and less dangerous coping mechanisms
Try to keep your mind busy. Do anything and everything you can think of as a better alternative to self harm. The more you self harm, the more addicting it gets and the harder it gets to stop. So, it is better to stop the start sooner than later.
I always offered the butterfly method for stopping. Draw butterflies where you normally harm yourself. If you harm yourself, you kill the butterfly. ~ Some alternatives are coloring, eating, music, meditation, a bike ride (or a run), screaming into a pillow, clenching your fist and letting all your emotion go into them, deep breathing, and so on.
I definitely recommend music. Just put your music in and relax. Think about happy thoughts :) you’re perfect and 110% enough.
Anything which provides a distraction or coping mechanism which isn't harmful to you or other people. It honestly depends on your personal interests. You could do a number of things: (1) Write down a list of what is bothering you, it can feel cathartic to write down your thoughts and feelings. Now, you can either rip up the list, and with it, those harmful feelings. Or write down ways in which you could solve those problems, concerns or fears. (2) Talk to a friend/family member (or a listener on 7 Cups) to help you manage your emotions and calm your busy mind. (3) Sometimes self-harm is done impulsively and rashly. Take a deep breath, and keep breathing until your heartbeat has calmed. Think to yourself about all of the reasons why hurting yourself is not the answer. (4) Do something that will make you smile. (Watch a funny movie, your favourite YouTuber, draw, read, sing, dance, cook, anything that will take your mind away from that dark path) (5) Remind yourself that YOU are in control, not your thoughts. You can overcome any feelings that threaten to upset you.
Some people find listening to music that reflects their emotional state helps, another alternative is speaking to someone either a loved one or a listener here who is comfortable with speaking about self harm, you can also do something that is more body centric if your self harm is linked in to dissociation for example place an ice cube on your skin, or taste a really distinct flavoured food. You can also try going running or doing vigorous exercise (but not in excess).
I think it's different for everybody, what works best for me is going out or see a friend. I know it's probably the last thing you want to do in those moments but it's really really helpful and when you find the strength to do the first step and walk out the door or call a friend you instantly feel better! anyway there are other things you could do when you feel the urge, you could write a letter where you explain how you feel (I find this also very very helpful) or draw something! you could take a shower or cook and eat something you like. anything to let the wave of the urge passes! stay safe :)
Depending on the way that you self harm, there are many other things that you can try. For example, if you punch walls to cause pain to your hands, start punching softer objects, like a pillow. If you cut, get a pen, a red one if you have one, though it doesn't necessarily matter and just draw on your wrist where you would cut. Go through the whole process, the same number of times you would, the same length of cut and so on, only with a pen. Write your feelings down, go for a walk with music or do some exercise. If these suggestions don't help, have a look at the self-help guide on this website, there are many different coping mechanisms you can try. Find the one that works best for you.
A really great thing for simulating the sensation is ripping up pantyhose on your legs. Start by cutting a small hole and rip it all up Fun activities that may result in small amounts of pain (paintballing) may also work
I instead like to work on electronics when I am feeling down. It keeps me focused on other things and soon enough I am no longer thinking about what was bothering me.
A better non-harmful, alternative to self-harm, would be to try talking to someone and telling them why you are wanting to self-harm in the first place. Talking is also a way to release.
A better , non-harmful, alternative to self-harm could be healthier habits such as acquiring better management skills of stress & anxiety and our own emotions. Simply squeezing a ball can help, for others punching a pillow and screaming in to it, for others it's exercise. In the past for me it has been cutting up erasers i do not know why i have always like that though regardless. Writing helps a lot too. Helps by clearing your mind and offering other possibilities. Painting, listening to music, mediation, doing more activities that you enjoy or activities that help your mind and body breathe. There is a lot of support on 7 cups of tea on self harm which can help you stay clean & happy. Please take care
instead of taking a razor or a knife to your body, take a marker to your body and draw. Express your feelings on your body with marker drawings. It seems silly but this helps alot. Also if you're very tempted to self harm, try surrounding yourself with people, that way you will prevent yourself from the urge and it will eventually pass. Going for a walk helps too, being outside in the fresh air usually clears your head and that way there is nothing around you that may tempt you
You can get a piece of paper and a pen. Put the paper wherever you cut yourself and then rip through the paper (lines or whatever) with the pen. The pen inks represents the cuts you were strong enough not to inflict upon.
Find an activity that you enjoy and do that. For some, like myself, it’s drawing/painting or listening to music. If you can, it’s good to get out for a while too. If you have friends you can get together with, that’s a great way to take your mind off what’s going on in your head. Some other activities you can do are playing video games, watching a funny movie or TV show, playing a sport you enjoy, learning an instrument, reading a book, anything you can find pleasure in doing is a great option and it’s better than self harm.
Even if you are not artistic at all, paint or draw. Get a piece of paper and write down your emotions or any word that you think up, in the colour that you feel represents them. Paint a picture on you skin. It doesn’t have to be a pretty picture, or make sense. Push out all you emotion into it. Unbury all your hidden feeling and show them on your paper, or arm, the thing you work on. Stay away from anything harmful while doing this. Listen to music to help you concentrate on your work. Then work away.
Base on personal experience I would start reading verses in the Bible in the book of Psalms when I started having thoughts of self harm. It was a suggestion given to me by a friend. To this day I still read the bible on occasion when I need a feeling of reassurance and hope. Another intervention I used when I felt like self-harming out of frustration was to do wall ball slams. You just take an 8 or 10lb soft medicine ball (there are also larger ones that are extremely soft), lift it up high and slam it to the ground as hard as you could. No only does it help release frustration, you get a few minutes of good cardio in also.
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