Resisting The Urge: Tactics For Combating Deliberate Self Harm/Self-Injury

Don't Self Harm! stencil

Self injurious acts are performed by over two million people in the US on a daily basis. But there is hope for recovery!

People who engage in deliberately self harming behavior–such as cutting, banging, or burning–come from various walks of life, and have or likely will arrive at the point of addiction. While typically associated with Borderline Personality disorder, self-injury is also caused by other behavioral health struggles, including Major Depressive disorder (severe), Bipolar disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD), and more. Self injurious behaviors are also often couple with Eating disorders (e.g., bingeing and purging), severe drug abuse, self-poisoning, and engaging in dangerous and careless sexual promiscuity, which ultimately makes the individual feel ashamed or worthless later on.

Though the catalyst for the development of self injurious urges or actually performing the acts is common and vast, there are many techniques that work well in curbing psychological desires to harm one’s self. Since SI/SH is deeply pervasive—over two million people a day commit acts of self mutilation—there must be various treatment methods. Cognitive therapies, including Cognitive  (CBT) and Dialectical (DBT), have proven effective at long-term harm reduction, as well as some immediate self-healing: physically and emotionally.

Perhaps it is not as far off as it will first appear when I write this: everyone is at risk for developing self harmful behaviors. There are certain classes of people who are more likely to engage; but just as PTSD can befall anyone, so can one of the main negative coping mechanisms. People who have problem resisting self-injury are not “insane.” They don’t want to “be shocking.” They are individuals suffering: but there is hope if survivors seek it.

So, if self-injury comes in many forms and can be a behavior anyone engages, then it males sense that it symptoms or warning signs is rather long. This is where wonderful allies come in: they know best what their loved one if like when healthy, ao they would be more likely to note the physical and/or behavioral differences. Despite many myths, self-injury is often thought of as a highly private act, and often people who SI will go to great lengths to cover their wounds. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms and forms of self-injurious behavior are as follows:

Symptoms of Self Injury & Self Harm:

  • Burns, cuts, bruises, and other wounds (fresh and scarred)
  • Broken bones (usually hand and foot wounds)
  • Spends exponentially more time alone
  • Has difficulties within their relationships (intimate, familial, &  platonic)
  • Claims to have frequent accidents, resulting in wounds; quick to make excuses for injuries suffered.
  • Wears long sleeves or long pants in warm or hot weather.

Forms of Self Injury & Self Harm:

  • Severe scratching
  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Poisoning/Overdosing
  • Carving words or symbols on skin
  • Breaking bones (most often the hands and feet)
  • Hitting or punching hard objects (e.g., brick building exterior)
  • Hand banging
  • Biting one’s self
  • Throwing oneself or one’s fist against hard walls
  • “Intentionally” interfering with wound healing
  • Remember: the arms, legs, and torso are the most targeted places, as they are easier to disguise.

Feel The Need To Self Injure? Read this first!

You are among many people who have faced the horrifying and beyond conflicting pain of dealing with self harm. There is nothing “wrong” with you; your behavior is the result of many complex factors that thankfully can be addressed with proper medication, if deemed necessary, and therapy (I greatly prefer DBT to other tactics; it can be life-changing for many people with MDD and BPD, and certainly was/is for me).

Try to be prepared in case you slip up so you are not overly upset with yourself (this could cause another relapse!). It isn’t easy, but FORGIVING YOURSELF and STARTING OVER are sometimes the only things we can do. Live in the moment and breathe deeply. You CAN do this.

  • Figuring out what your triggers are is of paramount importance when confronting your addiction. It has been used as a coping mechanism, often to express overwhelmingly painful emotionsas a mean of instantly feeling in control of one’s body; because it (very temporarily) rids one of the numbness their condition causes; and because, frankly, self-injury does make some people feel better. But that is frequently short-lived and replaced with longterm guilt.
  • Realize that the “relief” from whatever ails you is temporarily altered by self-injury, and it won’t last a very long time at that. When that moment is over, an intense unease and self-shaming feelings begin to flood in, starting the cycle all over again. Think about the “relief” SI brings. Now remember how much it is NOT worth scaring yourself, sometimes quite brutally, for sometimes one makes mistakes—or even accidentally killing yourself.
  • Ultimately, in order to self harm without others finding out, you will have to lie to those who love you most: intimate partners , parents, your dearest friends. They will be hurt and scared, perhaps a bit angry too. Now don’t get me wrong: I am not implying anyone self-injures because they’re born to cut, but because it can seem the better of the bad alternatives when one is depressed. This is often why people, some extremely bright and well-adjusted in other facets of life, will cut or bang or burn: “It is better to feel something than nothing.” But what you will feel is the toxic self-shaming that almost always accompanies SI. Think about how you will feel in five minutes; what about in 30? Not worth it!
  • Remember: On your path to recovery, it is always true that self-harm and cutting don’t help you with the issues that made you want to hurt yourself in the first place.

How Do I Stop Harming Myself? I’ve Been Doing This Forever…

Sunflower: Stand Up!

Over two million people self-injure on a daily basis, but many are finding the path toward recovery. You can too!

As a result of the addictive nature of self-injury, the ease of acquiring the necessary objects (i.e., kitchen knife) and stowing it away, and the “private” manner of the act can often dampen the sense of its seriousness. (i.e., “If it were that bad, someone would say something” or “If  I had a real problem, I think I’d know!”). Everyone might not understand how tremendously difficult it is to get through the hardest times (especially so if your illnesses are chronic and severe) without having SI as your immediate back-up for quick relief.

Take a moment to think about your relationship with self harm (if this becomes too upsetting or triggering stop, and engage in a distraction activity, like going for a long walk or riding your bicycle, as light exercise is often recommended in these situations). How, in some ways, you don’t want to give it up in some way, which is precisely how a dear friend describes going through A.A. to get sober (which she finally did, and now has a charming child!) after over 20 years of abuse. The true and personal desire can be reached, though, via emotional awareness (understanding what external and internal forces trigger your emotions), which must be practiced and, like all modifications to our behavior, takes time.

Coping mechanisms for battling self-injury urges include:

  • Painting, drawing, or engaging in art therapy
  • Expressing your feelings in a daily mood journal
  • Writing (fiction, essays, diary entries, poems)
  • Listening to or Composing music
  • Writing down negative feelings, and then (safely) destroying the paper
  • Take a relaxing bath or shower
  • Pet or cuddle with an animal
  • Massage your neck, hands, and feet with nicely scented lotion
  • Call a friend or ally (try not talking about SI, or only sparingly)
  • Hold an ice cube in your hand, or in the crook of your arm or leg (the same can be done with a frozen orange)
  • Chew something with a very strong taste you still enjoy. (It often helps quell feelings of Dissociation and/or Depersonalization.)
  • Go online and visit self-help websites, web forums, or chat rooms
  • Exercise vigorously (From running to dancing: just keep on moving!)
  • Punch a cushion or soft item
  • Scream into your pillow
  • Use a marker (not permanent!) to mark a line where you would have cut
  • Call Safe Alternatives @ (800) 366-8288 if you’re in the US. If you’re outside of the US, visit Befrienders Worldwide; you can find all kinds of support here!
  • Seek out professional treatment, like a support group or individual therapy. (You may want to talk to a doctor about mood stabilizing medication to see whether or not it seems agreeable to both of you.)
Never let the thought of total failure linger in your mind. Embrace it, and then push it away. This is challenging, but you can achieve such control by dealing with what happens to you (or maybe what doesn’t happen to you) on the daily without getting all tangled up by one negative thought or action. No one is infallible, and we can all benefit from getting to know our bodies and minds much more deeply than we often allow for. Therapy, such as DBT, which was developed for people with BPD but works for many mental health illnesses, can teach one powerful tactics to aid in your recovery (e.g., impulse control, emotional connectivity, and mindfulness).
  
I understand as a primary source how depressing it can be to look at one’s scars, even after (or perhaps especially after) learning how to keep your urges at bay. In fact, they can trigger depression, and have, so this is a time to be especially mindful and aware. You don’t look like a freak or ugly, and you aren’t to be relegated to wearing long sleeves for the rest of your life. There are creams you can use to disguise wounds or to help scars fade (I’ve found Bio Oil extremely helpful for the latter), but remember that, in time, as you work toward self-acceptance, the scars won’t be as physically obvious, and the ones that need to be viewed in a less punishing light. I’ve even heard people say that learning to deal with their scars was one of the hardest parts of recovery. Some didn’t mind after a while and viewed it as “evidence” of success; others still loathed them, but would no longer allow them to ruin their self-esteem and rule their decisions. Regardless, as you become more empowered, you will feel better overall; maybe in ways you never even dared to imagine.


Again, please be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time. You certainly need and deserve it. You are a survivor, and have scars from your injuries, as most survivors do, whether they are internal, external, or both.


♥ YOU CAN STOP INJURING YOURSELF & FIND HAPPINESS AGAIN!