Whether it’s by cutting, burning, piercing or swallowing tablets, an estimated 1 in 10 people self-harm when they feel bad. Self-harm can last for days, weeks, months or even years and while help is out there for people who want to stop, this Sharepost is mainly directed to those who don’t want to turn to ‘formal’ help or who just aren’t ready to stop.
Deliberate self-harm represents a form of coping, so it is rarely if ever helpful to be told simply to stop. Coping with painful or overwhelming emotions through self-harm seems to reduce tension and provides a sense of control. Even so, it’s important to remember that the more you self-harm the higher the risk of issues like infection, permanent scarring, paralysis and death. People who self-harm are considered to be 50 times more likely to kill themselves, so any strategy that can minimize risk while you continue to self-harm is worth serious consideration.
There are various approaches you might want to consider in terms of slowly reducing the damage you are causing yourself, or finding alternatives. If you use cutting, you could cut less deeply and some self-harmers say they find alternatives such as pressing an ice cube against the skin helpful. Ice cubes made with red juice look like blood when they melt and this may help people who associate blood release with emotional release. Other techniques to consider are putting a rubber band on the wrist and flicking it when you have the urge to cut. Even writing your feelings on your skin can be soothing.
Distractions are really good alternatives to cutting and if you know your triggers you can perhaps match these to the distractions. Finding ways to ride out the times you would normally self-harm is a good step towards stopping in the future. Some people find benefits from things that soothe, like a bath, music, or meditation. Others find it better to express through art or writing. Pent up emotions along with all the stress hormones can be reduced in various ways. A good cry, a walk, or some other form of exercise can help. If the sensation of pain is important to you, look for less harmful alternatives, such as taking a cold shower.
All former self-harmers say pretty much the same thing, which is that self-harm, in the long run, doesn’t solve anything or even make you feel better. Hopefully you’ll reach a point where these sentiments start to resonate with you. Meanwhile, try to stay safe and at least consider the idea of looking for a support network. Consider what is stopping you seeking support. Are your views just a bit rigid perhaps? Is it an issue of embarrassment, or that you might be seen as mad? There’s no harm in a little self-reflection especially as doing nothing is risky too.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.