Why People Self-Harm, and Ways You Can Stop the Behaviors
Self-harm is one of the most misunderstood behaviors that more and more people are struggling with to cope with difficult emotions. It’s important to first understand that most people do not self-harm as a way to end their life, but as a way to release emotional pain. It’s also important to know that many people feel embarrassed and ashamed about their self-harm behaviors, and often try to hide it to prevent hurting their loved ones. If you notice someone you love or yourself having difficulty with managing emotions and using self-harm as a way to cope, please do not hesitate to seek professional help. Starting a non-judgmental, caring conversation with your loved ones is an important first step, as well as making the call to seek professional therapy.
Here are some ways to stop the behaviors:
Stay active during the time of day you are more likely to self-harm
While self-harm urges can sometimes come out of nowhere, many people can predict when they are more likely than not to experience self-harm urges and engage in behaviors. For some folks it may be during the morning hours when they feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety about the events of the day, while for others it may during the evening when they feel the most lonely and isolative. Whatever time of day it is for you, know your trigger times and have a plan. Would it be helpful to schedule in breathing exercises or listen to relaxing music before heading off to school or work? Would it be helpful to schedule a dinner date to prevent feelings of loneliness in the evening? Either way, planning ahead, scheduling plans or coping skills, and staying active will prevent you from engaging in self-harm.
Stay away from the place you typically self-harm as best you can
It may not always be possible, but it can be extremely helpful to stay away or limit your time from the place you typically self-harm. Many clients I’ve worked with often share that they self-harm in secrecy, whether that is their bedroom or a bathroom. If you can avoid the place, do not go there. Have a plan to stay in other areas where thoughts and urges are less likely to occur. If you must go to those triggering places, focus your mind on the purpose you are there. If you are there to sleep, go to sleep, if you are there to brush your teeth, brush your teeth. Re-direct your thoughts back to what you are there for if you notice your mind drift to thoughts relating to self-harm. Do the best you can, and know that self-harm urges typically decrease if you wait long enough.
Remove objects that you typically use to self-harm with
Do yourself a favor: make it hard for you to actually engage in the behavior! If you know what objects often lead to self-harm, remove them or make them hard for you to access. When you are in your wise mind, it will be easier to do this task, so don’t wait until you’re upset, stressed, etc. to get rid of the goods. If you have a loved one living with you or a loved one who is in support of you stopping your self-harm behaviors, enlist them to help in handing over objects that could be triggering. You can’t completely avoid all triggering objects, but you can take steps to reduce your chances.
Replace the behavior with a more effective and safer one
In order to be successful with stopping self-harm, you must replace the behavior with an alternative one. Holding ice is a quick and easy way to shock your nervous system and help bring those self-harm urges down. Chucking apples or throwing ice at a tree is another way to get out anxious, negative energy without engaging in self-harm. Or get out your good old fashion coloring book and start coloring. Anything to keep your hands busy can be helpful. Know that stopping self-harm behaviors is not an easy task, but with the right help through professional counseling and support from friends and family, stopping self-harm is possible.