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I argue again and again that self-harm can be destructive. But that isn’t completely true. There is one positive component about self-harm and that is it can be used as a coping technique. While it is a coping technique, it’s hard to argue that it is 100% effective. The possible long-term scarring, guilt build-up, and feelings of being at war with your own body can detract from the natural endorphin release or other emotional relief induced by self-harm. So while we may wish to eliminate self-harm, we still want to retain some form of coping technique. And hopefully a coping technique that doesn’t have such negative effects.
Even after you find a person to confide in (see previous post, Confesssing self-harm and/or receiving confessions) or have gotten help in the form of therapy, medication, etc., the desire to self-harm can still arise. But there are still other options.
Just as people self-harm for different reasons, different coping alternatives may work better or worse for some people. Fortunately, these two ideas can often go hand-in-hand.
Why do you cut? Learning why you harm yourself can help when it comes to finding a better coping strategy fit for you.
- Try to recognize your triggers. Oftentimes when the desire to self-harm comes up you may just immediately engage. Try to stop for a second and ask yourself how this came up. Are you having a fight with someone? Are you stressed from school or work? Maybe something didn’t happen right now, perhaps you’re remembering abuse or bullying or rejection. And what triggered those memories? Or maybe you’re just having the blues and the emotions are all built up. After self-harming for so long you might not even remember why you do it; it might have become a natural reflex. Take a minute to ask yourself what brought it up this time. Sometimes it’s the same thing or sometimes it’s a completely different reason.
- Learn the motivation. You can read more about motivations in a previous blog post, “Why would anyone self harm?” Your motivation can be any one of those listed (distraction, to feel, sense of control, expression, or to feel better), something else, or maybe even a different motivation each time. If you can’t pinpoint the motivation exactly, don’t be discouraged. It is helpful but not necessary for recovery.
Alternatives. There are different techniques to coincide with your reasons for wanting to hurt yourself. They may or may not work. Everyone is different. Sometimes the technique might not work initially but eventually you might take on to it. Overall, don’t give up if you think an alternative you’re trying isn’t working. If you can’t exactly pinpoint the emotions, just try whatever sounds comfortable to you. There’s no harm in trying, in this regard.
- Express emotions: Do something that you would do any other day to express yourself! This can include drawing, painting, writing poetry or a song or journal entry. Because you’re feeling down these finished products might not be as wonderful as those you make when you’re happier. That’s not what’s important. You don’t have to show these to anyone. Perhaps you want to write down some really nasty stuff then tear it up. This metaphoric (the idea of “destroying” your problems by ripping them apart) catharsis may prove helpful. Also, some people may draw or paint fake cuts on their bodies (try to use materials that won’t harm your body). After you get it out of your system you can realize just how badly you would have scarred or bruised yourself if you had self-harmed.
- Releasing tension: For those who self-harm to release built up tension, it can be helpful to exercise, use stress balls, or break things (try something you won’t regret having broken, such as pencils or just ripping paper). You may even want to scream (be careful however, this can attract attention. Use with caution).
- To soothe: Because self-harm can release endorphins, some individuals my self-harm to soothe themselves. Just like any other day you can soothe yourself by taking relaxing baths, cuddling pets or objects, or listen to relaxing music.
- To snap back into “reality”: Sometimes when I’m depressed I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and can’t get out. Self-harm can get me out of the mundane thought patterns. As a substitute for this some people may eat something spicy or sour. Or as strange as it seems, some individuals may hold ice cubes. After holding ice for a while your skin begins to feel a bit numb or even sting. But as long as you’re not completely immersing yourself in a bucket of ice for a long period of time, it shouldn’t do any real damage.
- If you don’t feel like you have control: You may feel like you can’t manage everything that’s going on. In these instances it can be helpful to talk to a friend or trusted person or even join an online forum.
- For the actual, physical pain: After self-harming for so long, the pain itself can become addictive. Once again, holding or rubbing ice over your skin can imitate this pain partially. Another technique is to put a rubber band around your wrist (or any other parts of your limbs that you can fit it) and snap it when you feel the need to hurt. From stretching a rubber band too much you probably know that the snap can sting. But it might not seem comparable to self-harm. However, when done repeatedly, rubber bands can leave quite a sting, and even form small little welts that disappear in a few hours. These two techniques give you some of the pain of self-harm, without the aftermath of scars or other bodily damage.
All of these are quick, “in-the-moment” solutions to combat the urge. Although you’ll want to get rid of the urge entirely, I definitely suggest alternatives likes these to help in the meantime.
Thank you for your attention and stay tuned for future installments!
The Empathetic Activist