Do You Have Any Good Self-Harm Alternatives?

Two years ago I started volunteering as a crisis counselor. 15 years after starting my journey, I was talking people off the ledge I had made a home of. The higher ups sent out links to videos and PDF files regularly to arm us with the best weapons to fight people fighting themselves. The most up to date scientific findings and fixes for souls in crisis. While going through some of the information they sent me I was shocked to find that none of the suggestions for self harm had changed in the last 15 years. How could the best advice still be to draw a red mark on your arm or snap a rubber band on your wrist?

I remember first hearing these alternatives years ago in a group therapy session along with, go for a run, watch a movie, write in a journal, and listen to music. Were these people joking? I had done all of those things and none of them soothed me the way a razor across my skin could. I had the urge to repeatedly perform a violent act against myself and they thought a little self care was going to prevent that? I didn’t think it was reasonable to expect people to replace inflicting physical pain on themselves with journaling. That’s like going from 60 to 0.

But what do we do? What can we suggest to help those fighting urges to self harm? The fact is, years later I’m left with this compounded self hate when I look at my scars. If I had found any alternatives maybe I could be wearing bathing suits or getting undressed with the lights on. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to stop the partners that kissed me and explain to them what they were about to see ruining the mood and my chance at healthy relationships. Maybe I could be wearing shorts when it’s god awful hot outside and I take my kids to the park, instead of feeling the backs of my knees sweat under pants that hide how much I hate myself. Does anyone have any better recommendations I can share? I’d like to be able to help prevent others from living with self harm scars. All ideas welcome in the comments. Thanks!

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29 thoughts on “Do You Have Any Good Self-Harm Alternatives?”

  1. I haven’t like my body no matter how thin, no longer thin it’s a challenge to remember to be gentle on myself. Focus eating right and forgive when over eating. So many meds I take cause weight gain, 40 lbs to be exact, I can’t control, I have to take the meds for my health and push my vainity out of way the best I can.

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  2. This is powerful! Unfortunately I am ill informed when it comes to cases of self harm and self hate so I won’t get into conjecture because I’m sure no one appreciates that. Maybe I need to read all of your posts before asking if we can have a discussion sometime. I’ll be back!

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  3. I have never self-harmed in my life, but then I did try to kill myself four times and thankfully I failed every time I did so. I really feel saddened when people resort to self-harm as a coping mechanism for these people find that it is by inflicting pain on themselves that they can tackle the enormity of the pent up issues and stress they have to deal with but which they can’t tell anybody else about.

    Love and hugs to you and respect for what ever you are doing. Mental health issues in my country (India) has still a long way to go and many within Marxist circles have to as of yet what we people face and so as someone with clinical depression and social anxiety (and with mild touches of autism in the mix) I am trying to change that through my own individual efforts.

    Thank you for liking and following my blog! ❤

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  4. Poweful post. Interesting/ amazing that no change in 15 years!
    Through my own therapy I have come to think of each of my scars as connecting me to a memory. Each with something (though from a painful time) valid to say, that i can honour.
    I wonder what might happen if asked an individual- ‘if you did eg cut, what would that cut be saying. What would it be screaming silently to/@ the world?’ ?
    I think that tattoo image is beautiful/ ingenious btw. Made me think of (but definitely also the case for non-tattooed scars) of the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi. Where the porcelain is broken then repaired, with the appreciation being that the bowl is more beautiful for being broken then formed into something more valued.
    Thank you for your writing.
    Peace and love.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thank you so much for the feedback it means so much since I’m new at this. Didn’t know the name of the Japanese art but I’ve heard this theory before and it resignates with me strongly. Thank you!

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  5. This is a bit different. I found weight training past the point of extreme pain to satisfy my urge to punish myself. Breaking down muscle fibres that would rebuild stronger was immensely satisfying. The build up of painful lactic acid and exhaustion to the point of blacking out made me feel good. I didn’t want to injure myself but when I was too angry, I got careless and I incurred long term injuries that made it impossible to train. I’ve been on countless meds and had close to 100 ects. Nothing has worked for decades like training did but I have trouble with motivation. I want to do it responsibly and healthily and get the muscle fibre breakdown, pain and endorphins without injury but I it’s so difficult to force myself. I hope this contributes to the conversation.

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    1. I can see how this would work for some. Me, I’m lazy first and foremost so no. Also, I can see having a similar reaction and talking it too far. I’ve heard many stories about those with bipolar jump starting hypomania or manic episodes from working out. Thank you so much for your comment, it’s an excellent suggestion that really could work for some people ❤️🖤🖤🖤

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  6. We have been close to this with my kids, they got these urges so often , and it is something we will talk about when they feel that overwhelming urge, they ask me no make sure there is nothing sharp, but we have come so close to that cross over, how ever some one who isn’t my child but I know well keeps everything inside and has marked her arms she is only young Like my daughter I helped her move to somewhere that doesn’t trigger the feelings and for now no more cuts, and she is recovering some mental health support. All I can do is say I am here for her and just make sure certain things are locked away. I wish noone had to have those feelings 💗

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  7. My youngest daughter self-harms. Her sisters are unmerciful to her and call her a “drama queen.”
    I have never self-harmed but I certainly understand the desire. I just sit…and waste what’s left of my life. I guess that’s a form of self-harm…after all.

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  8. For me, drawing the red streaks helped. Also, tickling my wrists lightly with something like a feather instead of a razor. Not QUITE the same, but I only started it when I was ready to let go of the cutting, so that might have something to do with it.

    As for stopping someone from making the first cut to avoid scars, I really don’t know… I *started* because I had heard from other cutters that it helped emotionally, and i didn’t have any other ways to release my emotions. If anyone had warned me about scarring, I would have just shrugged and perhaps even thought “cool, then people can see that I’m not making up my inner pain”. I guess perhaps former cutters need to be more vocal about how cutting DOESN’T help that much when we do it? And yet it does, so if we say otherwise, we’d be liars…

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  9. I’ve loved this page http://www.scar-tissue.net/distraction.html
    That’s actually a good idea, to make a longer list than that and post it as a blog post.
    I think all ‘alternatives’ I’ve come across for self harm, are either – deal with what’s really bothering you – I found a cool list of questions to answer first once – distract – which only works for so long – or replace – and the replacements are basically safer versions of self harm which I think is pointless.
    At the moment I’ve half been back to self harming, but never really, so long it stays never real I guess
    Love, light and glitter

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve long hated the list of suggestions, like snapping the rubber band on your arm, exercise hard, journal… those seem to be the ideas of someone who hasn’t needed to self-harm.
    What has probably worked best for me has been to say, “I’ll just wait a little while. If I still need to in two hours / an hour / ten minutes, then I can do it.” Sometimes I repeat this multiple times. It hasn’t always worked, but often I’ve postponed long enough that something has shifted, and I’ve no longer felt the need.
    Recently my therapist told me about putting ice or something very cold on the back of my neck. I started rolling my eyes, great, another dumb idea. But she insists no, this is different, that at the back of your neck it hits your nervous system in a way that makes a difference. I haven’t tried it yet (for the most part I’m not self-harming these days), but if I get to that point, I’ll at least give it a try.

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  11. These are technically techniques I’ve used for dealing with dissociation, but I think the idea of an intense but none dangerous sensation is roughly the same idea you are looking for. 1) hang upside down off a bed until all the blood rushes to your head and you feel dizzy 2) take a scalding hot or ice cold (whatever is worse to you) shower 3) do one of those military boot camp ‘safe punishment’ things like stand perfectly still (on one foot if you have the balance that just standing still upright isn’t already exhausting) until you are bone weary. Then repeat on the other foot. 4) Go outside in winter wearing too little outside layers and stand there until your whole exposed body turns red (but absolutely go inside then, or it could cause actual harm) and 5) buy an acupressure ring or other sensory tool for phantom limb syndrome that kind of pokes you to create an annoying sensation.

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    1. Since you mentioned the cold a couple of times, I thought I’d chip in with this:
      Cold Water Immersion “Therapy” (taking a swim in the sea, cold bath/shower) is supposedly very beneficial for the body as it takes away the “alert” in the brain and forces your body to focus on other things.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. So much truth in this post! The only thing that stopped me cutting is the thought of explaining more scars, although I sometimes do small ‘nicks’ that I think I can get away with. Self harm is thankfully quite rare for me now but when I need to I hit which causes bruises rather than scars but the best avoidance technique I have is the cold shower (or specifically sitting in bathtub crying under a cold shower), this seems to do the trick for me.

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  13. For me, personally, being a lazy bum, I toughened up and threw away all my blades. I got rid of any sharp thing in my room I could think of. And whenever the urge came knocking I would play on my phone. Scroll the internet until I found something really interesting I wanted to dive into, not even knowing I was forgetting about the self harm. I would do arts and crafts to keep myself busy and distracted. I would find something that I would be so interested in, I wouldn’t want to put it down. Although it was a long and very hard process, eventually the urges stopped. I have really been struggling with wanting to relapse lately, even after 4 years of being clean. But everyday is different and I just stay busy. Even if it be so much as sweeping, or organizing tiny things around the house. The urge eventually passes.

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  14. Red food dye… it’s much more “real” than a pen or felt tip. It helps me sometimes to draw around my arm with pen, onto a piece of paper, and then spill the food dye onto it. Not perfect but it can help with that pent up angry feeling…x

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  15. Me, I am not a knife persons. The first thing I do when the black curtain falls is call my psychiatrist to adjust these medications. Then, I start to write. No journal. That is just boring as hell for me. I write dark poetry that actually is my best. I write about subjects that piss me off or interest me. Those that require me to research. I have written a couple of books and working on my third. I do not “put on a happy face”. That is just BS. I blog-my latest depression fighting superhero. I confront people that piss me off instead of putting up with it. I am lucky to have friends and a spouse who are supportive, but it does not rid me of the thoughts. Medications are about the only thing that fixes it. I have had enough therapy to kill me alone. It helped, but now it is just repeat performances. You are well spoken. Write a book. It is very occupying and better than a journal.

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  16. When I was trying to move away from cutting I was looking high and low for something to replace that need to hurt myself. It’s like the only soothing thing was to feel pain..and I picked up smoking. I quit cutting, but my alternative was just as bad. Since I’ve quit both cutting and smoking, I write a lot more. I garden. Just anything to keep my mind off of it and anything to remind myself that life really isn’t that bad and that if can be good.

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  17. You are doing at least one thing: writing about it. Thank you for your open sharing; it is beautiful and please know that you may be saving a life or two . . . thousand.
    I’m not quiet any longer about my recovery from addiction, having been out of rehab for nearly two months and I and the world are better for it.
    There is enough stigma out there already, and God knows we have the stigmata to prove it!
    You are doing well by writing and reading and staying connected. We are not alone, but let us continue in our relationships—pinky promise, okay?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I use cold showers. Meditating can also work. After sitting still for 30 minutes plus in half lotus, the pins and needles in my leg is a very intense pain. But it allows me to meditate on how pains, like emotions, fade over time.

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  19. I agree with the hot or cold showers and also getting out of the environment you are currently in. It’s the hardest to do but physically leaving and going out to a public place helped me get out of my head. I also used a 24 hour rule which for me was helpful. I wouldn’t self harm for at least 24 hours. Usually at the passage of those 24 hours I would feel different or at least the feeling would be less enough to employ other coping strategies to move forward. Both of these techniques involve a decision though so in a crisis scenario the best thing I can tell people is to write a letter to yourself when you are feeling well so that in a crises scenario you can pull it out and read something you have personally written about the reasons to not self harm.

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  20. I can say for myself I have tried the freezing cold bath or ice in the hands. I have been struggling with self harm a lot lately and one thing that helps me is to write. Just like ladyofthelakenc suggested, I write down the feelings that I am having, and what I want to see (usually red). In my writings I usually end up fighting with myself on the pros and cons, I can’t say that it always works, my wrist would show you otherwise, but it does distract.

    Liked by 1 person

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