How to Stop Hurting Yourself

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Introduction

After you have decided it is the time to stop hurting yourself, you need to answer the question of how. There are many different methods to help you in stopping or reducing self-injury behaviors in the short-term- at the time you feel the need or desire to hurt yourself. But, first, it is important to examine some long-term approaches.

“Behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations are all linked; each influences the others. Therefore, by changing what happens in one area, you also change what occurs in the others. The ultimate goal is to alter each of these areas enough so that you not only no longer hurt yourself but you also no longer feel the desire or need to hurt yourself.”

Changing Your Behaviors

A lot of people think that the best way to change your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that are necessary for permanent change is by changing what you do, day to day. To change your daily behaviors, you must first determine the characteristics of your SI actions. This means that to change your self-injurious activities, you have to understand what they are made of. By examining these patterns, creating some ways to change them is made possible.

When you change your behaviors, you change the organization of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. “Changing behaviors is an effective way to produce change in these other areas.” This means that by changing the behaviors associated with self-injury you will alter the frequency of and the way in which you engage in hurting yourself. You will also alter some of the fundamental reasons for self-injury.

Time and place

Some people have a particular time of day when they are more likely to engage in self-injury. It is important that you monitor and assess when you are more likely to hurt yourself. If you change the pattern of your activities during these times, you can lessen the chance that you will hurt yourself.

An easy way to change your SI behaviors is the change where you are and who you are with at the times when you are more likely to engage in self-injury. It is important to make up a plan of how, when, and where to change your surroundings. You can control your self-injurious activities by putting yourself in an environment or situation in which you are not likely to hurt yourself. Something important to remember is that this will be more effective if, whenever you can, you put yourself in an environment or situation that is incompatible with self-injury before you have any thoughts or feelings about wanting to hurt yourself. It is much more difficult to change your surrounding when you want to hurt yourself. But this does not mean that is is impossible and you may still be able to find other ways to change your environment or situation.

Means

Getting rid of any instruments that you usually use to hurt yourself is another important change. You should do this before you feel the desire to hurt yourself. If you use a knife, throw it away. Or if you use matches, throw them away. You may not be able to bring yourself to get rid of these objects. In this case, then put them in a box and and hide it under something heavy or difficult to move. Basically, make whatever instruments you usually use to hurt yourself as inaccessible as possible. By doing this you will make it more difficult for you to hurt yourself, which lessens the chance that you will actually do so.

Rituals

Another way to change your behaviors is to alter the patterns or rituals associated with self-injury. Changing a part of your self-injury ritual will make SI more uncomfortable and less reinforcing for you. The less comfortable you feel when you are hurting yourself, the less likely you are to engage in your self-injurious behavior. Changing your routines also makes you more aware of your surroundings and of your behaviors. This awareness can conflict with dissociation and therefore can reduce self-injury.

There are different ways to change your routine, either adding or removing steps from your ritual, that will help you increase your awareness and prevent self-injury.

Getting Support

It is essential to reduce feelings of isolation and alienation because the desire for self-injury often stems from these feelings. Most people hurt themselves when they are alone. “By creating and using a solid support system and participating in activities with others, your feelings of isolation and alienation decrease.” Also, you are less likely to hurt yourself if you place yourself in situations where other people are present.

When you feel the need to hurt yourself, call a friend. Or call more than one friend. Have another person come and sit with you, or go and sit with someone else. Use the support systems you have formed.

Another simple and effective method of changing an unwanted behavior is based on one rule: “Never engage in any activity unless you are able to tell at least two people of your plans.” If you are unable to do this, it is more likely that it is not a good thing for you to do. This rule can apply to many things, including self-injury. And if you talk to two different people you are receiving feedback on your planned activity as well as “increasing the behavior that leads to a decrease in negative feelings- you are connecting with others.”

Changing Your Thoughts

Another part of ending or reducing self-injurious behavior is to change the thoughts you have regarding them. It is important that you become aware of your thoughts during a session of self-injury so that you can change them. “By drawing attention to these thoughts and beliefs, you will be able to identify and alter the style of thinking that leads you to hurt yourself.”

The thoughts that occur before an act of self-injury are largely responsible for your desire and decision to hurt yourself. Because of the power of these thoughts, it is very important that you break this cycle and change your thoughts before you engage in an act of self-injury. When you are able to alter your negative thoughts, you will be less likely to want to hurt yourself.”

Challenging Your Thoughts

You most likely have many negative thoughts before you hurt yourself. And it is how you choose to handle these thoughts that determines your moods, physical sensations, and behaviors. You may accept the thoughts that pass through your mind as true, but this is often not the case.

A good way to change your negative thoughts is to challenge their accuracy. Most likely you will find that the majority of your negative thoughts aren’t true. It is important that you question each negative thought you have been able to identify.

When you do not stop and think to assess the accuracy of these negative thoughts you usually ask as though these thoughts are true, which in some cases can actually make these thoughts true.

“The neccesity to identify, challenge, and alter each negative thought that you have cannot be denied. Changing your thoughts will help you to change your behaviors, emotions, and physical sensations and will help you to decrease your desires to hurt yourself.”

Stopping Your Thoughts

It is better for you to stop or change your negative thoughts than to permit yourself to continue negative and potentially dangerous styles of thoughts.

For people who hurt themselves there are two ways of changing these types of thoughts that have been found to work particularly well. One of these ways is to stop the negative thoughts as they occur. You first must be able to identify these thoughts. “Once you can recognize them, you can stop these thoughts by simply saying Stop!- aloud or in your mind.”

It can take some practice and a lot of repetition to make this technique work. But if you are able to get the hang of it, you will find that it does stop negative thoughts in an effective manner. “If you find this technique helpful, you might also try doing this before or during and episode of [SI].”

Reframing your thoughts

Another method of changing negative thought patterns is a bit easier than the one stated above. In this process you can change your negative thoughts into positive ones.

For example:

Negative Thought Positive Thought

“I’m so dumb for hurting myself.”

“I did what I needed to do to take care of myself.”

“I can’t believe I let myself do this again.”

“I used the best method possible at that time to cope.”

“I have to keep this a secret.”

“I can decide who I would like to tell- and not to tell- about this.”

Some of these changes in thinking may be subtle, but they allow for a more positive and powerful view of your self-injurious behaviors. “Thoughts that support beliefs about your strength, choice, and optimism provide a foundation for changes in your attitudes, moods, behaviors, and even physical sensations.” An essential part of creating a long-tern change in a behavior is identifying and altering the negative thought patterns. The thoughts can be changed by identification, assessment of accuracy, elimination, and rephrasing. Each of these methods will help you change your thoughts and reduce the possibly that you will hurt yourself.

Changing Your Feelings

First, it is important that you realize the difference between change and denial. It is very dangerous to fail to recognize emotions that you are feeling or to pretend that they do not exist. Usually, expressing your emotions and acting on them is a highly effective way of dealing with fellings. Much more effective than pretending that they do not exist or ignoring them.

Feelings have several characteristics that it is important that you know:

  • “Feelings often exist for a reason.”
  • “Feelings are not always logical or easy to understand.”
  • “Feelings are always transitory. Given enough time, they will change or disappear on their own.”

Because of the characteristics of emotions, your goal is not to escape or avoid emotions, but to find better ways to express, accept, and honor your feelings. If you respect and express your feelings, you are better able to enjoy and cultivate them. And expressing the feelings that are troubling you, may allow you to feel “other more satisfying emotions and pursue ways of living that don’t require [self-injury].”

Identifying your emotions

The first step you must take to change your emotions is to learn to identify what you are feeling. You may be using self-injury as a way to express or regulate your feelings. But you may be unaware of what emotions produce an episode of self-injury. The ability to identify specific feelings is necessary for attempting to change them.

A lot of people do not know the difference between thoughts and feelings. Feelings can usually be described with a couple of words. Feelings usually fit into the following sentence formats: “I am…” or “I feel…” Sometimes people think they are describing feelings when they are really describing thoughts. You are hearing thoughts when you hear the following key phrases: “I feel that…” or “I feel like…”

Expressing your emotions

Once you have begun learning to identify your emotions the easiest way to change them is by expressing them. Feelings are hard to ignore but if you express them, they will be satisfied.

Each feeling has its own method of expression. And it will take a lot of practice and patience to find the match between your feelings and the best way to express them.

The majority of the feelings you have will require some type of physical release. Crying is an simple example of this release. “Our bodies have built-in coping mechanisms that respond to our emotions. However, many of us have been conditioned not to use these physical outlets. It is important that you relearn how to identify and respond to your body’s natural needs.” Learning to identify and express your feelings will gradually cause your feelings to change. And this change will allow you to feel more content and resolved. But, withholding, denying, or avoiding your feelings will increase the chances of wanting to hurt yourself.

Self-injury may have been your way of releasing your emotions. And while in the past this may have been effective and neccessary, you may find that other ways of expressing your emotions work just as good and have less negative consequences.

Changing Your Physical Sensations

The body and mind affect each other. Physical problems affect psychological problems, and vice versa. The way in which you treat your body affects your psychological health, so when you hurt yourself, you are also hurting your psychological health. But if you take care of your body, your psychological health will profit.

You can train your body to produce different physical behaviors and sensations. Before you hurt yourself you most likely feel a great state of tenstion. And at this time it may seem that SI is the best or only way to reduce this tension. But there are other options that will produce similar results and are les physically damaging.

And, of course, the first step in changing physical sensations is to identify what you are feeling on the physical level. You need to do this before, during, and after you hurt yourself. And not only try to identify what you are feeling, but also where on your body you are feeling it.

Exercise

A simple way to change your physical sensations is to exercise. Exercising increases your heart rate and changes other physical patterns such as respiration, digestion, and blood flow. It can also alter the exchange of neurotransmitters in your brain. These chemical neurotransmitters in your brain influence your physical experience. They can cause you to feel sleepy, or energized or may allow you to think more clearly.

During self-injury the brain releases endorphins, whose effects are similar to that of morphine. Usually endorphins decrease the sensation of pain. During self-injury, endorphins are released so that you do not feel the pain related to hurting yourself. The endorphins can also cause pleasant physical sensations.

Like self-injury, exercise can also produce endorphins, and it is much less dangerous and destructive. By exercising vigorously instead of hurting yourself, you can achieve similar psychological effects as well as obtaining beneficial physical results.

Everybody has different ways in which they like to exercise. We enjoy some types of exercise more than others. And it is important that you identify the type of physical exercise you enjoy as well as how convenient or accessible they are to you. If you do not live near the mountains it can be difficult for you to go mountain-climbing. Or if you enjoy deep-sea diving, it may be difficult for you to engage in this if you don’t live near water. Try to think of as many options as you can that will allow you to exercise when you feel the urge to hurt yourself.

Credits

Information from ‘Scarred Souls’ by Tracy Alderman.

36 Comments

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi guys, my name is Amy. Im a survivor. I found other ways to distract myself when im feeling angry or upset. I have found that excersize is a way to get rid of it all. I am going to be a black belt in Karate in november, and i havent hurt myself For a month. Ive also found that drawing is an absolutely wonderful way to get rid of all the pain you feel inside. Or even writing. It breaks my heart to know that people out there are still doing this. Even though i struggled with this myself for the past year, i am so proud to tell you that i quit. I have broken from the chains of my razor. Its gone forever.

   
Kristi's picture
Kristi (not verified)

Hi Amy - thanks so much for your posting. I have a beautiful daughter who struggles with harming herself. I personally can’t say or do anything to stop her, I can only keep hoping and praying that she will find that she herself wants to stop. Unless she takes control of her life and wants to make a change, then I’ve found that no matter what I say or do, it doesn’t matter. She is beautiful, talented, creative, extremely musical, social with lots of friends, outgoing, and kind. But deep down she hates herself. I don’t know how to change how she feels about herself. I compliment her and so does everyone who knows her, but she still doesn’t like herself. For all of those people out there struggling with this same issue, please pray for my daughter and your own recovery. Keep up the great lifestyle Amy, I can tell from your posting that you are much happier and in a very good place. Take care.

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn’t help but cry after reading your post. There is so much resemblance between what you’ve written and what my own mother has said to me. Your post has reminded me that even if i feel alone, broken, or whatever, I know that my mother is out there praying for my to love myself and be happy.

Thank you!!

   
Alicia's picture
Alicia (not verified)

Hi Kristi. I’m 17 years old and I started hurting myself at age 10. You are exactly right about your daughter. I’m the same way; many people compliment me but no matter what anyone says, it doesn’t matter. I still hate myself and I dont know how to stop. I know I need to stop. I’m in a great relationship but i feel like he doesn’t deserve to have to go through this with me. I dont know how to see myself the way everyone else does. I need help and I just feel so isolated. I dont know how much longer I can do this.

   
Armando's picture
Armando (not verified)

Hey Kristy I’m pretty sure he does deserve you the base of a relationship is trust. I recommend you to tell him cause he loves you and he will give you the help you need. I’m in pain I suffer an I struggle everyday not to cut myself I’ve been 6 days now and I can’t take it I break that streak today I truly can’t handle pain anymore I’m alone people ignore me and don’t give a shit for me why should I can’t take it

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Amy. I’ve been through so much in my life, I may only be sixteen but I’ve been hurt so much. I’m in love with my best friend and she doesn’t know it, her brother raped me last year. I cut nearly every day. My therapist has given me different ways to cope but none of them seem to work as well as cutting. Any advice?

   

If you’re looking for a way of coping that will work as ‘well’ as cutting or similar enough to it that it won’t make a difference then you’re likely not going to recover just yet. That’s bottom line. There is nothing that is a quick fix like cutting or other forms of self-destruction. To stop the pain you need to continue to go to therapy, perhaps see if there’s any medication for depression and/or anxiety that your psychiatrist can give you to take the edge off (I know they have to be careful with teenagers). You need to heal from the pain that has been caused by other people. Cutting won’t do that, it’ll take away the pain for short periods of time and then the pain will come back. There may come a point in the future where you heal on your own but some people are in their twenties and thirties and beyond still hurting.

You need to make your choice, quick fix that only works for short periods of time or work through the pain to get a more lasting fix to the bad feelings.

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know what your going through.I’ve been through it all before.You could tell your friend how you feel, but i have to warn you there are some negative things that can happen.If she feels the same then everything will be okay.The thing with her brother is also very dramatic.If he ever tries to do it again then my advice would be to stick up for yourself.Trust me cutting never works.My life has turned out horrible…but it’s gotten better since i’ve stopped.I truly understand the best friend thing.I told my best friend how I felt and she felt the same.Now it’s fine.Therapist from my perspective never help.Just listen to music or write down how you feel.Even cry..that helps a lot.If you need to talk you can just reach me at imadorkpeaceatyahoo [dot] com or my url for myspace is sashamlapole.I’ll help anytime anyone needs me.

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi,my name is Dashawn Davis and I have been cutting for 10 years, and I really dont know how to stop.I’ve been trying throw my blades away ,I tried writing poems/storys,I have been using rubber bands,I have been going to Therapy,but im trying to talk about it with my mother and she just dosn’t understand.I believe that it is easier to talk to someone who has gone through it before. so if you would i would love if you contacted me back. my email address is Dashawndaivsatyahoo [dot] com.

thank you for reading

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi,this is Anne.I have a boyfriend of 5 yrs.Seems like he has taken me for granted.He has got a new job and claims doesnt have time to talk to me.He even said repeatedly that he forgot to give me a call.What am I supposed to do?Its unnerving me like hell.He has developed a good rapport with his female colleagues and that’s making me freak out even more,not because I feel jealous but because he seems to care to listen to them,all the while ignoring my presence even during a phone call.I have tried never to give him a chance to complain about me regarding my friends,because he really frets a lot when he finds me talking to any male friend.And now,when I point out the same phenomenon,he admits that friendship is necessary,more than giving each other time to talk.I seriously feel like hurting myself to a great degree coz I m feeling so helpless.Like bursting out at myself.Please help!!!

   

I think talking about this disempowering experience is the first step to changing what would turn into self injury.  If your boyfriend is reaching out to others of the opposite gender while he’s insecure about you doing the same, he is clearly taking you for granted.  I urge you to take back control, whether that means setting boundaries or cutting your ties with this person, you must protect yourself.  In a relationship you give the other person power over you and you can take back that power when the privilege has been abused.

Love is the most sacred of all bonds.  When you say you’re in a relationship with somebody, you are entrusting that person to respect this sacred bond.  If you have entrusted your love to this person and do not receive it right back, you will begin treating yourself with the degree of disrespect that the person you’re in a relationship shows you.  It determines how you see yourself and in turn, your self worth determines the success and failure you have in life.

   

i was a self-injurer on and off for over 2 years. a few months ago, my parents found out and removed everything sharp in the house. i was hospitalized and given therapy and i hadnt cut in months, even through a bad breakup with my first boyfriend. but i did discover that i needed to have a cutting implement, “just in case.” i had a pizza cutter concealed in a pillow for several months. two days ago, my mother found the pizza cutter and replaced it with a candy cane (thanks mom…) i had to find another tool that i could use if i ever really really needed to cut. i pried the blade out of a pencil sharpener. to make sure it was sharp enough, i cut my leg. my first cut in over 4 months. now i dont want to stop. i cant stop thinking about how much i want to cut again… and again… deeper and deeper… you get the picture. i don’t know how to stop the obsessive thinking. if anyone has any ideas please reply. thanks.

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I’ve been though quite the ordeal. Its hard, with kids that are stereotypical and call me names, if there not calling me names, they ask me for help. i want to tell them so bad, ” I have my own problems. i dont need yours too” but instead i end up doing whatever it is they want. I’m only just turning 12, but ive been cutting on and off starting when i was 9. Im running out of excuses for all of the scars when im changing into my gym clothes. Right now, i’ve been ‘sober’, i guess you could say, for about 3 weeks. but something always happens, something that makes me want to go find my little box with my knife in it, moments like now. My mom found out, but she just got angry at me again and hit me. My sister asked if i wanted to see a therapist, but i just ran out of the room, i couldn’t stand to be in the same room as her. I’m so pathetic. I’m trying everything but nothing seems to work! Everytime it gos thtrough my head, “I’m not thin enough, im not pretty enough, i dont deserve anything, im pathetic, Stop feeling sorry for yourself” I want to have friends, i want my mom back, i want to know people that dont make fun of me, i want to know girls that dont wear make up and wear expensive holister clothes and date boys. i want to have friends that are REAL. not like that. What ever happened to Ambition? Dreams? Hopes? Am i the only one who hasn’t lost my mind? There 12 they dont need any make up, or sex! I had one friend, or she was my best friend, until she started going out with the guy i liked the day after i told her and she completely ditched me after she promised we could go somewhere. It’s times like that i loose control. At this point i really want to stop, but i just dont think i can. can anyone please help me?

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Relapsing

 

Hi, my name is Jen. i’ve been causing myself self harm for a year now,and i can’t stop. it’s become a routine thing,like a part of daily life. it’s gotten to the point where im afraid of myself. i think im the most pathetic person i the world,i have low self esteem,family issues. I’ve tried so hard to stop,ive tried alternatives talking to family members but they think im crazy and stupid. they dont undrstand the anxiety that i feel,the deep need to see the blood trickle down my arm,the pulsing pain that comes with it,the feeling of relief. it has become an addiction. you would think that theyd want to do everything possible to help me,ive looked up various consuling options,but they refuse because it costs too much. my health isnt important and they think it’s something i can get over,well its not. ive even had thoughts of suicide,the only thing that keeps me going,are my friends,the only people who seem to give a shit about me and worry about me. if only that was enough.

   

i know i was a cuter for 2 years off and on relapsing i was clean for almost 10 months then i relapsing i know that felling you get when you cut you get so high from it and an adrelin rush from iam too an addict to it  it is so hard not to go back to it it is youre security blanket

   
Lauren's picture
Lauren (not verified)

HI Jen, I know how you’re feeling, i cut too, my best friend knows everything but still never asks how I’m doing or if I’m getting help. i feel so isolated from the world, just like you my thoughts are that I’m stupid and crazy, i can’t stop, sometimes i don’t even want to stop! i just wish that someone would take me seriously, i don’t know if you find this yourself, but i find that unless you have a problem like anorexia or bulimia where the problem is clearly visible, people don’t really give a shit. i have one good friend who is absolutely brilliant! she is going through a hard time herself and she is such a great help, it seems she’s the only person who cares about me and i can see she wants to understand but unless you actually harm yourself i don’t think you can. it feels so strange to be able to talk to a complete stranger like this, but by knowing that you feel the same as me it kind of makes it easy! hope you’re doing ok.

 

xxxxxxxxx

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sometimes I feel so lost so afraid like the world is closing in on me. I am married to a very emotionally abusive man and I have no means to get out of this relationship. Its a stuggle every day to go on but I do it for my children. Cutting seams like the only relief I have the only way I can cope. I want to stop but the addiction is so great and with every drop of blood spilled I feel a little of the pain start to fade away at least for a moment I feel relief. My father took his own life a few years back and it scares me because I am afraid I will do the same. I just wish there was a way out a break from the sorrow…….

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Lost,

If your husband is emotionally abusive to you the pain and suffering you feel extends onto the the entire family. You are a very brave woman for trying to save your marriage for your children sake, but you cannot rationalize that the pain you are suffering is somehow okay because your a doing your children a service by staying in your marriage. Your children can feel your pain, they know when you are hurting and more then anything they want you to be happy! If your husband is abusing you, then chances are he is or will abuse your children too. For the well-being of your children and your life, please leave this destructive marriage. If leaving your marriage is out of the question seek a marriage counselor or consider living in separate accommodations. Stop the cycle of abuse!

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been self harming for four years. My mother did my laundry and found a razorblade tucked into my clothing about two years ago. Instead of being supportive she got angry and tried to send me to a mental institution. She regularly makes jokes about self harming issues and says I am an attention seeker, I am weak, I don’t have a problem, and that it is not her fault whatsoever. I had began cutting when I was 13 as a way to cope with my past. My mother had me very young and she made poor decisions with her life that greatly affected me, such as drugs and abusive boyfriends. I was brought up in a situation where I was to be seen and not heard. I have been left or abused by any important man in my life. Instead of dealing with these emotions I pushed them aside. When I was 13 I was forced to surrender the remainder of my childhood to pretty much raise my younger sister. This lasted about two years. I was expected to do an impossible amount of things and set to fail. I would hide from my mother when she would get home for work because she would yell about everything and anything. This is when my self harming started. I needed to deal with not being good enough. I am currently in a relationship with a boy who loves me, yet does not accept me. I have struggled with my sexuality for the last year or so, something he does not agree with. He is a recovering self harmer and often triggers me. I love him, he has been the only person that will listen to me in my entire life. I went from cutting myself three years ago to holding a curling iron to my stomach a week ago. I am scared I will never get out of this rut. I don’t know where everything went so incredibly wrong. But then again, maybe some people were just born with tragedy in their veins. I do not know how to fix my life or if I will ever know what happiness feels like.

   
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I’m 18 and I started cutting myself 3 or so years ago. I don’t know why I started in the first place, I mean I was scratching myself before then, but I only started cutting myself while I was in an abusive relationship with this guy. After breaking up with him, I kept doing it for another couple of months before quitting. I relapsed about a month ago and now, every time things start getting stressful I feel the need to hurt myself. I’ve been fighting it off and haven’t hurt myself since I relapsed but I’m starting to think I’ll never get out of this cycle. I wasn’t abused or anything so I don’t even know why I started hurting myself in the first place!

   
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