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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
Information from ‘Scarred Souls’ by Tracy Alderman.