Survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with self-injury (SI).
Survivors often use dissociative walls to contain and separate intense emotions from themselves. This allows them to stay numb, and to not feel. They can split off their unmanageable, uncomfortable, or conflicting feelings into other parts of themselves, as frequently seen in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID/MPD).
As those dissociative walls begin to crumble, allowing more emotions and feelings to emerge, survivors often want to maintain or regain that sense of numbness and emotional distance. They will use various forms of self-harm to re-create more distance from feelings.
However, purposeful self-injury and self-destruction creates a myriad of other complications. There are a number of reasons why trauma survivors hurt themselves, and hundreds of different ways to do it.
To hear a few of my thoughts and comments, you might be interested in my YouTube video, Self Injury and Dissociative Identity Disorder.
The following is a list of 25 ideas of activities to do when the urgency of self-harm is there.
These ideas do not necessarily address the issues fueling the SI, but they can be a helpful distraction during an acute crisis point. If you complete a handful of these ideas when you start feeling compulsions to SI, you might find that you can work past the danger point and get yourself into a more stable place.
Remember — Safety First! And that includes safety from yourself as well!
When you are in the immediate danger of harming yourself, try at least five or six of the following ideas.
However, do as many as you need to get past the urgency to self-harm.
Call a friend or two and talk to them about anything – the weather, politics, the news, old times, new recipes, etc. Distract yourself, and enjoy the company.
Watch a movie or two, or three, or however many it takes till you get past the urge to SI. Promise yourself that you will watch movies until you feel safe again.
Listen to soothing music (or scream to angry music).
Write about your feelings in your journal. Write a poem out about your feelings.
Scrub the house from top to bottom. Distracting yourself with tedious tasks, paying close attention to details can give you a different focus for the energy you are feeling.
Draw or paint on paper what you want to do to yourself. Draw or paint a second picture showing why you want to do this. Draw or paint a third picture showing how you wish you were feeling.
Play with, pet, hold, or hug your pet. Find comfort and soothe yourself with the company of your dog and cat instead turning to pain or injury.
Take a walk or exercise. The physical release of energy is helpful.
Plant a small garden. Creating something nice, making something pretty to look at, and tending to something alive can put you into a different frame of mind.
Take a bath or shower. Let the water soothe you and help release your stress. Talking out loud or crying in the shower helps get the pain out that is locked inside you. Let the stress rinse off and send it “down the drain” away from you.
Draw on yourself with a red marker instead of cutting.
Get out the hottest jar of salsa and add jalapeno pepper or red chili peppers, and dig in. It might burn your mouth or make your eyes water and your nose run to eat this, but it won’t scar or cause actual harm.
Put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you think of hurting yourself.
Hit a pillow over and over and over till you tire yourself out or the thoughts go away. Speak or cry while you are doing this, if you can.
Read your favorite book, or read a new book from your favorite author.
Watch something really funny on TV – use comedy and laughter as a release.
Play games online. Computer games can be monotonous, trancey-hypnotic, time-consuming, and calming.
Work on web pages or any other big task that requires your attention.
Sleep, just have to complete shut down. Let the time pass, and hopefully when you wake up, the intensity of the emotion will have subsided.
For those with DID / MPD, go to the safe place you have created inside. Visualize nice things, comforting things, favorite things. Allow yourself to be surrounded by good things in life, even if it exists only in your internal world at that moment.
Snuggle under your favorite blanket in a safe, private, secure place, and allow the feelings to surface. Cry, shake, feel, breathe. Let yourself experience and feel your feelings.
Think of all the people who have ever had good, kind thoughts of you. Imagine each of them standing with you, holding hands and being with you. Allow them to offer comfort and support to you, even via your own thoughts. Write letters of appreciation to them.
Play the guitar or piano and play out your feelings through the music. Write a song about your feelings. Sing out loud with your favorite CD’s. If you find a song that fits just right, play it over and over and over.
Close your eyes and visualize yourself on vacation, far away from your stress. If you love the beach, for example, picture yourself walking at your favorite time of the day, barefoot along the shore, feeling the cool breeze across your face, listening to the waves coming and going, watching the sea gulls fly, picking up sea shells. Imagine yourself walking in the warm clear water, swimming with the dolphins, being totally safe.
Eat a healthy snack (not too sugary), have a cup of herbal tea, or a glass of milk. Avoid caffeine. Nibble on saltine crackers. Challenge yourself to take 50 nibbles or more on each cracker.
If you need to keep reading, try these articles:
- First Do No Harm — Not Even to Yourself
- 25 More Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm
- Why Can’t I Stop Hurting Myself? 12 Thoughts about That
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2018 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation