This blog is a continuation of the initial article posted on December 31, 2008, “25 Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm.”
If you are feeling pressured to get past the “heat of the moment” and you need some ideas of how to do this safely, try using a handful of the following ideas. These ideas will not help solve your self-injury issue on a long-term basis, but they could help you to get through the actual moments when you are feeling at the highest risk. Safe distractions that also provide some element of emotional expression are a good balance.
1. Find a brick wall (or any kind of strong wall with no windows), and kick a soccer ball against the wall. Consciously put the anger you are feeling into the ball as you kick it. The cracking sound of the ball smacking the wall can be satisfying as well. The louder the better!
2. Use handfuls of ice, ice packs, or cool cloths to soothe and calm yourself. Some people may find warm cloths or heated warm towels more comforting. Changing a physical sensation in your body and concentrating on that may help to calm your frayed nerves.
3. Put your anger into something useful — be more assertive with utility companies that aren’t doing their job, or tackle other external household issue that need a more aggressive approach. I’m not necessarily promoting being rude to someone who doesn’t deserve it, but you might be able to constructively resolve an existing problem with your added energy and intensity.
4. Color or draw. Small, repetitive movements are soothing and calming, and you might learn something from your picture. The others inside might tell what they are upset about through the drawing that is made.
5. Dance out your feelings. Use strong energetic body movements to release the adrenaline and to wear yourself out. Pick music that fits your mood. Sing along if you can – the voice release is good too.
6. Write a long letter to your abuser(s). At this point, write these letters with plans to NOT send them. The point is not to set up a confrontation.
Let your focus be on expressing your feelings about what they did to you. Write the things that you might never have the courage to actually say to them in real life. When you are finished, you can read the letters out loud repeatedly. Use intensity in your voice. Let yourself say the words with emotional honesty and genuine expression.
7. Get obsessed with some safe activity — for example, do in-depth research on a particular subject on the internet, pull every weed from your yard, wash every dish in your cupboards, pace 10,000 steps, etc.
8. Count those annoying little doodads on the ceiling, and when you lose count – which you will – start over.
9. Do puzzles (the harder the better). There are lots of free online jigsaw puzzle sites if you do not have any actual puzzles in your home.
10. Practice relaxation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. Take long, slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply and slowly, hold for a few counts, then release your breath slowly. Do this until you can feel yourself calm down.
11. Play video games, and take your aggression out on beating the game, or smashing and bashing the other “enemy” characters in the games. Time away “in another world” can help release the pressure you are feeling right now in your world.
12. Clean out your fridge or freezer, scrub it, making it clean and organized. This same idea can be applied to closets, or drawers, or bookshelves, etc. Getting involved with a complicated household task will give you another focus, a place to put your energy, and a positive sense of accomplishment when you are finished.
13. Alphabetize your books, CD’s, Videos, DVDs, etc.
14. Hammer nails into a piece of lumber or old tree stumps until you are exhausted. Watch your fingers – the idea is to NOT do any self-injury! The physical movement will be helpful, the noise will be satisfying, and if you speak about your anger and upset while you are banging away, you will be expressing your feelings at the same time.
15. Wash your vehicle, your outside windows, your driveway, your floors, etc. The physical movement helps, and the accomplished feeling of being clean afterwards can help lift your mood.
16. Go sit in the waiting room of a hospital, and read a book or magazines, and sip on coffee. You do not have to talk to doctors or any of the hospital staff – people will assume you are there waiting for someone who has an appointment. Just being in a calm, safe place can help.
17. Take the time to groom your pets and give them treats. Try teaching your dog a new trick.
18. Do something for yourself that makes you feel pretty, such as brushing your hair, doing your nails, getting your hair cut, coloring your hair, wearing perfume, etc. When you feel lousy, try doing the OPPOSITE of that by doing something that helps you feel pretty.
19. Make something creative. You might have to pre-plan this, or have some options available just around the house. Finish a paint-by-number picture, work on needlepoint or sewing projects, try beading, learn how to make your own jewelry, etc. Getting creative will help distract you and put you in a better frame of mind.
20. Do a collage. It is amazing what comes out in pictures, and you might not have realized what was going on in the background. The collage might explain it to you.
21. Do acronym writing exercises. These acronym exercises might help you uncover why you are feeling so terrible while expressing some of the pain. Expression often eases the pain.
22. Hold a frozen orange. Feel the coldness. Look closely at the frost on it. Hold the frozen orange where you wish to SI. Scratch the orange, smell the aroma. Look at bright orange color. Count the little dots in the orange peel. As you feel better, allow yourself to eat the orange and throw the peelings away.
23. Throw water balloons at a fence, a wall, or a tree and watch them explode. As you throw each water balloon, make a comment about something you are upset about. Use your body and your voice to express your feelings.
24. Build a model car or airplane or create something that takes a lot of detailed mental focus.
25. Go to the library or book stores where it’s fairly quiet, but people are around. Make a list of 100 books you would like to read at some point in time. Or pick five books from each aisle that you would be willing to read. You can browse for hours, and no one would think anything of it. The same kind of book browsing could happen at online book sites as well.
Stay busy – do things over and over from these lists until you feel safe enough to manage your self-injury impulses.
Sometimes just getting past the peak time will be enough to keep you safe.
The more you work on emotional expression in an ongoing way without allowing it to build up to a critical numbing point, the better. One of the biggest keys to resolving self-injury issues is to increase your emotional endurance. The more you can sit with your feelings, the less you will have to hurt yourself to numb them away.
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2018 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation
Well, i’m not sure. When i feel upset i often resort to music or really vigorous work or exercise. With outdoor exercise, something about moving fast and freely makes me feel free inside myself, and that means a lot to me. Working hard at chores burns off a lot of tension, although i have to be careful not to wreck anything.
But when the sudden overwhelm to self injure breaks over me, that’s a different kind of upset. I would like to think that having some of these helpful habits could help prevent or ward off the temptation when such circumstances arise. Actually lately there’s been talking to myself, i try to talk myself down against the temptation. There’s a lot of conflict over it. Seems like some aspects are more likely than others to want to self injure. I think previously those aspects predominated and acted swiftly and without a challenge. Like i didn’t even know there could be objections. Somehow recently the arguments seem to help me feel stronger, i don’t know if that makes sense. Might be because for a little while, at least temporarily, my environment has been more peaceful. Or because God is helping me.
Kathy Broady says
Yes, that makes a whole lot of sense — thank you for your comment. Another very thoughtful comment, as usual – very much appreciated.
It sounds to me like you are addressing self-injury issues on a system-level, and those insiders who once just hurt themselves (or someone else inside?) without a second thought, they are now hearing you and are being challenged with new thoughts, new options, new rules, new concepts. That’s excellent. Very well done. Because yes, as you break down the dissociative barriers and amnesiac walls between your inner people, you will be able to speak with each other, and as a group, you can decide to make different or better choices for your own lives, as you work things out together.
This is an example of really good system work. Thank you so much for sharing that. Keep going!!
Seriously not trying to be difficult, i promise, but nope, none of these work like cutting or burning either. Not even close.
Kathy Broady says
Reblogged this on Discussing Dissociation and commented:
To continue with the theme from yesterday, here is Part 2 of the distraction techniques that can be very helpful when you are battling self-injury.
Which ideas work best for you?
How long can you stretch time out between self-harming episodes?
Does everyone in your system know about these ideas?
I’ll share more thoughts on these topics soon.
Be safe, everyone!
i really, really want to learn to knit.
it would keep my hands busy.
i have tried those books like “knitting for dummies”
and videos on youtube and things like that
but i just don’t get it. i need someone to actually SHOW
me. but i don’t know anyone that knits.
i want to knit hats for babies or children who don’t have hats.
i just can’t figure out how to do it.
Dear Cyber Space,
I guess i worry what will happen if “they” (the doctor people) think that I can’t handle myself and want to keep me in. I am worried that if I can’t heal this myself I will end up in hospital and in some sort of trouble and have less control over my life. I dont know what my rights are.
I worry how I will handle seeing a doctor/nurse at the moment, will some part of me freak out and will i not have control of myself. I am panicking that I cant get it to heal on its own.
I am in a situation at the moment with my self harming and dont know what to do. I got a but carried away lately and its just not healing although I have been tending to it. its along time since I have had to go to the hospital for this sort of thing and I found it completely humiliating and I don’t want to do that again. I need to find a doctor or nurse that would be understanding of this sort of thing as I have a lot of scarring as well. I cant bring myself to deal with people at the moment though~ the idea of seeing someone freaks me out. It hurts to walk and move about maybe it will heal with a little more time. Helps to share this somewhere though, in this cyber space nowhere land where no ones knows me.
I know that this post is old….but on #2, to expand on that might be helpful…
When I am in a public place and dont have ice or whatever, to go into the restroom and run cold water over your hands, can be very grounding.
just an idea
Kathy Broady says
Thanks for your comment – yes, finding ways to use grounding techniques when out in public is very important. Using cool water, running over your hands, or a light splashing on the face, or wiping a cool damp cloth around the neck and upper shoulders all can be helpful things, even in public places.
I think the actual coolness helps to reconnect the person with their body. A big part of overcoming SI is to get “out of the trance” or to reconnect with feeling in the body and to get grounded to the here-and-now. SI is very connected to numbing of the body, so when someone re-connectes with the feelings in their body, there is a lowered risk of following thru’ with SI. When someone is detached from their body, it’s very easy to hurt the body, coz the body doesn’t even feel it then. (I can’t tell you how many people who SI don’t even “feel” the SI.) My guess is, fewer people would SI if they actually felt it — if the SI actually hurt – if they actually felt it in their body – or if they had a different way to feel real besides having to “see” that they are real (via the injury site).
SO, finding ways to re-connect the body with safe physical feelings can reduce the need of completing the SI in some some situations.
Just some thoughts — hope they are helpful –