I know from personal experience not only how addictive behaviors like this can affect your life, but also how to combat self-harm. The one thing that is underlined time and time again is that you are never alone, even if you feel like you are. And though you may not feel it, there are people out there like myself, who are under the same sun and moon, diligently rooting for you to stay strong. You can combat self-harm by using coping skills to help get through the urges. I know. I’ve been there.
1. Call Someone
My first advice in how to combat self-harm is to call someone. Keeping someone on the line helps provide a distraction. On rough nights, I call my close friends to either talk me out of it, keep my mind occupied with random conversation such as regional differences in dialogue, or come over to make sure I’m okay. I know in the midst of that adrenaline-filled urge that you don’t want to pull out your phone and chat, but it can make all the difference. If you don’t feel you can confide in a parent, friend, or other trusted adult, there are hotlines you can call to just talk such as 1-800-DONT-CUT.
2. Find Another Release
If you need to get rid of the feeling through something physical, consider punching a pillow, ripping up tissues or paper, or throwing a pillow continuously at the ground until the feeling passes. I have a mason jar filled with sand and water that I shake so that the sand spirals inside. Then take deep breaths as I watch the sand settle. This easy-to-make coping aid helps calm me down and gives me a healthy release. Keeping that tension inside only strengthens the urge to engage in self-harm behavior.
3. The Butterfly Project
The Butterfly Project is quite simple, and I always find it very helpful. Draw a butterfly on your wrist, hip, arm, or anywhere that you want to harm. Name it after someone who wants you to stay strong. If you can’t think of anyone off hand, name after anyone on the AWS team because we care. You must let the butterfly fade away naturally, making sure to not wash it off or self-harm because either of the two would "kill" it. Feel free to ask a friend to draw a butterfly on you, whether they know what it means or not, because it makes the butterfly more meaningful and, for me at least, strengthens my desire to push through the urge.
"Swim for the music that saves you when you’re not so sure you’ll survive." These lyrics from the song ‘Swim’ by Jack’s Mannequin endlessly inspire me. Create a playlist of songs that you can play when things get tough. Sometimes, I blare songs like FUN’s "Carry On" to help me stay strong and shout the lyrics at the top of my lungs. You don’t need to scream lyrics to make music effective, so see what works for you!
My friend asked me during the middle of an urge once what would happen after I engaged in my self-harm behavior. It got me thinking the aftermath, what would happen? Would my problems be solved? No. Self-harm is a temporary solution to a deeper problem and is not something that can be, as I hoped it would, an occasional thing. Try to keep this in perspective, potentially writing down what’s on your mind to get it out of your system.
6. Cry, Scream or Curse
It’s okay to cry, scream, or curse. Crying is the body’s natural way to push toxins out and cleanse the mind. Screaming helps redirect pent-up energy that may be triggering the urge. Cursing takes anger, frustration, or disappointment out of your mind and into the room. I enjoy the latter because it gives me a place to release the adrenaline rush I feel in a healthy way.
7. Distract Yourself
Sometimes the best move to combat self-harm is to distract yourself until the feeling passes, because it will pass sooner or later. Color, draw or paint a picture. Read a book that can take you away from your thoughts, like Harry Potter. Find the corniest joke you can! Leave the room you are in if you find it triggering. You don’t need to be a victim to your thoughts any longer, I promise you.
Self-harm is a scary topic for many people to talk about, but it’s important to speak up if you or your friend is struggling. I guarantee you that you are not alone and that it does get better. What are some coping skills that have worked for you? Any words of support and encouragement for those who do self-harm?