Regardless of the advice that people give against self-harm and I’m certainly not in favour of it, people will continue to do it. As someone who has struggled with self-harm for many years I feel that it’s my responsibility to at least advise on how to mitigate the damage a person can do, for those who are unable to stop.
1. Break the habit
I’m not talking about stopping altogether but try to prevent self-harming as a form of habit. For example you may find it impossible to sleep without doing so. But try to recognise that this is due to habit, not an emotional difficulty. Try to separate what you need to cope and what has become a daily pattern over time.
Infection is a serious risk when self-harming, it may be what you use or how you take care of a wound afterwards but you need to be aware of it. If you are using an object to self-harm never use something that’s dirty. Also avoid using materials such as ceramics or glass, if these kind of materials get into a wound it could have serious implications. Take care of any physical harm to yourself afterwards.
3. Understanding the risks of your actions
When you self-harm you should be aware of the risks you are taking. If you are cutting you need to seriously consider where you are cutting and what effect it could have on your body. For example on a portion of my left forearm the nerves in my skin no longer have sensation. These are lasting effects which you have to be aware of. If you take an overdose what could the unintentional medical implications be if it goes wrong? Self-harm is never an exact science in this regard.
4. Stick to behaviours which don’t risk your life
Some self-harming behaviours can result in unintentional suicide or permanent brain damage. This is never a risk worth taking.
5. Self awareness
Try to employ some self awareness. Awareness before change is something I talk about in another post as you can’t get a handle on self-harm until you are aware of your emotional difficulties. When you gain awareness try to ask yourself if you really to need to self-harm, the urge will come to you instinctively but try to reason whether it’s really warranted.
6. Continued self harm only becomes more extreme
Consider the road you are taking toward the future. I know from experience that self-harming behaviours often start at the lighter end of the spectrum but to keep getting the relief you have to resort to more and more extreme behaviours.
Not only does this bring significant risk to your physical health but it also means that you continually devalue yourself in order to justify those behaviours which, in turn, continues the cycle.
So if for example you’re cutting yourself superficially now, you need to think about how it will be in a few months time when you’ll be going to hospital to get stitches. You can mitigate the danger by recognising the future risk and taking action so that doesn’t happen.
7. Seek help
I don’t think anyone wants to self-harm indefinitely and the way out is to seek help. You don’t have to quit immediately but getting yourself on the road to recovery is the first step, you don’t have to do this alone.
I totally understand that mental health services are vastly underfunded all over the world and often to get help you have to be in crisis. Search online for community support groups in your area, you’d be surprised how many people are looking for help out there. Online forums can also be useful but bear in mind how large the impact could be of a negative comment.
8. Start a journal
One of the issues that many people with emotional difficulties face is the cluster of thoughts in their mind. Writing things down really does help to separate out those thoughts. I’d recommend writing in it each day. It doesn’t have to be a factual account of the day, just whatever is on your mind. If possible I would advise to write it on paper rather than a computer. When we type we’re somewhat removed from the content and more easily distracted.
9. Self Compassion
A lot of self-harm is anger turned against yourself. Instead of being angry towards yourself try, on occasion, to be kind and compassionate. This will help to stop self devaluation and promote a healthier go to method of emotional regulation.
At first you will have to force yourself to do this, it won’t come naturally. But with time you will start to have the thought of self compassion associated with self-harm which is what we want.
10. Never give up on yourself
However dire your situation feels, don’t give up on your ability to stay strong. Using self-harm to get through tough times proves that you want to get to a better place, whatever the cost.
You are stronger than you know and you will emerge from this hell a more knowledgeable, empathic and emotionally secure individual.