5 Steps out of Self-Harm

Right here and now, I want to give you five steps out of self-harm. You deserve wellness and to be treated well, even by yourself. You’ve read Know your emotions (last post) and you want out of self-harm.

1. Have a plan

These steps will help if they are part of your plan. You may already have a plan with your therapist. Your plan may include finding a therapist. A plan means you’re ready to progress. Don’t coast, hope, or wait-and-see-what-happens. Plan.

2. Know your triggers                  

A trigger is anything that makes you want to self-harm: arguments, failing, being slighted, drinking, whatever. These questions will help you know your triggers.

 What started me self-harming in the first place?

How do I feel just before I self-harm?

What emotions are risky for me?

Write out your triggers and make a plan for each.

Forewarned is forearmed.

 3. Find alternatives

Self-harm is a way of coping with distress but these are safer ways to get some of what self-harm does for you.

First: Buy time. Maybe you can avoid self-harm if you can get through the next fifteen minutes. Take life one minute at a time. Try these:

 Count back from 1000,

Go out and count stars,

Watch cloud formations,

Take fifty deep breaths.

Get over the urge and you could be OK. If all else fails just sit in a chair and don’t move until the urge leaves, even if it’s hours. Seriously.

 If you need to self-harm, here are alternatives.  Understand what you need to feel.

When you need ...

To feel pain: hold ice; flick an elastic band into your wrist; drive your thumbnail into your pinky fingernail.

To feel alive: take a freezing shower, eat a lemon or a chilli, smell ammonia.

To punish yourself: stand in a corner for thirty minutes; write out 300 times I am learning to cope better; clean house thoroughly; don’t self-harm (that really hurts).

To express anger: pound a mattress; rip a book; pump iron; scream into pillows; get on the floor and have a full-on tantrum until exhaustion.

Catharsis (release): cry, howl, really get it out; laugh at comedy; trash your room then clean it meticulously; dance to loud music.

4. Be gentle with yourself

When you’re ready, this step does the opposite of what self-harm wants. Treat yourself well; be gentle with yourself.

Go for joy: dance, sing, drum, commune with nature, pat a dog or cat, walk/sing/dance in the rain.

Use people power: talk to family, listen to a friend, help an elderly person.

Soothe yourself: take a bubble-bath, snuggle in front of the fire with hot chocolate and a good book, buy yourself a small treat.

Reinforce good: write out your good points; start a gratitude journal; read it often.

Distract usefully: listen to your ten favourite songs, garden, cook, bake, organize, study, learn something new (juggling or a musical instrument), write out goals and review the plan for each.

Focus quietly: breathe deeply, meditate, reflect, stretch, list five things you see, hear and sense, keep a journal of thoughts and feelings.

5. Deal directly with self-harm urges & emotions

This last technique helps you control the urges. It’s not easy. It takes practice, courage, and commitment. Do this only when you’re ready and you’ll be safe; maybe under therapist supervision.

Sit in a chair and choose a triggering emotion. Anger. Imagine anger coming at you like waves at the beach. First a small wave up to your ankles. Then up to your knees, then up to your waist. You control the strength of the emotion with your thoughts. The anger-waves get stronger, but each time they move past you. Stand your ground. If you get bowled over; choose a smaller wave. Keep practising with larger anger-waves until it’s over your head. Just float up and come back down. You handled it.

This gives you control but takes months of practice. It works because you mix thoughts and feelings and you keep control. Always be safe. Having faced your worst, you can move past self-harm.

The Steps:

             1. Have a plan

            2. Know your triggers

            3. Find alternatives

            4. Be gentle with yourself

            5. Deal directly with self-harm urges & emotions

Listen to our podcast for more on this


Christian Heim