Fort Refuge - Abuse Survivors Support Group

Avoiding Self Injury


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Self-injury often results in unpleasant consequences: scars, risk of permanent body damage (or even death), shame, embarrassment, isolation from other people, self-esteem problems. It's a tough habit to break. On one hand, it's addictive, and quitting any addiction is hard. On the other hand, the problem is often deeper than pure behavioral modification. Self-injury is a coping mechanism; not the healthiest one, but it serves a purpose. In order to quit it, one needs to work on the underlying issues that caused it in the first place, and to learn alternative coping skills. However, that can take years, and meanwhile we need to function in the here and now somehow. This page lists various approaches that might be helpful when you're trying to resist the urge to harm yourself. Feel free to pick and choose - people self-injure for different reasons, and what works for one person might not work for another. Out of everything listed on this page, something should help. Please don't hesitate to call a hotline, your therapist, or 911 if you need professional help or if your life is in danger. Be safe.

Quick Fixes:

  • Splash water on your face. This will help alter you concentration, attention, and physical senstions.
  • Take a bath or shower. "Immersing yourself in either warm or cold water will change your body's temperature, thus changing your physical sensations."
  • Make you whole body as tense as you can. When you release this tension, your body will feel more relaxed.
  • Change the temperature of your environment. It can be either really warm or really cold. Creating such a drastic change will alter how you feel on a physical level and can also help reduce or eliminate dissociation.

SI substitutes:

These methods may be helpful to you if you are not ready to change your self-injurious behaviours' and/or simply "need a break from hurting yourself." These techniques seem to be effective in reducing self-injury, at least temporarily:

  • Colour you body to resemble what would have happened if you did hurt yourself. For example, draw red lines on yourself instead of cutting. But make sure to use nontoxic art supplies for this method.
  • Hold an ice cube in your hand. The pain from the ice will resemble the pain from self-injury. But the result will not be as harmful or dangerous to your body.
  • Plunge your arm into a bucket of ice water. The shock of the cold and the pain from this will resemble the pain from SI.
  • Play an audiotape or videotape of yourself that you have recorded previously. In this tape, state all the reasons why you like yourself and why you should not hurt yourself. This will raise your self-awareness and may make you feel loved.
  • Call, write, or visit a friend, family member, significant other, or therapist.
These are only a few idea of what you can do. Further on, I have a list of 'distractions.' Or you can come up with some of your own. The basic premise behind altering your physical sensations is that by doing so, you are changing your level of dissociation, your thoughts, feelings, and moods. By creating these changes, you also alter the strength of your desire to hurt yourself.


It can be helpful to know how to relax and feel less stressed when you are feeling tense or anxious. Relaxation has psychological and physical components that can reduce stress. "Because of the high degree of tension and anxiety associated with [self-injury], knowing how to relax and using this knowledge at critical times is essential." By learning how to relax and release your tension in a way that is healthy, you will find that your desire to hurt yourself will lessen.

Each of the following techniques are methods of relaxation. You will need to determine which works best for you. Some of these techniques (especially imagery) may produce adverse or unwanted effects, because dissociation, and dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), are related to self-injury. If you suspect that one of the following techniques might possibly make you hurt yourself or feel worse, then it would be good to get more information. Talk to a friend, therapist, spouse, or other loved one. Read up on the subject. If you cannot do any of these, then try each relaxation technique carefully and minimally at first, "assessing its effects as you proceed." It may take you a while to find the method that works the best to help you relax.

Deep Breathing:

The first of the most common techniques used for relaxation involves altering your style of breathing. When you feel tense and anxious, you usually breathe differently than normal, more rapidly and shallowly than when you are relaxed. A way to trick your body into feeling more relaxed is to act as if you are relaxed. Altering your breathing to resemble that of a normal relaxed state will do this.

To do this method of relaxation, you first must get comfortable. You can sit or lie down, which ever you prefer. Then place your hand (or a box of tissues, if you want) on your stomach. You increase your awareness of your breathing by doing this; you can see and feel your hand rising and falling with each breath. Close your eyes and breath as slowly and deeply as you can. First letting your abdomen expand, then your chest. Feel your hand rise and fall as you breathe in and out. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth (this helps slow your breathing). Practice breathing deeply and slowly for about five minutes.

When you first try out this technique, you will probably have to concentrate on your rate of breathing a lot. It is quite easy to fall back into a pattern of short and shallow breaths. But after you have practiced this technique, you will be able to change your breathing with little thought or effort. And you will find that taking long, deep breaths will make your body automatically relax and allows you to feel less tense and anxious.


Another relaxation technique involves the use of imagery. You can perform visualization techniques almost anywhere and under almost any circumstances, but it works better if you are able to find a quiet, comfortably place in which you feel safe and secure. You can either sit or lie down (whichever you like), and you may want to soften the lighting or turn off the lights. Once you feel comfortable, you are ready to begin.

Imagery can be used in two ways. First, it can be used to divert your attention. To use imagery to do this, you create and imaginary situation which you find pleasant. Make your imaginary setting as specific and detailed as you possibly can.

The second way of using imagery is more specific. "In this technique, you first identify the are in your body where you feel tension. Once you have found that place, you then try to imagine and describe what the tension looks like." And once you have described the physical sensation as fully as possible, it can be changed. This use of imagery can change your physical sensations. "Using imagery makes it possible to relieve stress and tension and enhance relaxation."

Directed Attention:

Another relaxation technique involves directing or focusing your attention on each area of your body in succession. This method seems simple, but the amount of concentration required may make this method more difficult than expected.

As in the above techniques, it is important that you feel as comfortable as possible when you perform this method. "Then, starting at your toes and working your way up your body, ending at the top of your head, focus on each part of your body and simply notice the physical sensations that are present in each area. Be sure to stop at each area of your body and assess how it feels physically.

You will find that you feel more and more relaxed by selectively guiding your concentration and concentration. "Using this technique in combination with deep breathing and imagery will produce the best results."

Reaching Out:

When you are in emotional or physical pain, or even both, it is important that you reach out to other people. People rely on connection and human contact for survival. And this is what you need most when you feel like hurting yourself.

It is essential that while trying to end or reduce self-injurious behaviours, you reach out to other people. It is necessary to have a network of friends, family, and others who will be there to support you to do this. But be sure to arrange this support system before you decide to stop hurting yourself. It will be easier for you to know that your friend or loved one is ready to support you. "Also, if your friends know that they might be hearing from you and indicate that they will be there to support you, you will feel cared for, connected and supported.


  1. Write a poem.
  2. Listen to soothing music.
  3. Talk with somebody close to you.
  4. Write a story.
  5. Pray.
  6. Call a friend.
  7. Snap your wrist with a rubber band.
  8. Sew.
  9. Take a nap.
  10. Leave the room or the house.
  11. Read a good book.
  12. Work in the garden.
  13. Do arts and crafts.
  14. Watch television.
  15. Cook a meal.
  16. Call a hotline or support group, or post on a message board.
  17. Use washable, non-toxic markers to "cut" your skin.
  18. Let yourself cry.
  19. Dance.
  20. Draw.
  21. Exercise or work out in some way.
  22. Get a massage.
  23. Hug someone.
  24. Help someone.
  25. Paint something.
  26. Play a musical instrument.
  27. Write a letter to the person or problem that is upsetting you, but don't mail it.
  28. Run around the block.
  29. Scream at the top of your lungs.
  30. See a friend.
  31. Do some sculpting.
  32. Go shopping.
  33. Shout.
  34. Sing.
  35. Go skating.
  36. Take a bath.
  37. Take a sauna.
  38. Throw things (such as icecubes or your pillow, NOT something like glass).
  39. Vent about what you are upset about.
  40. Take a walk.
  41. Watch a movie.
  42. Go window shopping.
  43. Do yoga.
  44. Hit a punching bag.
  45. Clean your room or the house.
  46. Cuddle with someone.
  47. Go cycling.
  48. Diving.
  49. Go for a drive.
  50. Play a game or color in a coloring book.
  51. Go swimming.
  52. Play the piano.
  53. Shred a phonebook or a newspaper into a thousand pieces.
  54. Write a song.
  55. Fighting.
  56. Make or work on a website.
  57. Take a long shower.
  58. Meditate.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
~ Winston Churchill
This page was last updated on April 10th, 2016
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