How to End the Cycle of Self-Harm
Let's skip the trigger warnings. This post is about getting over self-harm. If that bothers you, then don't read it.
I started self-mutilating at a very young age. I would bite my arms until they bled as a small child (pre-elementary) and would hit myself to make any pre-existing playground bruises worse as I got older. As a teenager, I started cutting. And, as an adult, I eventually attempted suicide.
All that's in the past now. I've been “clean” from self-harm for a few years now, and I couldn't be happier to leave the habit behind me.
It was tough, at first. For the first year and a half, I would still get the urge to cut – and that urge was strong. But, after that, the urge slowly went away. I no longer feel the desire to harm myself, and that's a wonderful feeling.
Here are a few of the things that were helpful, and not helpful, on my journey to quit self-harm. I hope that they help you too.
Not Helpful: Cutters' Support Groups
I've tried joining support groups and clubs for people who self-harm and they were not helpful.
Perhaps it was because the groups I joined were fairly unregulated; however, the basic experience was this: We would get together and talk about ways to continue our self-harming habits without getting caught. In our minds, if no one caught us in the act, it was as good as being “clean” (it's not!).
These groups didn't help me stop cutting, they “helped” me get “better” at cutting.
Helpful: Therapy and Medication
Even if you don't have depression or anxiety (though I'm betting you probably do…), talking things out with a therapist can be extremely helpful.
For me, once the underlying issues behind my cutting were taken care of, it became so much easier to stop. The medication helped to “turn off” the part of my brain that dug self-harm, and talking things out gave me a safe way to vent about my feelings in a non-bloody way.
“Coming out” about my self-harm habits to select friends and family – so they could help and support me too – was also a helpful way to talk things out in a safe environment.
Not Helpful: That Stupid Rubberband Trick
Everyone and their mom would tell me to put a rubberband on my wrist and snap it whenever I felt like cutting. They'd heard somewhere that this was helpful. I don't know where. It's dumb.
Because, I don't know about “normal” people, but cutters can find ways to hurt themselves with anything. I would get the thickest rubberband I could find and snap it until I gave myself friction burns – essentially “cutting” myself with the rubberband.
Helpful: The Drawing Trick
Most people will suggest drawing on your skin when you feel like cutting; however, I would use the pen to hurt myself. I would find a needle-point pen or mechanical pencil and use it to dig into me as I drew. (I was a really bad case…).
However, drawing in general was very helpful. If you get a sketchbook or a piece of paper and draw on that when you feel like cutting, then you'll probably have a pretty relaxing time of it.
Not Helpful: Guilt
If you have friends or family members who try to guilt you about your cutting, kindly (and I do mean kindly, as they're likely trying to be helpful) tell them to “please stop.” And if you're guilting yourself about your cutting ways: Stop.
If you're actively TRYING to get better, then you have nothing to feel guilty about (yes, even if you slip up). Just keep trying! You'll get there!
Helpful: Positive Thinking + Gratitude
One of the reasons I'm so annoying about thinking positively in my articles is because I used to be so totally negative. Changing my thought patterns was a HUGE help to me with my depression, my anxiety, and my ability to stop cutting. (It also made me more fun for my friends to be around!).
Try thinking of one thing you're grateful for each day. Personally, if I can think of nothing else, I like to remind myself that I drank clean, fresh water today. But, after I tell myself that, I can usually think of a few more things that went well during the day…
Helpful: Celebrating Milestones
I have a friend whose “clean” date from quitting cocaine is the same as my “clean” date for self-harm. Every time she would hit a milestone in the NA (Narcotics Anonymous), she would grab an extra keytag and send it to me. We would celebrate our milestones together. It was a great way to remind myself of the progress I'd made – and motivate me to keep making progress. Did I want to cut and have to give up my keytags? Or did I want to stay clean and see what the next milestone would bring?
In the end, it's all about finding the right motivation. You have to find a reason to stop harming yourself. A reason to finally be happy.
Unfortunately, this moment of motivation might hit you after you've gone “too far” (like it did for me), but I hope it comes to you sooner.
Don't be afraid to ask for help! And don't keep your feelings bottled up.
Self-harm is a habit and habits are hard to break. But I promise you: It can be done.
Celebrate yourself and each baby step of progress you make. Did you go a full day without cutting? Pat yourself on the back! Each day adds up. Soon those days will become weeks, months, and even years.
NOTE: If you are a serious danger to yourself or others, contact your country's emergency number. If you are suicidal in ANY way, please seek professional help immediately!