In The Know Zone

self injury self help

Editor's Note: the content of this Web article may be triggering for those who self-injure.

Self-help techniques

While SI behavior tends to taper off with age, it can persist from the teens into the 30s and even beyond.  Given its frequent origin in profound childhood trauma, it would take much insight and will power to halt the practice without support and treatment.  But there are techniques to help control the behavior. If the urge centers on venting strong emotion or snapping back into reality from a dissociative feeling:

  • Substitute anything that isn't SI. There are painful or intense but harmless techniques that may achieve the same release from stress—squeeze ice until your hand aches from the cold, take a cold bath, bite into something strongly flavored, like a hot pepper, ginger root or the peel of citrus fruit, rub menthol rub under your nose, put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it against the skin
  • Redirect the urge. Slash a piece of heavy cardboard or a plastic soda bottle, hit a punching bag, break sticks—anything to focus and release the anger you feel on something inanimate and expendable
  • Delay the act. Tell yourself that if you still want to hurt yourself in 15 minutes, you can.  If the urge lasts that long, see if you can go another 15 minutes.

If the urge to self-injure derives from feelings of depression:

· Indulge yourself. Take a hot bath, curl up under the covers with a cup of cocoa and a good book or anything else that makes you feel comforted and cared for.

If the intent of the SI urge is to achieve focus:

· Undertake a challenge. Play a demanding computer game, do needlework—anything that requires intense focus.  Pick an object in the room—a piece of furniture, a picture, the view through a window. Study it intently, then write as detailed a description of it as you can.

If the urge includes the desire to see blood:

· Substitute something else. Draw on yourself with a red felt-tip pen or red tempra paint.  Create red ice cubes by coloring the water with red food color.  Draw the ice cubes across the spot you want to cut.[42]

[42] The suggestions are adapted from Secret Shame: Self-Help, available at, Accessed 10/7/2004.


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