If you struggle with the urge to self-harm, then you know how overwhelming and difficult these urges can be to resist - no matter how determined you may feel to do so. However, what a lot of people don't know is that there are a variety of strategies you can implement that can help you to:
- Resist the urge to self-harm;
- Instead, manage your emotions in a healthy way that you won't later regret.
And, in this blog post, we'd like to share three of these strategies with you.
NOTE: If you're in immediate danger right now, then please reach out for help. For a list of crisis support services that you may be able to call, please click here.
Strategy #1 To Help You Resist The Urge To Self-Harm: The S.T.O.P. Skill
The first strategy to help you resist the urge to self-harm that we’d like to share with you is “S.T.O.P.” – which is an acronym that stands for “Stop”, “Take a step back”, “Observe”, and “Proceed mindfully”. This is a simple, straightforward Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) technique that can help you to regain control of your emotions when you feel overwhelmed and distressed1. In particular, when it comes to trying to resist your self-harm urges, it can be implemented as follows:
S.T.O.P. Skill Part 1: STOP
As we've just mentioned, the “S” in “S.T.O.P.” stands for “stop”. When you feel the urge to self-harm, "stopping" can take the form of, for example:
- Literally saying the word “stop”;
- Taking a few deep breaths to centre yourself;
- Freezing on the spot.
S.T.O.P. Skill Part 2: Taking A Step Back
When it comes to self-harm, this step involves removing any temptation you have to act on your urges. In practice, it may take the form of, for example:
- Moving away from anything that may cause you to act impulsively on your self-harm urges;
- Going for a walk outside to clear your head;
- Retreating to a "safe space", and reminding yourself that in the long-term, acting on your self-harm urges is only going to make you feel worse.
S.T.O.P. Skill Part 3: OBSERVE
This involves trying to gain clarity on the situation you’re in. For example, by considering questions such as:
- Why do I feel distressed in this moment and the urge to self-harm as a result?
- What are the negative consequences of self-harm that I would like to avoid?
- Aside from self-harming, what else could I do right now to help me alleviate my distress? (NOTE: If you aren't sure, then our blog post 40 Alternatives To Self-Harm will give you some ideas).
S.T.O.P. Skill Part 4: PROCEED MINDFULLY
This involves adopting your chosen course of action in a thoughtful, mindful, carefully-considered way (as opposed to acting impulsively without weighing the consequences of doing so and/or what alternative, healthier options may be available to you).
NOTE: While the S.T.O.P. strategy can feel like a lot to do in the "heat of the moment" when you feel the urge to self-harm, the more practice you get with it, the more and more naturally it will come to you - and as a result, the more and more effective you are likely to find it.
Strategy #2 To Help You Resist The Urge To Self-Harm: Repeat An Empowering Affirmation
The urge to self-harm can feel extremely overpowering - to such an extent that you may not feel as if you have the strength to resist it. And, when this is the case, it can help to repeat an empowering affirmation to yourself that grounds you in your inner strength. For example:
- I am capable of resisting this temptation;
- I have the power to choose my actions;
- I am stronger than my self-harm urges;
- I am resilient in the face of temptation;
- My inner strength has no limits;
- I have overcome my urge to self-harm before, and I can do it again;
- I choose not to give into my self-harm urges;
- My "future me" will be proud of "present me" for resisting these self-harm urges.
Strategy #3 To Help You Resist The Urge To Self-Harm: Reframe The Thoughts That Feed Your Self-Harm Urges
When your self-harm urges are at their strongest, then as you can likely relate to, it's common to experience intrusive thoughts that feed into these urges. For example:
- "If I don't act on my self-harm urges, then I'm going to go crazy."
- "I'm not strong enough to resist the urge to self-harm any longer."
- "The only way to be free of my emotional pain is by self-harming."
- "Self-harming is the only way to release the tension and pressure inside of me."
However, like we often say at The Depression Project, just because you think a thought, it does not mean that it's true. And, if you stop and reframe these kind of thoughts in more accurate, empowering ways instead of automatically believing them to be true, then you'll likely find that your urge to self-harm is much more controllable.
On that note, some ways of reframing the above thoughts that commonly feed self-harm urges could include, for example:
- "It will be very hard to resist this urge to self-harm, but I won't go crazy in doing so. In fact, I know from experience that the 'peak' of this urge will pass sooner or later, and then, this urge will become more and more manageable."
- "I have resisted the urge to self-harm many times in the past, which means that I have an inner strength that is stronger than I'm giving myself credit for."
- "There are many strategies to relieve my emotional pain and manage my distress during difficult times that do not involve self-harming. And, the more and more I practice them, the more and more effective I am likely to find them."
- "To relieve tension, I don't have to self-harm. Instead, I can [insert one or more of these strategies that works for you]."
NOTE: For many people, it can often feel too overwhelming to reframe their thoughts in the "heat of the moment" when their urge to self-harm is at its strongest. Consequently, at a time when your mind is calm and you don't have the urge to self-harm, we encourage you to spend some time reframing the thoughts which feed your self-harm urges, and to write these new, more accurate and empowering thoughts down somewhere. Then, when your self-harm urges are strong, you can turn to this list of alternative thoughts and use them to help you resist your urges in that moment.
Moving forwards, we hope these three strategies help you to resist your self-harm urges when you feel them coming on ❤️
All our love,
The Depression Project Team
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2019). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. New Harbinger Publications.
Astrachan-Fletcher, E., & Maslar, M. (2009). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bulimia: Using DBT to Break the Cycle and Regain Control of Your Life. New Harbinger Publications.
P.S. If you found this blog post helpful, then we think you'll find our Self-Sabotaging Habits Bootcamp helpful as well, in which we'll cover:
- The exact steps you need to follow in order to break out of self-sabotaging habits like binge eating, overspending on "retail therapy", substance abuse or self-harm, for example;
- What to do if you relapse back into your self-sabotaging habits;
- And much more.
Access to this Bootcamp and lots of others are included as part of our Depression Bootcamps Membership Platform - which you can learn more about by clicking the button below.