Alternatives to Self-Harm

Adapted from Secret Shame: What to do RIGHT NOW instead of SI.

Here is a list of things you can do right now instead of self-injuring. Even if you feel you can't cope without self-harm, you could make it a rule to try at least one thing on this list before you SI. Hopefully, in time you will build up a long list of healthier ways of coping.

How are you feeling right now?
Angry, frustrated, restless
Sad, soft, melancholy, depressed, unhappy
Numb, unreal, craving sensation/pain, dissociating
Wanting focus
Wanting to see blood, scars, or pick scabs
Wanting the familiar ritual of SI

Find more alternatives

If your SI is so impulsive that you find you've done it before you've even thought about this list, take a look at the prevention strategies.

Angry, frustrated, restless

Try something physical and violent, something not directed at a living thing:

I've found that these things work even better if I rant at the thing I am cutting/tearing/hitting. I start out slowly, explaining why I am hurt and angry, but sometimes end up swearing and crying and yelling. It helps a lot to vent like that.

Crank up the music and dance.

Clean your room (or your whole house).

Go for a walk/jog/run.

Stomp around in heavy shoes.

Play handball or tennis.

Sad, soft, melancholy, depressed, unhappy

Do something slow and soothing, like taking a hot bath with bath oil or bubbles, curling up under a comforter with hot cocoa and a good book, babying yourself somehow. Do whatever makes you feel taken care of and comforted. Light sweet-smelling incense. Listen to soothing music. Smooth nice body lotion into the parts or yourself you want to hurt. Call a friend and just talk about things that you like. Make a tray of special treats and tuck yourself into bed with it and watch TV or read. Visit a friend.

Numb, unreal, craving sensation/pain, dissociating

Do something that creates a sharp physical sensation:

Note: Some people report that being online while dissociating increases their sense of unreality; be cautious about logging on in a dissociative state until you know how it affects you.

Wanting focus

Do a task (a computer game like tetris or minesweeper, writing a computer program, needlework, etc) that is exacting and requires focus and concentration.

Eat a raisin mindfully. Pick it up, noticing how it feels in your hand. Look at it carefully; see the asymmetries and think about the changes the grape went through. Roll the raisin in your fingers and notice the texture; try to describe it. Bring the raisin up to your mouth, paying attention to how it feels to move your hand that way. Smell the raisin; what does it remind you of? How does a raisin smell? Notice that you're beginning to salivate, and see how that feels. Open your mouth and put the raisin in, taking time to think about how the raisin feels to your tongue. Chew slowly, noticing how the texture and even the taste of the raisin change as you chew it. Are there little seeds or stems? How is the inside different from the outside? Finally, swallow.

Choose an object in the room. Examine it carefully and then write as detailed a description of it as you can. Include everything: size, weight, texture, shape, color, possible uses, feel, etc.

Choose a random object, like a paper clip, and try to list 30 different uses for it.

Pick a subject and research it on the web.

Wanting to see blood, scars, or pick scabs

Draw on yourself with a red felt-tip pen.

Take a small bottle of liquid red food coloring and warm it slightly by dropping it into a cup of hot water for a few minutes. Uncap the bottle and press its tip against the place you want to cut. Draw the bottle in a cutting motion while squeezing it slightly to let the food color trickle out.

Draw on the areas you want to cut using ice that you've made by dropping six or seven drops of red food color into each of the ice-cube tray wells.

Paint yourself with red tempera paint.

Get a henna tattoo kit. You put the henna on as a paste and leave it overnight; the next day you can pick it off as you would a scab and it leaves an orange-red mark behind.

Wanting the familiar ritual of SI

Go through your "ritual" doing everything but self-injuring. This means that you go through the motions of preparing to SI, you unpack your tools, your bandages, you get the right music, or whatever it is you find yourself doing while you hurt yourself, and then, at the moment when you would normally start self-injuring, you pack it all away. You can do this again and again until the urge leaves you. (From FirstSigns: "Everything But" Rule.)

Some people also find it helpful to bandage themselves as if they'd self-injured.

More alternatives

These pages also offer suggestions of things to do instead of SI:

Techniques and strategies to help you distract yourself when you feel like self-harming.

FirstSigns Helping You
The 15-minute rule, surfing the urge, and more alternatives.

Getting Through a Crisis
DBT distress tolerance skills.

Spank the Monkey!
Just for fun... but this and other games on can be an excellent way of distracting yourself from the urge to self-harm!