Hello! I’m Si. I’m one of the founders of Heads Above The Waves, and I self-harmed when I was a teenager (and into my adult life too, tbh). You can read my story on HATW if you want to know a bit more detail, but the upshot is: I’ve been through this myself. I’ve put together a few thoughts of things that helped me get past self-harm, as well as a few things that we’ve gathered from the last 7 years of doing HATW that might help you stop self-harm.
First and foremost, whatever I say here: if you’re not in a place to accept it, take it onboard, and wholeheartedly try it, then it’s not gonna work for you. If you’re not at that point yet, that’s ok. Maybe just reading some of this will help get you to a place where you decide you’re ready.
If you’re ready to make a change, and take some steps towards recovery, then that’s awesome, and already half the battle. Let’s dive right in.
Know what it feels like when you’ve been triggered. For me, that’s getting knots in my stomach and flustered in my face. These are my physical signs, but what are yours?
A step back from this: what are your triggers? What is it that sets you off, leaves you feeling like you’re going to self-harm? If you’re not sure what exactly it is that triggers you, try keeping a note of your situation every time you feel like self-harming. Where are you? Who are you with? What time is it? All these details over a month or two can help you spot patterns, and figure out what your triggers are. Once you know what your triggers are, you can put things in place to avoid them, and/or look at finding something else to try next time you get triggered.
Self-harm is serving some sort of purpose. It’s a coping mechanism (but it’s a harmful one). Maybe it’s helping you release your anger/frustration. Maybe it’s a way for you to feel something if you feel numb otherwise. Maybe it’s a physical way of showing the pain you’re feeling inside.
Whatever it is, take some time to think about and acknowledge what you’re getting out of self-harm.
Once you know what it is you’re getting from self-harm, try to find some other way to get that same result. So if it’s a release for anger, maybe you could try playing drums, or if it’s a way of fighting numbness, you could try something intense (like our hot sauce!), or if self-harm is about expression for you, it might be that writing, or even just talking about it, might help serve that same purpose.
We’ve compiled a list of things that have helped us and others on our THINGS TO TRY page to help you find what works for you.
Once you’ve found something you want to try as an alternative to self-harm, you’ve gotta be mindful while you do it.
I’ve recently found playing video games a really useful escape when everything’s feeling a bit too much. One of the most important things I’ve learned from this is that there’s a difference between kicking back on the PS4 cuz I’m bored, and spotting when I’m in a bad headspace and giving myself 45 mins to chill and reset my brain. I’m physically doing the same thing, but it’s the mindset I go into it with that determines whether it’s going to have a positive impact on my mental health. So whatever it is that you’re trying out, each time you do it tell yourself “this is helping me get better”.
This heading works 2 ways.
1) you need to give yourself time for these new coping techniques to work; they won’t necessarily work straight away, you need to keep trying them and stick with it until they start to work. (Here’s a lil video about why you should stick with it!).
2) A useful distraction technique might be to give yourself a target time. Say “I’m not going to self-harm for the next 2 minutes” – and if you can go 2 minutes without self-harming, and you still feel like doing it at the end of those 2 minutes, then that’s ok. But if you can get through 2 minutes and then say “I’m not going to self-harm for another 5 minutes” and keep on extending it, you’ll not only feel a sense of accomplishment for hitting those little goals, but often by the end of these lil time limits, the urge to self-harm can pass, and you can look to try putting something else in place.
It’s something we keep coming back to, but talking it out can make such a difference. Whether that’s having a friend who checks in on you & makes sure you stick with the new things you’re trying, or whether that’s reaching out to a helpline and talking through the emotions you’re going through during this time.
Talking about self-harm is really hard and kinda scary the first time you do it, but it honestly gets easier. There are people out there who will listen and care about you, or even just be able to relate to you. Knowing that you’re not in this alone might be a cliche but hot dang, it’s helpful.
Self-harm is a complex, and unique issue that’s going to be different for so many people who deal with it. These are just a few ideas of what’s helped in the past, and what might help you. But it’s important to find what works for YOU.