More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Self-help ideas for people who self-injure

Ways to help yourself right now
This material is excerpted from the secret shame SI info and support website.

This section contains a variety of ways that you can stop yourself from making that cut or burn or bruise right now.

How do I stop? And anyway, aren't some of these techniques just as "bad" as SI?
There are several different flat-out- in-the-moment strategies typically suggested, such as doing anything that isn't SI and produces intense sensation: squeezing ice, taking a cold bath or hot or cold shower, biting into something strongly flavored (hot peppers, gingerroot, unpeeled lemon/lime/grapefruit), sex, etc. These strategies work because the intense emotions that provoke SI are transient; they come and go like waves, and if you can stay upright through one, you get some breathing room before the next (and you strengthen your muscles). The more waves you tolerate without falling over, the stronger you become.

But, the question arises, aren't these things equivalent to punishing yourself by cutting or burning or hitting or whatever? The key difference is that they don't produce lasting results. If you squeeze a handful of ice until it melts or stick a couple of fingers into some ice cream for a few minutes, it'll hurt intensely but it won't leave scars, nothing you'll have to explain away later. You most likely won't feel guilty afterwards -- a little foolish, maybe, and kind of proud that you weathered a crisis without SI, but not guilty.

This kind of distraction isn't intended to cure the roots of your self-injury; you can't run a marathon when you're too tired to cross the room. These techniques serve, rather, to help you get through an intense moment of badness without making things worse for yourself in the long run. They're training wheels, and they teach you that you can get through a crisis without hurting yourself. You will refine them, even devise more productive coping mechanisms, later, as the urge to self-injure lessens and loses the hold it has on your life. Use these interim methods to demonstrate to yourself that you can cope with distress without permanently injuring your body. Every time you do you score another point and you make SI that much less likely next time you're in crisis.

Your first task when you've decided to stop is to break the cycle, to force yourself to try new coping mechanisms. And you do have to force yourself to do this; it doesn't just come. You can't theorize about new coping techniques until one day they're all in place and your life is changed. You have to work, to struggle, to make yourself do different things. When you pick up that knife or that lighter or get ready to hit that wall, you have to make a conscious decision to do something else. At first, the something else will be a gut- level primitive, maybe even punishing thing, and that's okay -- the important thing is that you made the decision, you chose to do something else. Even if you don't make that decision the next time, nothing can take away that moment of mastery, of having decided that you were not going to do it that time. If you choose to hurt yourself in the next crisis time, you will know that it is a choice, which implies the existence of alternative choices. It takes the helplessness out of the equation.

So what do I do instead?
You can increase the chances that a distraction/substitution will help calm the urge to self- injure by matching what you do to how you are feeling at the moment.

First, take a few moments and look behind the urge. What are you feeling? Are you angry? Frustrated? Restless? Sad? Craving the feeling of SI? Depersonalized and unreal or numb? Unfocused? Next, match the activity to the feeling. A few examples:

Angry, frustrated, restless
(These strategies work better sometimes if you talk to the object you are cutting/ tearing/ hitting. Start slowly, explaining why you're hurt and angry. It's okay if you end up ranting or yelling; it can help a lot to vent feelings that way.)

Try something physical and violent, something not directed at a living thing:
o Slash an empty plastic soda bottle or a piece of heavy cardboard or an old shirt or sock.
o Make a soft cloth doll to represent the things you are angry at. Cut and tear it instead of yourself.
o Flatten aluminum cans for recycling, seeing how fast you can go.
o Hit a punching bag.
o Use a pillow to hit a wall, pillow-fight style.
o Rip up an old newspaper or phone book.
o On a sketch or photo of yourself, mark in red ink what you want to do. Cut and tear the picture.
o Make Play-Doh or Sculpey or other clay models and cut or smash them.
o Get a few packages of Silly-Putty or some physical therapy putty and squeeze it, bounce it off a wall, stretch it and then snap it.
o Throw ice into the bathtub or against a brick wall hard enough to shatter it.
o Break sticks.
o Crank up some music and dance.
o Clean your room (or your whole house).
o Go for a walk/ jog/ run.
o Stomp around in heavy shoes.
o Play handball or tennis.

Sad, soft, melancholy, depressed, unhappy
o 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.
o Do whatever makes you feel taken care of and comforted.
o Light sweet-smelling incense.
o Listen to soothing music.
o Smooth nice body lotion into the parts of yourself you want to hurt.
o Call a friend and just talk about things that you like.
o Make a tray of special treats and tuck yourself into bed with it and watch TV or read.
o Visit a friend.

Craving sensation, feeling depersonalized, dissociating, feeling unreal
Do something that creates a sharp physical sensation:
o Squeeze ice hard (this really hurts). (Note: putting ice on a spot you want to burn gives you a strong painful sensation and leaves a red mark afterward, kind of like burning would.)
o Put a finger into a frozen food (like ice cream) or put ice water in a pitcher and put your hand in it for a few seconds.
o Bite into a hot pepper or chew a piece of gingerroot.
o Rub liniment under your nose.
o Slap a tabletop hard.
o Snap your wrist with a rubber band.
o Take a cold bath.
o Stomp your feet on the ground.
o Focus on how it feels to breathe. Notice the way your chest and stomach move with each breath.

Wanting focus
o Do a task (a computer game like Tetris, writing a computer program, needlework, etc.) that is exacting and requires focus and concentration.
o 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.
o 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.
o Choose a random object, like a paper clip, and try to list 30 different uses for it.
o Pick a subject and research it on the web.

Wanting to see blood
o Draw on yourself with a red felt-tip pen.
o 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.
o 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.
o Paint on yourself with red tempera paint or a red lip-liner pen.

Wanting to see scars or pick scabs
o 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.
o Another thing that helps sometimes is the fifteen-minute game. Tell yourself that if you still want to harm yourself in 15 minutes, you can. When the time is up, see if you can go another 15.

How do I know if I'm ready to stop?
Deciding to stop self-injury is a very personal decision. You may have to consider it for a long time before you decide that you're ready to commit to a life without scars and bruises. Don't be discouraged if you conclude the time isn't right for you to stop yet; you can still exert more control over your self- injury by choosing when and how much you harm yourself, by setting limits for your self- harm, and by taking responsibility for it. If you choose to do this, you should take care to remain safe when harming yourself: don't share cutting implements and know basic first aid for treating your injuries.

Tracy Alderman suggests this useful checklist of things to ask yourself before you begin walking away from self- harm. It isn't necessary that you be able to answer all of the questions "yes," but the more of these things you can set up for yourself, the easier it will be to stop hurting yourself.

While it is not necessary that you meet all of these criteria before stopping SIB, the more of these statements that are true for you before you decide to stop this behavior, the better.
o I have a solid emotional support system of friends, family, and/ or professionals that I can use if I feel like hurting myself.
o There are at least two people in my life that I can call if I want to hurt myself. I feel at least somewhat comfortable talking about SIB with three different people.
o I have a list of at least ten things I can do instead of hurting myself.
o I have a place to go if I need to leave my house so as not to hurt myself.
o I feel confident that I could get rid of all the things that I might be likely to use to hurt myself.
o I have told at least two other people that I am going to stop hurting myself.
o I am willing to feel uncomfortable, scared, and frustrated.
o I feel confident that I can endure thinking about hurting myself without having to actually do so.
o I want to stop hurting myself. [Alderman (1997) p. 132]


Thank you for posting this. I am a self injurer who is trying desperately to stop after 6 years of doing it. I am going to try some of the suggestions. Thanks again.
My therapist told me something very interesting that has helped me with cravings....chemically a craving only lasts for 6 seconds...after that the only reason it is still on our minds is b/c the person is psychologically obsessing over it...I know that for me when I get a craving to SI or use (drugs/alcohol) I count to six and remember that even though my mind is still craving the SI or drug my physical mind is not so let it go by doing something someone, go for a walk(exercise is great for recovery), do something special for yourself like taking a long bath or relaxing, journal, basically if you can get out of your phsycological mind and step back, look at the situation,and get help you have overcome that craving...remember it only last 6 seconds!
PS: I know this is easier said than done but practice is the key...the first several times it is extremely difficult but you do get better at this


chemically a craving only lasts for 6 seconds...after that the only reason it is still on our minds is b/c the person is psychologically obsessing over it...
I think that makes sense in terms of how if you "drag it out" for so long it really doesn't have the same purpose/ feeling associated w/ it anymore.... it's more like an impulsive reaction in the 1st place so if try to distract yourself or find another, better way to deal w/ the situation/ feeling the impulse to si often does decrease.... maybe not always, but it does work.... it's just a matter of being able to "stick it out" until it resides, which is the difficult thing.


Great ideas, very interesting David. It is important for everyone of us who do not know alot about this issue! Thanks :)
When I SI, its usually has to do with the despair I'm feeling, or the lack of focus (the swarming thoughts) When it was suggested to me that I write down what ever came into my head, that helped me alot. I immeadiatly began to feel calmer and the desire to SI decreased. Some times it wouldn't work, often if I had let my feelings go with out writing anything, i missed the 'window' so to speak, and the feelings were then far to strong to concentrate on even holding a pen!! lol
but this method was a great one over all for me.
Here is a question, although I haven't SI'd for a good few months now, and the desire has popped up only a couple of times, I still look and caress my scars. I'm not proud of them, but.. I want them there? I guess the question is do others feel that way? Am I 'recovering' if I feel this way about them?


I wonder, Phoenix, if this might be a way of reminding yourself that there are other ways to deal with pain that are more productive. The scars are reminders of your previous, destructive way of dealing with overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Reminders, while not always pleasant, are helpful to keep our thinking focussed. Perhaps, your scars remind of you of a time to which you don't wish to return.


I think the article above is a brilliant one.. some of the ideas have surfaced on the foroum before but not to the extent that the article has differentiated the diff emotions ect.

Pheonix: i too have a couple of scars and i look at them as reminders of of where i was when i did them. like u i want them to stay there.

but i have a question of sorts.. i have found that when things overwhelm me, and i feel the need to s.i. then i seem to be in another mindset completely, nothing else matters, except {SI}, and once i have done it then i am satisified.
was wondering if others experience this as well.

I'm kinda expecting this to be edited by admin.. but i don't know another way of explaining what happens to me.

{it was :) Admin }

yeah, the need you described, nsa, was a very big deal for me too, a really big deal, which is why when I tried rubber bands and ice, I wasn't satisfied. The writing kind of 'puts off' the need while I calmed down.


thanks phoenix for your response. i sometimes come on here to try and put it off and sometimes it helps.. if i can catch myself in time before my mind goes into the other *realm*?? and if i don't well,, *another mark or scar* .

thanks again for the article above , will try and rem some of the tips in it.

thanks admin.. sorry for putting that description in there, if i was thinking about hwat i was typing i should have edited it myself. thak you. :)

i just loved the termonology
you refered to "the need to SI" as a different realm, and I can totally relate to that use of the word. it is like that for me too, but I've never worded it. Ive used terms like, " when my mind goes there " or similar things... but it is totally like another plane of exhistance really, with a different type of logic, which makes so much sense to me at the time.


it is totally like another plane of exhistance really, with a different type of logic, which makes so much sense to me at the time
i'm really glad that some-one else can relate to what i meant.. i thought ppl might think i was off me rocker or something.:)

for me now i tink it's a case of identifing or becoming aware of when i might enter that realm and then put the distractions into action. it's hard tho.

thanks again.
yeah, it can be hard but if you can distract yourself before you get worse it does ease. I used my anxiety as a marker, (because it usually followed then)
How often would you say you are SI'ing at the moment?
nsa said:
but i have a question of sorts.. i have found that when things overwhelm me, and i feel the need to s.i. then i seem to be in another mindset completely, nothing else matters, except {SI}, and once i have done it then i am satisified.
was wondering if others experience this as well.

Yes, I do. I can relate.

You're not off your rocker. :)


Pheonix: not that often at the min, but then i haven't exactly put myself in position where my anxiety levels go up.. i've been avoiding a lot of ppl and places.
but i have noticed that sometimes i can be very calm.. almost too calm, and still doit, without provocation. like one time after a shower.....
anyway... thank you for your advice, much appreciated.

janet: thank you for relating and for saying i'm not off me rocker.. :)
Another thing that helps sometimes is the fifteen-minute game. Tell yourself that if you still want to harm yourself in 15 minutes, you can. When the time is up, see if you can go another 15.

Tonight I am going to do this, only I'm going to do 20 minutes. Because I want so badly to hurt myself, but I want so badly NOT to as well. I hope the not wanting to wins.
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