When you are struggling, music can calm both sides of your system. Music can reach those ones inside that you don't know how to talk with.

25 Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm

When you are struggling, music can calm both sides of your system. Music can reach those ones inside that you don't know how to talk with.

When you are struggling, music can calm both sides of your system. Music can reach those ones inside that you don’t know how to talk with.


Survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with self-injury (SI).

Survivors often use dissociative walls to contain and separate intense emotions from themselves.  This allows them to stay numb, and to not feel.  They can split off their unmanageable, uncomfortable, or conflicting feelings into other parts of themselves, as frequently seen in dissociative identity disorder (DID/MPD).

As those dissociative walls begin to crumble, allowing more emotions and feelings to emerge, survivors often want to maintain or regain that sense of numbness and emotional distance.  They will use various forms of self-harm to re-create more distance from feelings.

However, purposeful self-injury and self-destruction creates a myriad of other complications.  There are a number of reasons why trauma survivors hurt themselves, and hundreds of different ways to do it.  I will discuss some of these topics in blogs to come. To hear a few of my thoughts and comments, you might be interested in my YouTube video, Self Injury and Dissociative Identity Disorder.



Let me continue here, in writing.

The following is a list of 25 ideas of activities to do when the urgency of self-harm is there.  These ideas do not necessarily address the issues fueling the SI, but they can be a helpful distraction during an acute crisis point.  If you complete a handful of these ideas when you start feeling compulsions to SI, you might find that you can work past the danger point and get yourself into a more stable place.

Remember — Safety First!   And that includes safety from yourself as well!

Safety First

When you are in the immediate danger of harming yourself, try at least five or six of the following ideas.  However, do as many as you need to get past the urgency to self-harm.

  1. Call a friend or two and talk to them about anything – the weather, politics, the news, old times, new recipes, etc.  Distract yourself, and enjoy the company.
  2. Watch a movie or two, or three, or however many it takes till you get past the urge to SI. Promise yourself that you will watch movies until you feel safe again.
  3. Write about your feelings in your journal. Write a poem out about your feelings.

    English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

    English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  4. Scrub the house from top to bottom.  Distracting yourself with tedious tasks, paying close attention to details can give you a different focus for the energy you are feeling.
  5. Get out the hottest jar of salsa and add jalapeno pepper or red chili peppers, and dig in. It might burn your mouth or make your eyes water and your nose run to eat this, but it won’t scar or cause actual harm.
  6. Draw or paint on paper what you want to do to yourself.  Draw or paint a second picture showing why you want to do this.  Draw or paint a third picture showing how you wish you were feeling.
  7. Play with, pet, hold, or hug your pet.  Find comfort and soothe yourself with the company of your dog and cat instead turning to pain or injury.
  8. Take a walk or exercise.  The physical release of energy is helpful.
  9. Plant a small garden.  Creating something nice, making something pretty to look at, and tending to something alive can put you into a different frame of mind.
  10. Take a bath or shower.  Let the water soothe you and help release your stress. Talking out loud or crying in the shower helps get thepainoutthatis locked inside you.  Let the stress rinse off and send it “down the drain” away from you.

    Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers

    Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  11. Draw on yourself with a red marker instead of cutting.
  12. Put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you think of hurting yourself.
  13. Hit a pillow over and over and over till you tire yourself out or the thoughts go away.  Speak or cry while you are doing this, if you can
  14. Listen to soothing music (or scream to angry music).
  15. Read your favorite book, or read a new book from your favorite author.
  16. Watch something really funny on TV – use comedy and laughter as a release.
  17. Play games online.  Computer games can be monotonous, trancey-hypnotic, time-consuming, and calming.
  18. Work on web pages or any other big task that requires your attention. I needz a hug
  19. Sleep, just have to complete shut down.  Let the time pass, and hopefully when you wake up, the intensity of the emotion will have subsided.
  20. For those with DID / MPD, go to the safe place you have created inside.  Visualize nice things, comforting things, favorite things.  Allow yourself to be surrounded by good things in life, even if it exists only in your internal world at that moment.
  21. Snuggle under your favorite blanket in a safe, private, secure place, and allow the feelings to surface.  Cry, shake, feel, breathe.  Let yourself experience and feel your feelings.
  22. Think of all the people who have ever had good, kind thoughts of you.  Imagine each of them standing with you, holding hands and being with you.  Allow them to offer comfort and support to you, even via your own thoughts.  Write letters of appreciation to them.  Music Soothes the Soul
  23. Play the guitar or piano and play out your feelings through the music. Write a song about your feelings.  Sing out loud with your favorite CD’s.  If you find a song that fits just right, play it over and over and over.
  24. Close your eyes and visualize yourself on vacation, far away from your stress. If you love the beach, for example, picture yourself walking at your favorite time of the day, barefoot along the shore, feeling the cool breeze across your face, listening to the waves coming and going, watching the sea gulls fly, picking up sea shells. Imagine yourself walking in the warm clear water, swimming with the dolphins, being totally safe.
  25. Eat a healthy snack (not too sugary), have a cup of herbal tea, or a glass of milk.  Avoid caffeine.  Nibble on saltine crackers.  Challenge yourself to take 50 nibbles or more on each cracker.

    English: Saltine Crackers by Nabisco.

    English: Saltine Crackers by Nabisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stay Safe!



Kathy Broady



Copyright © 2008-2016 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation

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39 comments on “25 Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm

  1. Excellent stuff as always Kathy.

    I know I’m always asking for more (!) and hope you don’t mind but I think it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on SI whilst dissociated, ie with no knowledge. How would the therapist/client/dyad go about tackling that kind of issue when there is no conscious control of behaviour.



  2. Hi BTC,
    I don’t mind your questions at all — they are good, because it’s also helpful for me to know what people are wondering about / thinking about. I understand the situation you are referring to — that’s a very common problem — and I will be glad to add that to the “posts to write for the blog” list. 🙂
    Thanks for writing!🙂

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  6. i want to stop cutting.really i do.
    it seems like in these lists 1 of the things that you have to do instead of cutting is let yourself feel things or experience something non harmful. which are great ideas. but then it doesn’t do the same thing as cutting! it just isn’t the SAME. i don’t know how to get past THAT part. feeling is too scary, and the other things on all these lists on the internet just don’t work as good as cutting does. what am i doing wrong? i have to stop though. i know i do…not over mothers day weekend though. jo

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  8. hello,
    i am new here, kathy, that you for your bolg! i have been having such a difficult time helping myself with the self harm/suicide urges (i have ptsd). i believe it is coming from a part that is about 8 years old. she tells me what’s wrong and i listen and try to comfort her but i do not have a diagnosis of did. my previous therapist for 8 years is very old school. he believes switching is obvious. since my 2 past hospitalizations, my prev. psychopharm (she does therapy also) asked me several years ago if i would consider that i was did. i was very upset at her suggestion, as you can understand, she can’t counsel me since she wasn’t my therapist. i used to forget how to get to her office… i am reconsidering…i need to work on getting stable and getting safe but my question is what if i’m talking to parts of myself and trying to help them but it may just be my imagination. maybe i am making (not on purpose-just confused) it all up. i have read many of your posts about listening and working on internal communication and that will help so much with stability and safety but i don’t want to mislead myself and perpetuate the possibility that i am inventing these communications. it is hard for me to journal my conversations with my parts since they are terrified that someone willl read and find out about us. i am so terrified that someone will find out! i only score about 28 on the des…it was very difficult to answer many of the questions, so much conflict

  9. we dont care anemore if we cut or not cos it dont mater it be rite there wehn we need it and it be 1 onley thing that make us fel beter we ust to want to stop but not anemore

  10. Hi bekavarty –
    Welcome to the Discussing Dissociation blog. 🙂
    I’m glad you found this article to be helpful — that’s really good news. It really is possible to overcome self-injury. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Keep up with the good work…

  11. Thank you for your ideas on avoiding SI….. I will definitely print this off and give them a try. I was CSA for 14 years and now I’m trying to move forward and find healing and life at 43 years old. My internal pain is so intense I feel i have to hurt externally. I have always hidden my SI on my genitals but now that I’m working through my feelings and emotions with my therapist but I feel I need to cut. I have never wanted to cut before. Please pray for me.

  12. To be honest. im only 16 and i have been self harming for 5 years. some of these dont work. most of these are just what therapist say to people to do. the only one that really seems to work is the rubber band. sometime writing you feels can actually make it worse.
    Im not saying that none of these work im just saying that im my experience and all my friends that have and SH problem have tied these and they dont work. i have been trying for 3 years to stop and i try these but they dont work. they might work at first but the feel to really wanna cut never goes away. its always im me until i do it.

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  14. Ashley –
    Thanks for writing. And I have to agree, just doing the surface things (like the rubber band) is not really going to help the self-harm urges go away in the long run. Those kinds of things help to re-learn some surface behaviors, but in my opinion, to get the self-injury to stop, it is about working a whole lot deeper on why you need to / want to / are willing to self injure in the first place.

    For example…. Do you hate yourself? If so, why? Where did you learn that? What makes it ok in your mind to physically wound yourself? What feelings are you feeling (or refusing to feel) at the times when you are the most drawn to self injury? What relief does cutting give to you? What others ways can you get that relief?

    And yes, writing what you feel CAN intensify the feelings. It’s also getting closer to what is actually going on, so…. if you can ride it out, and keep writing it out until you are literally emotionally exhausted, you might get a little deeper into the issues at hand. However, if you stop that intensity by cutting it off with self-injury, you’ll miss out on figuring out what else was going on for you.

    The self injury stops the flow of the information. It numbs you, instead of letting you sit with the rest of the story.

    I hope you have some healthy support from other people as well. A good therapist can probably help you to figure out some of these things.

    My comments are just food for thought. I wish you the best on your healing journey….
    Thanks for reading.


  15. I haven’t SI in almost two years. I quit all by myself after almost five years of it as my outlet. And three years of failing to stop. I never went to my mother for any help. I never even asked my friends for help. I just told them one day that i made my year mark. They didn’t know I even stopped. I’m actually quite proud of everything. My only problem with all of this is the feeling never went away. When I get mad, upset, or even stressed I feel the need to SI stronger than ever before I quit. All I really want to know is if I’m going to be struggling with this the rest of my life. This feeling of always wanting to SI. Is what I feel common? I’ve asked others who SI and they all told me was they out grew it. I just don’t know what to do. Because I’m starting to pick up the habits I had that lead up to SI. Like squeezing my arm. Biting my lip. Pulling my hair. It’s really starting to scare me.

  16. Hi! I’ve been having a problem with self harm for a few months now. I’ve told my parents (I’m 15), and I’ve been seeing support teachers in school. Your distractions are really helpful, however, the only problem in that they don’t feel the same. I want to stop, more than anything, but, it’s difficult and I’m seeking to find a subsitute to cutting and burning, do you know any safe subsitutes? And is self harm addictive, as I have been told it can be?

  17. I share behindthecouch`s problem. I`ve done this for such a long time, and pretty frequently. I `come to` and see the blood/whatever and realise I`ve self injured while dissociated.(Although, it`s only been in the past cpl of years dissociation was recognised). It means none of the distraction techniques work. It aso means that when asked (by a medical professional, for example) “why did you do this?” I honestly don`t know. I don`t feel that I gain anything from it, other than more scars.I`ve tried to remember what I`ve done, what may have triggered it and why but to no avail.

    Gosh, sorry Kathy….I`ve read this blog for years but never posted. Now it feels safe to, I`ve posted so many times in the past few days.

  18. Reblogged this on Discussing Dissociation and commented:

    This 2008 article about Preventing Self Harm is one of the all-time top searched, top-viewed articles on this blog. For dissociative trauma survivors, it is important to learn how to manage all levels of intensity, from everyday life to the toughest internal challenges to the most horrific memories, without resorting to more injury to the self, the body, or the system. It’s a big big job to learn how to not let pain and self-directed violence be your best friend. It’s a big hurdle to learn that you do NOT deserve pain, injury, violence, or punishment. But you can learn these things. You can. Start small, but you can do it. Warmly, Kathy

  19. The thing is broady that none of these work the way a good cut or burn do. They dont even come close as replacements. Not even CLOSE, even if you do the whole list or do it over and over, whatever.. Doesnt work.

  20. Pilgrim, I have an answer for that, but its long-winded, of course – and I’m working on that idea for a new blog post. Gimme a bit to write that up please. 🙂 Clue: Are you willing to sit with your true feelings instead of numbing out with self injury?

    BrokenBeyondRepair —
    I just re-read your post and saw that you started posting here, and thank you for that. It’s been great to get your comments — I’m glad you felt safe enough to start writing here. AND…. a quick response to what you said last year:

    Yes, it sounds like you are switching to someone else in your system who is then doing the self injury. The distraction techniques will then either need to be used before the need to switch gets so far, OR the insider(s) from your system who are doing the injuring can be taught the distraction techniques so THEY can use them. The point being… you have a whole group of people in there, and if you are too dissociated as your own self to use them, let the others in your system apply them.

    And I hope what I have to say in my partially written upcoming blog post helps you too.

    Thanks for your comments everyone — much appreciated.


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  26. im only 14 an have been rushed to hospital due to suicide attempts an ever since ive cut myself and hated my life today I was feeling very down and was slightly suicidal because when I was 13 my step dad and his friend started to talk to me differently and started to rub me up and they raped me , for about five months this was going on I didn’t tell my mum about is and when I did she told me I was a liar and stayed with my step dad I never forgave her for that and I wish I could be the girl I once was and this video really did help my suicide thoughts thankyou

  27. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was doing
    a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me dinner simply because I stumbled upon it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your blog.

  28. To day we did find som of missys bad stuff
    It be hidin way far in the closit
    Tumarow wehn that man be at work we gona go put them all in the trash
    Her will be mad but we dont care
    We no her got more hidng eneway that we dont no ware but caden say wnevr we find bad stuff to throw it awae
    Oh and caden findid suiside hot lins for missy to call or for us to call wen missy wont so her dont kill us

  29. Think of all the people who have ever had good, kind thoughts of you. Imagine each of them standing with you, holding hands and being with you. Allow them to offer comfort and support to you, even via your own thoughts. Write letters of appreciation to them.

    Dont this be rong tho? Becuz what if those pepol dont thik good thots of you no more or they mad at you or dont like you no more. Dont it be rong to pertend?

  30. We keep getting mysteriously injured the past couple weeks and i would love to know how its happening. I STILL have a bad headache from when we very oddly fell down on our face several days ago (and hit forehead first). We are too switchy for me to catch anyone at it. And since all the kids are staying away from each other right now no one seems to know whats going on. I would love to figure out whats going on.

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