Kharre's SI coping tips
This is a collection of extremely useful ideas about how to deal with
the urge to self harm. They were originally posted to the
bodies-under-siege list and are used by permission of the author. All
of them are great, but the section on how to react to a
loved one who self-injures is fantastic, probably the best advice
I've seen that's directed toward family and friends of self-injurers.
Questions to ask before you hurt yourself
A letter to my SI
Things to help you through the bad times
Important tips for those who interact with someone who
First: People SI for many different reasons. In my particular case I SI to
deal with severe stress and pain, and to express emotions that overwhelm me.
Also, when I first began trying to stop I found that there were two
different motivators for my cutting. One was that I felt I needed to, but
the other was because I wanted to.
The questions differ a little bit every time, but I will not cut if I
cannot answer them. At first I would write them down, but now I run
through them in my head. The most important questions on the list are
#'s 4 to 6. In the beginning I would give myself little half-assed
answers, but as each month passed my answers to myself became more
detailed and I began to learn things about myself. I also found out
that I can lessen or avoid stress, rather than running blindly into
it. It also used to be that #8's answer was always 'yes', but now it
is way more often a 'no'.
- Why do I feel I need to hurt myself? What has brought me to this point?
- Have I been here before? What did I do to deal with it? How did I feel then?
- What I have done to ease this discomfort so far? What else can I do that
won't hurt me?
- How do I feel right now?
- How will I feel when I am hurting myself?
- How will I feel after hurting myself? How will I feel tomorrow morning?
- Can I avoid this stressor, or deal with it better in the future?
- Do I need to hurt myself?
What this exercise is doing is helping me learn how to identify my
emotions and stressors, which is a very important part for me, because
those are the things that drive me to SI.
I did two things that ended up being VERY important.
First, I accepted cutting as a good thing. It helped me deal with
things I otherwise could not deal with. It gave me a fast and easy
release valve anytime that I needed one. It allowed me to swim where I
would have once drowned. (I primarily did this because SI is a
never-ending circle. I would cut and then I would feel like I was
bad. The guilt and shame was incredible, and I would cut again to ease
the guilt - I was continuing the circle.)
Second, I acknowledged it as a harmful behaviour. I do not say "I want to
cut" anymore. I say "I want to hurt myself".
Understand the difference?
I sometimes want to cut, but I don't ever want to hurt. By replacing the
rather impersonal word "cut" with "hurt" my mind was forced to acknowledge
this as a harmful behaviour.
We say "cut the Turkey", not "hurt the Turkey", and I was implying that I
was an unfeeling thing to be carved up.
I AM NOT JUST CUTTING MY FLESH - I AM HURTING MYSELF.
A letter to SI
I wrote a letter that went something like this.... (I'll write another
because I have found that it helps me to write these occasionally):
Thank you for being such a great friend.
Thank you for always being there for me.
Thank you for helping me out when I couldn't continue on my own...
I'm sorry, though, because I don't need you anymore, Cutting.
I don't want this type of help that you give me. I don't want to hide in a
dark bathroom anymore while people are outside laughing. I want to be one of
the ones who laugh.
I don't have the time to give to you anymore, and you are too greedy, you
keep wanting more and more time.
I am all grown up now, and yet you make me feel like a frightened little
child. Swimming through tidal waves isn't good enough for me anymore, I want
to learn how to fly.
See, I have discovered that you're not just an anti-anxiety pill...I have
discovered that you are also a very dangerous one. You are eating away my
insides, taking away what little control that I have, and I can't afford to
lose anything more that belongs to me.
I don't need what you give me, because what you are taking away from me is
even more important to me.
Things that help me to avoid hurting myself
- I jump on the computer and find someone to eMail. We talk about everything
and anything, and I try to avoid mentioning self-injury.
- I do productive things that keep me busy and active. I clean the
back porch, a closet, or mop the floors.
- I walk a lot, and think.
- I write about self-injury. (Like now.) I write about my failures and
successes both and it helps, if anything, just to keep me busy.
- A great tip a friend gave me:
TREAT YOURSELF NICE, EVEN IF YOU FEEL YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!
Once someone told me that her therp had suggested doing something nice for
herself after SI'ing.
So I tried it. I cut one night, and then afterwards I took a bubble bath,
and took a cup of hot chocolate and a good book to bed early. It really did
And then one day.....I thought......If doing something nice for myself after
self-injuring makes me feel better, then maybe it would help if I did
something nice as a treat for NOT cutting.
It makes sense to baby ourselves when we feel bad after hurting ourselves,
so doesn't it also make sense that it would help to do it before we cut
when we are feeling our worst?
So when the cutting urge is strong, I try doing something I like. Visiting
my mom, painting, reading, bubble bath in the dark with music playing. My
gift to myself for not cutting. It doesn't work all the time, but it does
work a lot.
- Make an emergency box. Suggestions on what to include:
Only open your emergency box in an emergency, or it loses it special-ness.
About once every two or three months entirely change the contents. Have an
SO or a friend, or your child pick something special to put into the box
while you're not looking so that there will be a surprise for you when you
do have to open it.
- Crayons, or paint, and paper.
- Little toys (happy meal toys) that you like.
- A puzzle.
- A word game book.
- Your favourite book.
- A tape of your favourite songs.
- Pictures of friends.
- Letters that are special to you (or cards).
- A book or tape of inspirational messages.
- A list of phone numbers and addresses of friends. (Make phone calls, or
- Stories about your special memories.
- Are you sure you're going to self-injure?
Has it taken over your thoughts like it does with so many of us?
Can you picture it in your mind?
Can you see yourself self-injuring? Imagine every step of the way?
When I want to cut I can see it all in my mind. Many of us can.
You have to get it OUT!!!!
So start writing!!!!
Write it all out. Be very descriptive, describe every little
step. Only do this when you feel you are SURE you will be hurting
yourself, otherwise you may trigger yourself into doing it when you
don't want to. Go back and read it again.
Get another piece of paper, and write it all over again, only this
time leave out the vivid physical description, and instead write only
about emotions. Begins sentences with: "I feel....", "I want to
feel.....", "I don't feel.....", "when I _____, I feel...".
This may release the tension (having someone else actually read it sometimes
helps, if you need to you can send it my way, or take it into your therp's
office). It may just emotionally exhaust you so that you don't have the
energy to hurt yourself.
And if it doesn't work you have a written record of your emotions that you
can look back on later that really could help you get a better insight into
The key is to learn how to identify your emotions, triggers, and stressors,
so that you can learn how to better deal with them in the future, or how to
avoid or lessen them.
Allow yourself to hurt and to be angry and to feel guilt, but also remember
that you have to learn how to deal with these things and how to ease them.
Every one of us is different. We all SI for different reasons and in
different ways. If none of these suggestions work for you, then don't
give up. Change them. Try something totally different, or do the same things
in unusual ways. Individualise your coping methods. Tailor them so they fit
you snuggly and comfortable.
Maybe instead of writing you can use a tape recorder.
Or instead of doing something nice for yourself, do something for someone else.
There are many ways for us to heal, and not everything that works for
someone else works for us.
Don't give up. Keep trying, and remember to try each thing you think of more
than once, because it takes time to get used to new habits and get rid of
And no one is perfect, but if you can go three days, or eight, or thirty
without SI'ing, then remember that you may have SI'ed, but you went without
it for a time. Every bit of progress is great, but too often we don't
recognise it as a forward motion.
The fact that you went 8 days without SI'ing is much more important than the
fact that you did end up hurting yourself.
The three things that help me not to cut the most:
- Wearing long sleeves. See, I rub at my scars a lot, and sometimes looking
at them makes me want to cut. I have problems bathing when I am in a cutting
mood, because it means I have to see the cuts. I have found that keeping
them covered, even at night, helps me avoid cutting.
- Writing about self injury helps me. Either writing about it, or writing
out coping methods (like now). It doesn't really bring any special
awareness, but it does keep me busy, especially mentally.
- Pure luck.
Things that friends and family can do to understand self-injury better, and
to help a self-injurer
- "Hi, how are you today? Did you cut last night?"
- Please, please. I reserve this question for my husband and counselor only,
and I don't want to hear it from anyone else.
- The truth is, if you already know your friend SI's, then if your friend
ever wanted to talk about it s/he would try to approach you about it. If
you sense that your friend needs to talk then ask questions. Through asking
questions we can learn, grow, and maybe understand.
- "How are you today?"
- "How was your night?"
- "How are you feeling?"
- Don't treat the self-injury as anything special. It is a part of your
friend, just like your nail biting habit is a part of you, and s/he already
has a million people trying to tell them how awful self-injury is. On
the other hand, you don't want to encourage it either.
- What do you do about the neighbour's habit of chewing her lip? Your Uncle
Bill's habit of tugging his moustache?
- You ignore, sometimes you kindly say "don't do that". You don't preach on
- Here is the number one tip if you have a friend or family member who
- There it is. Always remember it. Emotions.
- Me: "I blew it. I hadn't cut in 14 days, and I cut really bad last night."
Someone: "That's okay. Next time won't be so bad."
- NO. We are creatures of sub-consciousness, and the above comment
leads us to believe that there will be a next time, and it terribly
undermines the fact that I went 14 days without cutting.
- Me: "I blew it. I went 14 days, but cut last night."
Someone: "How bad did you cut? Are you okay? Does it need stitches?
- While it is okay to be concerned I would wait on questions like this. Wait
until s/he feels comfortable enough with you to start telling details
about self-injury and their emotions. Talking about the act itself will
sometimes undermine the feelings behind the act, and very often it causes
me, as a self-injurer, to dwell on it. When I think a lot about my cuts I'll
cut again. Keep your friend's mind off of it for a while. If you are truly
concerned then go ahead and ask after you find out if your friend is
- Don't ever ask to see the wounds.
- They may look awful to you and you may force your friend into an
unneeded hospital trip. If you do see it and it looks terribly bad I
would suggest bypassing the emergency room and making an appointment
with a family doctor, or someone friendly.
- The truth is, your friend probably knows when a trip to the
medical world is required, and if you're close enough and open-minded
enough about the self-injury, then s/he may ask you what you think
about it anyhow.
- I would suggest steering your friend to an anonymous clinic, or a small
family practise for treament. I would also suggest that until you and your
friend better know the doctor/nurse to avoid most questions.
- Your friend does not have to tell them what happened. Most SI'ers feel
cornered, pressured to tell, so they do and end up under 24 hour
surveillance in a psych hospital. Be there to help avoid the questions, or
to back up whatever story your friend tells.
- IMPORTANT: If your friend is in therapy with someone they trust, then
call the therp before you head to the doctor's office and let
your friend talk a bit, and ask the therp what the medical doctor
should be told.
But I digress...We were talking about talking.
- Me: "I haven't cut in 14 days, and I cut last night."
Someone: "You know you could kill yourself! You don't
want to die, do you? What if the blade slipped, or you
cut too deep....It could get infected and you could get gangrene."
- I don't know if I can even touch this. These are all statements that I have
- Here are my answers to these questions/statements:
- I know I could kill myself. I am as careful as I can be, and yet I
know that accidents do happen. That's why I'm trying to quit.
- I don't want to die. I self-injure to stay alive, to deal with the
unbearable. If I wanted to die, then I wouldn't be here now.
- If the blade slipped or I cut too deep I would call my doctor and go in
to see her, or ask her to come see me. If my doctor was gone I would call my
counselor. If she was gone I would call mom. If she were gone I would go
into the hospital. If your friend doesn't have a reliable support system,
then help her/him set one up.
- I have been cutting for 9 years and only have had one infection. It
healed overnight after reopening and cleaning. The chance of another
infection is still there, and know what? I KNOW. I know accidents happen, I
am not a moron and you don't have to treat me like one.
- Scare tactics really do work, people. They scare us.
They make us feel stupid for doing what we do to ourselves. They us feel
ashamed and guilty. And when we feel scared and guilty and ashamed many of
us self-injure and continue the cycle. Scare tactics work....Don't use them.
- Me: "After 14 days, I cut last night."
Someone: "That's bad. Why don't you just stop. That's so sick. Eew! That's
- Should I even touch this?
- No. If this is something you would say, then please go back and read parts
one and two of this post, because you need to learn a bit about self-injury.
- Try this:
Me: "After 14 days, I cut again."
Someone: "14 days? You went for two weeks? How did you get that far without?"
- It is probably best to ignore the physical act. Focus on emotions.
- Oh, did anything specific happen that made you feel you had to hurt
- How are you feeling?
- How did you feel last night?
- If you want, you can call me if you feel that way again.
- On the other hand, if your friend tells you she/he has avoided SI'ing...
- Have you been doing anything specific when you feel you need to SI?
- Is there anything I can do to help you out?
- It must be very hard on you...
Remember that the act itself isn't as important as your friend's emotions.
Remember to try to figure out what your friend feels caused the SI that day,
so s/he can think it over and maybe figure out a way to avoid it or lessen
it next time.
Remember to care and to be gentle.
Remember your friend isn't doing this to hurt you.
Special section: From self-injurers
The best things that family/friends have said about my self-injury:
- "I don't understand, but I'm willing to listen."
It's very important to us that those around us keep an open mind and ask
about that which they don't understand. If we have entrusted you with this
"secret," then we also trust you enough to talk about it. Offer to be there
and offer to listen.
- "I love you anyway."
- "How can I help?"
This is the key question. Every one of us is different. Don't try to
second-guess what your friend needs from you. Ask.
- "This is hard for me to know you're doing this to yourself."
The worst things they have said:
- "My former roommate told me to move out when she found out. She thought I
was a freak."
- "[My doctor] told me he would quit treating me if I didn't quit. So I
never discussed it with him again."
- "If you do that you have just lost a friend."
- "Don't talk to me about this stuff...I think it's gross..."
All of these statements serve only to make us feel bad, ashamed,
and guilty. These statements tell us that the speaker doesn't
understand and isn't willing to listen. In just a few words someone
who could have been a supporter and who could have helped us get
better has effectively shut the door in our face. These statements
say the same thing: "You're not good enough to deserve me."
- "...that I'm only doing it for attention, and therefore it's invalid."
- All of those who I have talked to also hated the scare tactics and threats:
"If you continue doing this I will (enter threat here)..."
What SI'ers wish that others in their life would do:
Continue being supportive.