a toolkit for when you, or someone you know, feels like self harming

30 Dec 2019
People self harm for different reasons. It might feel like it helps in the short term, but can leave people feeling worse long run.

If you have the urge to hurt yourself, you’re probably feeling pretty crappy right now. You’re also not alone. Some people use self harm as a distraction from painful emotions and others want to feel something other than numbness. But for some people, hurting themselves can become a habit that takes work to break.

If you or someone you know is thinking of self harming, there must be some really difficult stuff going on. Remember, people who hurt themselves don’t always want to die. People can learn new ways of managing how they feel that are safer.

Here are some things to try if you (or someone you know) feels like self harming.


Pause, remember and reflect

Pause: Take some deep breaths. Putting a breath between feeling the urge to self harm and acting on it can give you a bit more space. Breathing is one of the most effective ways of managing overwhelming feelings. It’s hard to believe but this simple strategy is really helpful. There are lots of apps that can help with this.

Remind yourself: Your feelings might be intense, but it’s important to remember that they will change. Intense feelings are like a storm. At the time it seems really scary and you think it will never stop, but storms pass. Remember other times you might have made it through some feelings that seemed really unmanageable at the time.

Resisting an urge can be hard. But it is possible – and every time you do you get a little stronger.

It can help to imagine a supportive friend who can talk to you in difficult times. What would this person say to you right now?

Reflect: It’s helpful to practise standing back and noticing what’s going on in the lead up to thoughts of self harm. What might have been the triggers? What are the initial thoughts and feelings you notice? This skill takes time and practice to learn. It’s OK when the feeling first passes if you can’t remember the triggers. Try again the next day and see if you can look back.


Find other ways to handle your feelings

Write stuff down

Expressing your thoughts and feelings can help you process them. Try writing down the stuff that’s going on for you right now. It could take the form of a journal entry, story, poem, letter or just a ‘stream of consciousness’ – whatever first comes to your head. It can help to write about the last time you felt a little better than you do right now.

Listen to music

Listening to music you love can help you to shift your mood. You can make (or find) a playlist of music that reminds you of other moods − like relaxed, chilled out, peaceful or uplifted. Put on your headphones and sing or dance – expressing yourself (or just being silly) can be a great way to work through distress.

Do something to distract yourself

Thoughts and feelings that can go along with self harm can be pretty overwhelming. If you occupy your mind with an activity, there’s a good chance that your urge to hurt yourself will reduce. After that, plan another activity – just take it step by step.

Things that engage your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste) can be especially helpful. Here are some ideas:

  • have a bath or shower

  • sit outside or go for a short walk

  • watch a favourite movie or TV show

  • draw, paint or make something

  • read a book or graphic novel

  • take some time out to treat yourself to a small thing you normally enjoy and take the time to savour it.


Find support

When you’ve got painful feelings and difficult thoughts, being with someone can really make a difference. Try hanging out with a family member or friend in person – even if you’re just have a chat or watch TV. Just being with them can really help. You could also send someone you trust a message, or call them to talk things through.

If your feelings of wanting to hurt yourself are overwhelming, call Kids Help Line (1800 55 1800) or Lifeline (13 11 14) right now.

It is important to talk to someone about your self harm. It could be a school counsellor, parent, family member, friend or teacher. Or get in touch with us at headspace – our services are confidential and free (or low cost). You could contact your local headspace centre or eheadspace, our online service.