Life After Self-Harm: 5 Things You Need to Know

By Spicevicious

Hey, Psych2Go-ers!  Many of you have watched our videos on self-harm and have left comments about your own experiences.  We have noticed that many of these comments not only offer encouragement and support to fellow viewers who are currently struggling, but also talk about the uncertainty you feel once you stop engaging in self-harm.

We want you to know that we see you.  We hear you.  We appreciate your recovery.  We appreciate you.  Your life is valuable.

And there is life after self-harm.

First, please read this trigger warning.  This article talks very plainly about self-harm, depression, anxiety, and the thoughts and situations that catalyze them.  The intention of this article is not to trigger, upset, or hurt you in any way.  We encourage you to be mindful and take care of yourself in whatever way you need, even if that means reading something else.  We care about all of our Psych2Go-ers and just want you to be safe.

Here are 5 things you need to know about life after self-harm.

  1. It’s Normal to Grieve.

Self-harm—or the deliberate act of physically hurting yourself by things like cutting, burning, or hitting yourself—is most commonly triggered by emotions or situations you find difficult or overwhelming.  For many people who engage in self-harm, it becomes much more than a coping mechanism.  Although self-harm is a sign of underlying mental health issues, you may have seen it as a form of self-expression and comfort.  Saying goodbye to self-harm can feel like saying goodbye to an old friend you know is not good for you, but has been there for a long time.  Making the decision not to self-harm is rarely easy, even though you know in your heart it’s what needs to be done.  It is completely normal to feel a sense of loss or uncertainty when you take this major step.

If you can relate to that, please know it’s perfectly okay to grieve, as long as you express your grief in healthy ways.  Understand that the grieving process is different for everyone.  Here are some healthy ways that you can honor your grieving process:

  • Acknowledge your feelings.  When you were actively self-harming, you were using the self-harm as a way to deal with or not feel uncomfortable emotions.  It can be tempting to stuff these feelings down and pretend they are not happening, even though you probably already know this was a major part of the self-harm cycle.  By taking the time to admit that you’re feeling something overwhelming, you are not only looking after your mental health, but also allowing yourself to move on from self-harm.
  • Give your former self a present.  There were reasons why you engaged in self-harm.  You were going through things and feelings that you didn’t know how to handle.  The person you were when you were self-harming was likely depressed, anxious, scared, lonely, and didn’t feel anyone was on their side.  Now that the old you no longer turns to self-harm, it’s time for you to be there for yourself.  Show the overwhelmed part of you some love by doing an activity you enjoy.  You can also find a small object that represents who you were then, such as a geode crystal, picture, or small toy, that you can carry with you.  When you feel any urges to engage in self-harm, hold the object and let the overwhelmed part of you know that you are loved and will get through this.

But we want to hear from you, the Psych2Go-ers who have overcome self-harm.  How did you feel when you first stopped?  What things did you do to keep yourself from going back to self-harm?

  1.  Be mindful and honest.

When you stopped doing self-harming behaviors, what was the hardest part for you?  Was it stopping the act itself, or coping with the feelings that triggered self-harm in the past?  No matter what your answer to that question or where you are on your journey, now is the right time to get honest with yourself.  

Practicing daily mindfulness exercises can help you with this part of your journey in two ways.  Mindfulness helps you identify the feelings that get tangled up inside of you.   Once you have identified your feelings, you can then decide what’s the healthiest way to cope with them.  What’s more, mindfulness teaches you to listen to your feelings without judging them or judging yourself for having them.  Allowing yourself to have your feelings without labeling them—or yourself—as bad, weird, or wrong can help you get to the root of what’s bothering you, rather than allowing it to build until you want to explode or harm yourself.

New to mindfulness?  Here are some easy ways you can start:

  • Get a DBT workbook.  Developed in the 80s and 90s by Marsha Linehan, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of therapy that combines structured activities with talk therapy to help people identify and cope with difficult feelings in healthy ways.  This makes it a perfect tool to help you in your recovery from self-harm.  Although it’s best to work with a trained DBT therapist, we understand that might not be available for you.  DBT workbooks and worksheets are not the same as DBT therapy, but they can provide you with a structured way of journaling and processing your feelings.  There are many DBT workbooks designed for people who engage in self-harm available online.
  • Try a body scan meditation.  One of the more popular forms of mindfulness meditation, the body scan meditation is a mindfulness practice that helps you develop a healthy self-awareness.  It allows you to take stock of where you are tense or in pain, as well as your emotional state so that you can work through any stress or pain.  Doing body scan meditations daily can help you get better at identifying your trigger thoughts and feelings.  Leave a comment down below if you want to see a body scan meditation on Psych2Go, or tell us how meditation works for you.
  • Make it a point to do one mindful activity a day.  Whether you practice mindful breathing or use mindfulness when you do the dishes, scheduling time to be mindful each day helps with anxiety symptoms, such as racing thoughts and focusing on worst case scenarios.  

Your mindfulness practice doesn’t need to take all day.  Even 5 to 30 minutes a day will be enough to help you develop your mindfulness muscles.  It just has to be daily.  Just like learning any other skill, the key to mindfulness is consistency.  

So how will you use mindfulness to get honest with yourself? 

  1.  Have a Plan.

Recovery from self-harm can be difficult and scary.  From identifying your feelings to navigating triggers, there’s a lot of new territory to cover.  The best way to start this new phase of your life is with a recovery plan.  Think of a good recovery plan like a map: it shows you where your triggers are and the best route for you to either work through them or avoid them.

Your recovery plan doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or fancy.  In fact, it’s the simplest recovery plans that work the best.  But your recovery plan should include the following lists:

  • The thoughts, feelings, people, places, and things that trigger your self-harm.
  • Things you can do on a daily basis to keep yourself calm or work through stress.
  • Your daily self-care routine that includes regularly checking in with yourself.
  • Things you can do to help yourself when you start to feel triggered.
  •  People you can call when you need to talk.
  • Ways that you can reward your small victories.
  • What you can do to get back into recovery if you self-harm again.

Remember to keep your plan simple and include daily reminders to take care of yourself.  The goal of a recovery plan is to not only keep you safe, but also to help you accept yourself.  If your recovery plan feels too difficult or like you’re not good enough, then it is time to start smaller.  Don’t be afraid to keep your recovery plan to three daily goals.  You can always add on when you master those goals.

For those of you who are looking for a sample recovery plan, check out our article on that here.

  1.  Focus on Self-Acceptance.

When you first stop doing self-harm, it might be hard for you to see that you are worthy of recovery.  That you deserve to be happy.  If you can relate to that, please know that even though you don’t feel worthy or see it now, recovery does get easier.  Just because you are having a rough day in recovery doesn’t mean you are a bad person or that you can’t do this. 

On the days that self-love feels out of reach, it may be easier for you to practice self-acceptance.  Just like the name implies, self-acceptance means to accept yourself as you are, flaws and all.  This means being honest about the things you don’t like—about yourself, how you’re feeling, the situation, or how you reacted—without beating yourself up.  

Here are some things you can do to practice self-acceptance:

  • Practice “nevertheless” statements.  For every negative statement you make about yourself or the situation, add a more positive statement that begins with “nevertheless.”  An example of this is, “I failed that test.  Nevertheless, I learned from this and can work on doing better next time.”
  • Remind yourself that you cannot control everything in a situation.  We often put a ton of pressure on ourselves by trying to stay on top of things we cannot control.  If this is you, try writing down what you can and cannot control in a situation that is upsetting you.  You can then rip up the list of things you cannot control or visualize it being taken away.  
  • Treat yourself like a best friend.  Think about your BFF for a second.  Take a second to remember what you love about them…  and those things you don’t love.  But you accept that all of these things are part of your best friend.  How do you treat them when they make a mistake or do things you don’t like?  Chances are, you are a lot kinder to your best friend when they make a mistake than you are to yourself.  The next time you make a mistake or do something that you don’t like, think about how you would treat a friend who did the same thing.  How can you treat yourself like a best friend?

Out of curiosity, what do you think it means to accept yourself?  What does accepting yourself look like?  Let us know in the comments below.

  1.  Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Committing to a recovery from self-harm requires you to make an active effort to do things differently, which means your recovery should involve you asking for help when you need it.  But when you’re actively self-harming, it can feel like nobody understands.  The overwhelming emotions—such as self-hatred, depression, and shame—can make it difficult to remember that there is someone in your life who cares and wants to help.

Your decision to stop self-harming is incredibly brave and shows a lot of self-respect.  This means you have the strength to ask for help when you need it, but might not always know how.  Here are a couple hints to help you ask for help:

  • Know your triggers.  Which triggers can you avoid?  If you can’t avoid a trigger, can you bring a safe friend with you?  Can you let a supportive cousin know that you’ll be texting them while you’re dealing with the trigger?  Thinking ahead and asking for help before you hit a crisis point might actually take away some of the trigger’s power.
  • Make a list of supports.  We really hope that you have supportive friends and family that you can put on this list.  But if you don’t feel comfortable putting any on this list, please program crisis line and warm line numbers into your phone, as well as your therapist’s number (if you have one).
  • Find a support group.  Mental Health Advocacy groups—such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), Mental Health America, and Advocates.org—list online self-harm support groups by region and zip code on their websites.  You can also find a DBT therapy group to help you in your self-harm recovery.  Knowing that you’re not alone and being able to talk with people who are on the same recovery journey can make the difference between harming yourself and staying safe.  

Conclusion

If you are struggling with self-harm or have recently started your recovery journey, just know that you are so much braver than you give yourself credit for.  You are also not alone.  You don’t have to suffer in silence.  The Psych2Go community sees you and appreciates the strength it took for you to talk about it in the comments, or even admit to self-harm to yourself.

As always, any information provided here is for entertainment and educational purposes only.  If you need mental health counseling or treatment, please contact your insurance company, local college’s student counseling clinic, or your county crisis line.  Keep coming back to Psych2Go for more information on mental illness.  Help is out there!

Please use these online resources:

Self-Injury Recovery Anonymous (SIRA) is an online support group for people struggling with self-harm:  https://www.selfmutilatorsanonymous.org/

Crisis Text Line allows you to contact a crisis counselor 24/7 via text or What’s App:  https://www.crisistextline.org/topics/self-harm/#what-is-self-harm-1

NAMI Helpline is a 24/7 resource for anyone who is struggling with a mental health issue.  Call: 800-950-NAMI or text NAMI to 741741

Spicevicious is a mental health professional by day, tarot reader by night.  You can check out her blog at https://thespiceisright.wordpress.com/tag/spicevicious/ for predictions, tarot and spell info, and off-beat observations of the human condition.  As always, any information provided here is for entertainment purposes only.  If you need mental health counseling or treatment, please contact your insurance company, local college’s student counseling clinic, county crisis line, or keep up with Psych2Go for more information.

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