How do I stop harming myself?

Cutting (and other types of self-harm) may give you the sense of control you seek over your life or your body. Or maybe it helps you bury the pain that you don’t want to feel. But the only way to stop harming yourself is to face the pain. This is the recovery process: face the pain, work through it, and replace it with good experiences. In the past, you may have turned to self-harm as a coping mechanism, but now you’ve decided to seek a different way to cope. This is an important first step in stopping self-harm. Getting better is going to take some time—but it’s possible.

Identifying your triggers

To stop harming yourself, you might start thinking about why you started in the first place. Thinking about when and why self-harm happens and why you want to quit will help you identify your triggers and better understand your emotions.

Some questions to consider when thinking about cutting:

  • What makes you want to quit?
  • How has cutting been harmful in your life?
  • Have you tried quitting before? Are there strategies that worked really well?
  • What makes you want to cut? It is a situation, a feeling, a person?
  • What can you do to deal with the thing that makes you want to cut—so you don’t use cutting as a coping skill?

Breaking the Habit

Once you identify your triggers, try to find other coping skills that help you deal with those triggers in a healthier way. For example, cutting over time releases endorphins—which is why some people who cut say that it feels “relieving” or even good. But you can replace the habit by finding different coping strategies such as dancing, creating art, listening to music, and many others.

Some ways to break the habit:

  • Break up with your habit. Over time self-harm is like a bad relationship. It might seem nice at first, but really it’s hurting you. To get better, you have to break up with your habit. One strategy is to consider giving your habit a personality (which it might already have). Name it and break up with it. Try the prompts in this letter to start.
  • Replace the habit. Try finding a new way to cope with the pain such as writing, journaling, drawing, moving your body, singing, dancing, etc. to replace self-harm.

Finding Support

Finding someone you trust to support you may feel difficult. But trying to quit alone—without support—sucks and can make things harder. It’s up to you to decide how you want to be supported and who you want to support you.

When I started, I didn’t quit doing bad things because I needed it—I quit because I loved someone else… and I loved them more than I loved hating myself.

Theresa, Orange County

Some ways to find support:

  • Find an “accountabili-buddy.” An accountabili-buddy is someone you can talk to who’s going to hold you accountable. Finding someone can be hard. If you need some support and you don’t have someone who can help keep you accountable, check out a peer support app like Toucan or the Inspire Community.
  • Reach out to someone you trust. Find someone you trust and tell them about the decision that you’ve made to stop harming yourself. You decide the best way for you to express yourself to them—write a letter, send a text or email, make a phone call, or have a face-to-face conversation. Give them time to react and understand that their reactions are just them feeling concerned for you.

Falling Back into Old Habits

Don’t feel bad if you “relapse.” Relapse is not failure. It is part of the process. If you didn’t relapse, then you wouldn’t have the opportunity to take what you’ve learned and try again. Chances are the next time you try quitting will be easier than the first time. The worst thing to do is to give up hope. Don’t give up hope.