Alternatives to Self-Harm


Common coping skills offered for self-harm often include a less intrusive form of self-harm, including snapping a rubber band on your wrist; squeezing an ice cube; digging fingernails into your skin; scratching; or taking a freezing cold shower. All of these provide a minor level of pain and the brain still releases the ever-satisfying (and potentially addicting) endorphins. I have also heard of people drawing hash marks in place of using a blade, sometimes using red ink. I have encouraged these as alternatives when people believe they truly need to feel pain. However, I believe all perpetuate the self-harm cycle… just to a lesser degree than a blade (squeezing an ice cube has also been shown to cause nerve damage). It’s one step down, but it’s not where you necessarily want to be.

Some healthy coping skills I might encourage are: drawing a picture of something sweet (like a butterfly) where you would self-harm; write an encouraging quote (a Bible verse?) where you would self-harm; drinking juice or eating a healthy meal (if you have not eaten recently, your hypoglycemia may be perpetuating your cycle); or healthy exercise.

However, I have found art therapy to be the most effective coping skill in managing self-harm. It’s cathartic, it tires your arm if you scribble hard enough, and if you use bright colors it will improve your mood (whereas the dark colors- especially red- may perpetuate the cycle). This drawing is beautiful because it was used as an alternative. And it worked. I encourage you to try it too.

8 thoughts on “Alternatives to Self-Harm

  1. Thank you, I love this. I never did understand the lesser harmful route and it didn’t help me at all. Drawing something sweet on my wrist usually does. I draw stars because it reminds me of the amazing order and choreography in creation. Art has helped me tremendously too, I find it soothing. I buy pretty bracelets and wear them when I’m feeling low too. It helps, even if I look silly wearing bracelets with my pajamas.

    • That’s great that you have found several coping skills to help you. Thanks for the bracelets idea! I love that you make your body pretty instead of harming it! Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂

  2. I keep my nails painted, clean, and trimmed. Really helps me to feel prettier. Helps me to remember not to scratch my fingernails, cuticles, and the surrounding skin. Which is partly a bad habit, tic, or self harming method for me. I used to chew the inside of my mouth, and peel my lips. TMJ sort of stopped the chewing, and I have 10 or more chapsticks around the house and/or with me all the time, so my lips don’t get try enough to peel. I also crochet, and do other linen, and string/yarn crafts, which are often very repetitive and help me to divert my energies in a positive way… But of course I slip sometimes, have a tender thumb from digging my nails into it yesterday.

    • Thank you so much for sharing these coping skills that have helped you. I love the idea to paint and care for your fingernails. I was actually considering doing the same today, but it’s been so long I don’t even know where any nail polish is! Thanks for sharing, and of course we all slip and fall into old habits. It’s just so important that you have a bunch of healthy coping skills in the bag for when you are able to use them 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for these alternative and healthier coping skills. I have tried some of the most common suggestions and was interested in your views on some of them. I’ve never been any good at painting in my life and now have a disability. However, I am able to put paint on paper in a rough way and have found that it is helped me deal with my negative feelings better. I was interested in what you said about the colour red. Thank you for some really positive ideas xx

    • Thanks 🙂 I am not very good at painting (or any art for that mater) but I also find that it helps me manage negative feelings. While red can be cathartic, as well as the minor forms of self-harm like a rubber band, they do not change the thought process. Do a very dark painting, and then do one with bright colors. How do you feel after each? How do you feel when you look at them a week from now? I am convinced that bright colors change the thought process, and often they change my thought process mid-art when I am struggling. Feel free to ask whatever questions you have… I may not be able to answer but I can do my best. xx

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