Ending Self-Injury

I want to start by saying this: It's not easy. That means it's really important to stop for the right reasons. It's important to create a plan for what to do when life seems awful. It's important to find people who will help and support you, and it's important to go through with it and stop—because life is so much better without a razor blade occupying the spot of "best friend."

If you're trying to stop injuring yourself because of a nasty comment you've received, or because a friend threatened to stop being your friend if you didn't quit self-injuring, or even simply because you're sick and tired of your long-sleeved shirts, ask yourself: Do you really want to quit? If not, you may not have the reason to fight when the desire to self-injure hits. You may even find that you want to hurt yourself for wanting to hurt yourself! It's probably not absolutely necessary to stop for a good reason, but it will help you when things get hard.

What are good reasons to stop self-injury? Here are three: for God, for others, and for yourself.

If you're not a Christian, this "God stuff" may not matter much to you, but I want you to know that I'm not talking about a god with a long beard and white robe searching for the slightest reason to strike you down with lightning. If that god is dead, so much the better.1 God—the true God as revealed in the Bible—is love, and he is intimately involved with his people. That's why I'm talking about him here, because he can turn your life around and make you a new person—and not only will that help you stop self-injuring, it'll also change you for eternity. But if you don't know Jesus Christ as your Lord and your Savior, if you haven't given your whole life over to him, the "God stuff" won't hold up when things get tough. (Want to know about Jesus? Check this out.)

That being said, let me expand on the above reasons.

If you want to read about what Scripture does and doesn't say about self-injury, you can check out the Scripture and SI and This is a Hard Teaching pages. Here, though, I'd like to focus on something else: self-injury hurts our relationship with God.

What do I mean when I say that? I mean this: when you self-injure, you are relying on yourself to deal with your problems. You may be withdrawing into guilt, shame, or self-hatred. You may be lashing out against yourself in anger. Whatever it is, you're leaving God out of the picture. Simply put, that breaks his heart, because he can help you with these emotions so much better than you can help yourself (see Psalm 107; Isaiah 42:3; 1 Peter 5:7). He longs for you to live without this escape, because he can provide a better one: under the shadow of his wings (Psalm 91:4). It takes time to get used to this, and it's not an easy transition, but it's a glorious and beautiful relationship (see Song of Songs 2:8-13).

Other people can also help you stop self-injury. I don't mean someone who threatens you with an ultimatum; I mean a caring, loving mentor, counselor, or friend who is willing to walk through this with you. I stopped self-injuring largely because of a promise I made to someone I trusted, that I would talk to her or to another lady I trusted before I hurt myself. I still didn't stop completely for more than six months, but in those conversations, I learned how to rely on God in the hardest of times. I praise God for those two Christian ladies who loved me and gently helped me along when my life was falling apart. Maybe you also have someone in your life who is willing to gently hold you accountable and to love you through this.

Whether or not you have people in your life helping you stop, you also need to be personally committed to ending self-injury. No one can remove all the sharp things from your life or take away all possible means of self-injury. You're going to need to make and re-make your own commitment as the hard times come. On the flip side, while it's true that this is your decision to make, it will also be your decision to enjoy. Imagine, for one moment, being free from the sharp-things or the hot-things or the hard walls to which you are bound. It's probably a scary thought, but think about it—no more making up stories about the mad rampages of imaginary cats, and no more dreading summer's short sleeves and bathing suits, and no more etching years' and years' worth of pain upon yourself. What if you knew that over time the scars would fade, and you might even forget how most of them came about? What if you knew that eventually you wouldn't be obsessed with hurting yourself any more?

So look at all those reasons, and look at yourself, and decide if you can commit to quitting self-injury. It's going to feel very uncomfortable and unnatural, especially at first. It's hard to stop because, to be honest, self-injury works, even if just for a little while. However, the rewards are worth it. No more razor blade. No more cigarette lighter. No more long sleeves in summer. No more lying to everyone. Ultimately, it is freedom, the freedom to live your life before God unhindered by self-injury. One of the best foundations for stopping is to want that freedom enough that you'll do whatever it takes. Maybe you'll want to go back on that desire some night when you've had a rough day at work or school and you're tired and you had an argument with your family—but that's where planning comes in.

Planning to Stop

In The Scarred Soul, Tracy Alderman gives a list of questions you should ask yourself before stopping.2 I've adapted them and added a few for use here. So start by taking this inventory, whether in a notebook, or in your journal, or maybe not written down at all. Answering these questions will help make things easier later on:

What reasons do I have for wanting to stop?

What reservations/fears do I have about stopping?

What are some things that might make me want to self-injure?

What can I do when those things happen? In other words, what are some coping skills that I can plan on using instead of self-injury?

Who already knows that I have self-injured?

Is there anyone I want to tell? If so, who?

Who can I call when I need someone to talk to? (Write down their phone numbers on a piece of paper that's easily accessible, and find out how early/late you can call, depending on what sort of hours you keep.)

Who can I e-mail if I need to "type at someone"? (Again, make their e-mail addresses easily accessible.)

What safeguards will I take to make it easier for me to stop? (Be as thorough as possible: getting rid of whatever you used to self-injure is the best first step. If you can't bear to do this, bury it, freeze it in a block of ice, or put it in an extremely inaccessible place. It helps to have a friend on hand when you do this. Note that even though you cannot make your life completely safe, it's easier not to self-injure if you don't have your usual implements on hand.)

Do I need to change any habits or routines? In other words, get the obvious temptations out of the way. If you usually injure yourself right after getting home from work, for example, you might go to a friend's house first, or make a habit of taking a walk immediately upon arriving home.

How does my spiritual life fit into all this? Is there anything I need to change?

Once you've answered these questions, make your plans and follow through with them. Be realistic. Have someone else help you with the hard parts, especially when you are getting rid of the implements you used to injure yourself. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

Going Through With It

Most of the information I would include here is on other pages of this site. I would recommend you go through and take a look at whatever parts of it would help you the most. Be sure to check out the page of things to do instead of self-injury. I would suggest that you make your own list of alternatives to choose from when you want to hurt yourself. You may want to keep it near the place where you keep (or kept) whatever you used to self-injure. Some have found it helpful to assemble a kit of things to do instead of self-injury, so that the alternatives are easily accessible in crisis times.

Ask someone to keep you accountable and pray for you. Sometimes it is easier to get through a desire to self-injure when you anticipate telling the person the next day how such-and-such happened, but you didn't hurt yourself. Make sure to be honest, though, even if you self-injure. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

If you do hurt yourself, that doesn't mean that you are back where you started. It means you hurt yourself once. You don't need to do it any more. Just go on from where you are. If you catch yourself in the act of hurting yourself, stop. One slip doesn't mean you have to go back where you were. You can tell this to your accountability person, too. It's a small victory if you were able to make yourself stop as soon as you realized what you were doing.

Therapy is a good idea, especially with a Christian counselor or therapist. He or she can help you deal with the issues that led to self-injury in the first place and can support you as you go through the process of quitting.

If you buy more of whatever you used to self-injure, deal with them the same way as you did their predecessors. Have a friend come over, if that helps, and trash the new implements (preferably in a place where you won't or can't dig them out) or make them very inaccessible.

If you think negative thoughts about yourself a lot, try to catch each one immediately and counter it with Scripture. This may be very hard at first, but the habit you will form will be invaluable. The Affirmations and What God is Doing in Me pages may be helpful to you as you do this.

In order to counter your thoughts with Scripture, you need to get familiar with Scripture. If you'd like a plan to read through the Bible, I would suggest the mixed plan on this page. Meanwhile, the Topical Memory System, available from NavPress, is really great for Scripture memorization.

Make sure you don't trade self-injury for another bad coping skill, such as an eating disorder, excessive drinking, or using drugs.

Some people find it helpful to count days, rather than focusing on the aspect of "never again." One way to make this fun is to count each day without self-injuring as one star—you can even put star stickers on a calendar if you'd like. Make sure to focus on celebrating each step of the way, rather than seeing it as an oppressive obligation you have to maintain. Other people prefer not to count, but instead focus on the goal of being free from self-injury.

Give yourself permission to cry, to yell (not at anyone though!), to feel vulnerable and weak and upset as well as happy, and to take care of yourself. Some days will be better than others, so don't blame yourself because you are having an up day or a down day. If the only thought on your mind is self-injury, try walking in circles outside the house until you can calm down, or taking a walk outside, or doing something repetitive until your thoughts have cleared a little bit. Play the 15-minute game and see how long you can stretch it out, making it for hours, making it until the urge passes. Share the victories and the hard times with God. Learn to pray, read Scripture, and sing hymns or praise songs during the crisis times, not just the good times.

For the first year after I stopped hurting myself, I thought about it day and night. I wanted to do it all the time. The second year, I only wanted to do it sometimes, like when anything, even a tiny thing, went wrong. It was mostly out of my mind by the third year, but the thoughts still cropped up occasionally, when something big went wrong. After three years—three long years of warding off many, many thoughts about self-injury—it was, essentially, gone. The thoughts might spring up occasionally, but they don't take over; it's just not something I would do anymore. When I get hurt accidentally, it hurts; I put on cream and a band-aid. I don't have any problems using a paper-cutter. My scars are mostly faded now, and you wouldn't see them unless you were looking. And I am so grateful to God, because it is His goodness that has done this, and His goodness that is making me who I am.

Know this: ending self-injury is hard. It is worth it.


  1. This turn of phrase comes from Justo L. Gonzalez, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1990).
  2. The original list can be found in Tracy Alderman, The Scarred Soul: Understanding & Ending Self-Inflicted Violence (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 1997), 132.

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