List of Things to Do Instead of Self-Injury

This list is intended as a starting point. Come up with your own ideas as well, which will probably be all the more effective for your having discovered them. For more detailed information on stopping self-injury, check out the Ending Self-Injury page.

One of the most effective things, and one that can precede anything else on this list, is the 15-minute rule. Look at the clock and tell yourself that if you still feel like injuring yourself in 15 minutes you can, but first you have to wait until then. If 15 minutes seems utterly impossible, try 10. During this time, use whatever coping skills work for you (this is best), or just do something to pass the time. After the 15 minutes are over, if you still want to hurt yourself, you can, but try deciding to wait another 15 minutes, since you were able to make it this far. Sometimes I can wait it out until I don't want to hurt myself anymore, whether because of the way I passed the time or just because of the time itself. When the desire to injure finally passes, maybe you can tell a friend who knows about your self-injury that you made it through. Even looking forward to saying, "I made it!" is an incentive for me.

Pray. As Psalm 62:8 says, "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." Sometimes when I have trouble praying, I'll just say, "Jesus, Jesus," over and over. He knows what's going on and he knows what I need. Don't wait until the hard time is over to turn to God. Follow the example of the Psalmist and run to God while you're struggling.

If I am at one of those points when I can hardly even pray, I sometimes curl up on my bed or carpet and just let myself feel weak, upset, tired, or whatever else that it is I'm feeling—but in a safe environment. Eventually I may try to read some Scripture or put on some Christian contemporary music, such as Jars of Clay, Jennifer Knapp, Andrew Peterson, or Caedmon's Call. The important thing is to calm myself down and relax.

One verse of Scripture that really applies here says, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Romans 13:14). It is really hard to do, but it works: focus on Jesus and don't think about ways to hurt yourself (or how it would feel, or wherever else your thoughts go when you want to self-injure).

To go along with the above verse, here is a comforting verse that is also a promise: "Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.... Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster" (Jeremiah 17:14,17).

If you have self-punishment on your mind, you might check out the song "Mercy Speaks by Jesus' Blood," also known as "She Must and Shall Go Free." Download the demo MP3 (on the right hand side) or look at the lead sheet to learn the tune. This is a wonderful song celebrating the fact that Christ has paid for our sins, so we can go free. (Is this idea new to you? Go here to learn more. For Christians, the Atonement article explores this idea in more depth.)

I've heard it said that you should be around other people when you want to self-injure, so that it becomes impossible. I've found inconspicuous ways of doing it anyway, though, and that makes me feel really uncomfortable. You could try the above if you wanted to, or you could call someone if that would be easier, or maybe just go to someone that you're close to and tell them you want a hug. During that kind of thing I won't let myself hurt myself, out of respect for their feelings.

Animals are great. Pet the cat, brush the dog, whatever. I have one cat to whom I am especially close, and she trusts me more as I trust her more. It's really cool. Plus, you can talk to them and they won't think any less of you, and you can be completely honest. (They won't tell anyone.)

If you are a Christian, try to go over what you know to be true: what God has done and will do in your life. The page of What God is Doing in Me or the Affirmations page might be good starting points.

How about something artistic? You could play with clay, finger paint (this is really fun), draw, or even use Play-Doh. It helps to adequately protect against the mess by putting down newspapers and wearing old clothes or a smock, so that you don't have cause to get mad at yourself when you are done.

Embroidery, cross-stitching, needlepoint, and knitting are good ways to keep both your hands and your mind busy, as long as you use dull needles. There are so many pattern books out now, as well as kits to make various projects, that these aren't exclusively "old lady" activities any more.

Whether you're doing needlework or just cleaning your room, you might want to listen to something to chase away thoughts of self-injury. You can borrow books on tape from your local library, or you can listen to the Bible or Adventures in Odyssey online—all for free. You will need Real Audio to listen to the Bible; you probably have it, but if you don't, it's available for free here.

Any type of helping others is a great thing to do. Here's a short list of ideas to get you started:

There are many longer-term volunteer opportunities as well, such as mentoring or tutoring a child, getting involved with a church group, becoming a "candy striper" somewhere, and so on.

If you are a computer person, you can type an e-mail to one of your friends, even if you would never send it. I've done this before; I just save the letter in my Drafts folder, rather than clicking send. It's also useful afterwards, because I can be completely honest and use whatever kinds of words I want while I'm writing, and then I can come back later and see how I was actually feeling. If you're not as much for the computer, try a pen and paper letter, and "save" it in a drawer.

Safe stuff is anything that you can carry in your pocket, purse, or bookbag that is not going to be used for self-injury and will make you feel calm or loved. I have a smooth blue stone that I ruband a small cross that says Jesus Saves on it. Other ideas: small hard candy or gum, a photograph of someone you care about or of yourself when you were truly happy, something a friend gave you that has special meaning, a little toy, keychain, or trinket to occupy your hands, or a sheet of paper with something on it to read. Make sure you won't use it to harm yourself—before the urge hits, use scissors to round sharp corners and sandpaper to smooth rough edges.

Exercise is okay, as long as you're not trying to punish yourself by doing it. If you can't shake thoughts of self-hatred, it might be better to stop. Otherwise, exercise can be rewarding, and it even produces endorphins in your brain, which make you feel better. You might try kickboxing or one of the "striking" martial arts (karate, tae kwon do) to help release emotions and develop concentration.

Sometimes I just find a friend and ask them to tell me the Gospel. I've heard the story many times, but there is something about it each time, and especially as told by each person, that really helps me. The one I remember the best I have retold on this site here.

Sometimes even chores can be fun when you're listening to something, whether it's a CD, a book on tape, or something from online, like the Bible or Adventures in Odyssey (see above). Pick a chore you enjoy (or at least don't hate), listen to something you like, and the time will fly.

Visualization techniques can be useful, so here is one of my favorites. At one point I learned that there are four main emotions: mad, sad, glad, and scared. To start, I identify the emotion that is making me want to self-injure as one of those four. Next, I imagine its intensity on a sort of continuum, placing it at whatever level I picture it as (there is no absolute scale). I then mentally turn the continuum into something that looks like the top of the scale at the doctor's office, with the weight where the emotion level is. From here, it depends on how intense the feeling is. If it's not all that bad, I visualize pushing the weight back towards a comfortable level of that emotion, letting the weight be heavy or light depending on how I feel. On the other hand, if it's bad, I choose a coping skill, use it, and then bring the visualization back into my mind and watch the weight go back a little bit. I do this until the emotion is at a comfortable level (it may take a mix of both tactics, or more than one coping skill).

If you are a student or if there is something you are trying to learn, doing worksheets or working problems from a book can help because it enables you to focus on something objective, something other than self-injury. If you're studying a foreign language, you probably have a workbook with pages you haven't done; the same may be true for vocabulary and grammar workbooks and other consumable textbooks. Math books are full of extra practice problems, and contests like Mathcounts and ARML have free practice materials online. Whatever you're doing, you may want to wait to check your answers until after the desire to self-injure has passed. (Hint: When I'm crying and need to calm down, I say my times tables, focusing on the task at hand. If that gets too easy, I skip every other number: 4 times 1, 4 times 3, 4 times 5. If that gets too easy, try going up to 19 instead of 12. Pretty soon the gears in your head will be turning, and you'll have calmed down without even trying. You can do the same thing with verb conjugations, the periodic table, or any other large chunk of memorized information.)

Shopping can help to distract you if you are good at watching what you buy; it's dangerous to get in the habit of buying things to cheer up. On the other hand, if you do it wisely, it's a way to get yourself out of the house (and away from your implements). For a change, try something new. You might go to a bookstore (Christian or secular) to sit/stand around and read. Go to a clothing store where you never shop and try on all the weird clothes you'd never buy—and then laugh when you see yourself in the mirror. Other ideas: the sale bins at Walgreens with all the little fun sample bath products; the fabric store (pattern books) or a craft store; the Hallmark store (to look at the funny cards, or the sweet cards, or the horribly-sappy cards); Best Buy or another similar computer store; World Market or an international foods store; a used book or CD store; and so on.

As a last resort, when none of the above work, I have taken some Scotch tape and taped around the fingers on each hand (so that all four fingers are held together), and then taped my thumbs to the palms of my hands. I can still type (a little), hold a book, and do very basic things with my hands, but it's a lot harder to hurt myself.

Return to the Lysamena Project on Self-Injury