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Replacement Behaviors for Self-Injury

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Written by Jessy Pucker LMSW

March 4th, 2022

Self-injury is dangerous and should be taken seriously. New ways of coping with unfamiliar or painful emotions can be found. If possible, try to identify the feelings behind the urge to self-harm. Is it anger? Is it numbness? Is it sadness? The replacement behaviors you choose can be tailored to these identified emotions.

Self-injury can be a coping mechanism for unresolved or overwhelming emotions. It can be used as an expression of an inner pain, a practice of control, or an effort to regulate negative emotions. Either way, it tends to serve as a release mechanism for the person experiencing the pain. Therapy is an important tool to help process emotions and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

Below is a list of replacement behaviors for self-injury. These can help replace some of the immediate need for the sensation without posing a physical danger.

  1. Squeeze ice until it melts in your hand.
  2. Hit a punching bag or other soft surface.
  3. Throw a pillow onto hard surfaces. #2 and #3 are most useful when anger is the identified emotion behind the urge to self-harm.
  4. Change your environment. You can leave your house and take a walk or go socialize with friends; anything to get you out of your surroundings.
  5. Cry. It is a very powerful release.
  6. Free write all of your thoughts on paper and then rip it up.
  7. Go for a run to burn energy.
  8. Take a cold shower. Feeling physical sensations can help get you out of your head. It is important to regulate the temperature of the water so it is not too hot or cold, which can be forms of self-harm in themselves.
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