It may seem hard, but reaching out to someone can help you work through some of the reasons for harming yourself. It may take time, but you can move to a happier and healthier outlook. It's important to trust the person you are speaking with.
Starting the conversation
If you find it hard to talk about what you're going through, try to start with words like:
- right now, I'm feeling...
- I think it started when...
- I've been feeling like this for...
- lately, school/work/college has been...
If you feel comfortable speaking with a family member, they can help you find a counsellor that's right for you. They may be relieved at having the opportunity to listen and help.
If you do not get a positive response, this is not because you've done something wrong. It's more likely that the person you told may not know how to respond or may not understand self-harm.
Talking to a counsellor
You may need to talk to someone like a counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
They can help you to work through some of the reasons you are self-harming. They can help you to find other ways to ease the pain you feel inside.
Building trust with your counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist can take time. You need to find someone you feel comfortable with. This may mean seeing several professionals before finding one that's right for you.
Do not give up
If your first attempt at getting support does not go how you had hoped, do not give up. Try again or speak to someone else who you think might be better.
If talking about it with someone is too overwhelming, email or write down what you want to say.
If you or a friend are self-harming, take care of your injuries. Visit your GP or hospital if you need to.
Understand, distract, delay
If you can understand your patterns of self-harm, you may discover certain triggers. This can then help you to delay self-harm, and stop over time.
Keeping a journal and reflecting on self-harm can help you to better understand the patterns.
Learn to recognise your triggers. Triggers are what give you the urge to hurt yourself. They could be people, situations, thoughts or feelings.
Recognising your triggers and urges helps you take steps towards reducing or stopping self-harm. Try writing down what you notice about your urges, to help you spot them more quickly each time they come.
Urges can be associated with:
- racing heart or feelings of heaviness
- feelings of intense emotional pain
- physical restlessness
- a sense of panic
- a disconnection from yourself or a loss of sensation
- repetitive thoughts – for example, 'I'm going to cut'
- unhealthy decisions, like working too hard to avoid feelings
If you feel like you want to self-harm, try to distract yourself. This may pass some time until your feelings become easier to manage.
It can be done when you feel the urge, or as soon as you become aware that you are hurting yourself.
You may need to create a list of other ways of managing your emotions, to replace self-harm. Understanding more about your triggers and urges can help you to find other ways of managing your experiences that are healthier for you.
If you can, make sure you are around other people. Remove any sharp objects or items that could be used to self-harm from around you.
Try to put off harming yourself until you've spoken to someone else or waited for 15 minutes. See if you can extend it for another 15 minutes after that. Continue until the feeling passes.
Releasing energy or feelings
Self-harm can be treated with therapies such as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). But it's difficult to get strong evidence of what works for people to stop self-harming. What works for one, may not work for another.
Here are some things you can try to cope with overwhelming emotions:
- Talk to someone.
- Write in a journal.
- Identify the emotion you are experiencing – naming your emotions can reduce their intensity.
- Exercise to use up excess energy.
- Scream or sing at the top of your lungs, on your own or to music – do this into a pillow if you do not want other people to hear.
- Try yoga or meditation – these can help to reduce anxiety.
- Cry – crying is a healthy and normal way to express your sadness or frustrations.
- Talk to someone – talk with a trusted friend or with the Samaritans (phone 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eat well, exercise and be kind to yourself.
Doing all these things can help to:
- improve your self-esteem
- lift your mood
- create a better sense of wellbeing - making you feel happier, on the outside and inside
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE