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How I Explain and Fight Self-Harm Urges

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They come sparingly at first, kind of just like fleeting thoughts and feelings that ebb and flow like waves. They enter my mind, but don’t consume it. At this point, they’re not on my mind constantly, and the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills I have really work to distract me. And then — they come crashing in all at once and it feels like the world is ending. Like I’ve been swallowed by the giant wave of emotions and I’m unable to get out of the water for air. They pull me under the tide.

At first, the physical sensations are tolerable for me. I can hold ice cubes (part of the DBT skill TIPP or ACCEPTS) or snap a rubber band on my wrist to create distractions. I will FaceTime a friend, watch videos of Demi Lovato (my idol), or color to keep my hands busy. I also work through my DBT binder to find skills I can use, or I utilize phone-coaching with my therapist if I have to. These are when the thoughts and urges are on the surface, and haven’t fully engulfed my mind. These “fleeting” urges are easier to surf for me.

And then there are the urges that feel absolutely unbearable to tolerate. (Note: a feeling is just a feeling and a thought is just a thought – they don’t have to turn into actions unless I let them). At this point, my veins and skin feels like they’re on fire, and that self-harm is the only way to get any sort of relief from the rollercoaster of emotions I’m experiencing inside. It’s as if self-harm is the water to put out the fire. It’s the feeling of needing to crawl out of my own skin.

Fighting this urge is one of the hardest, and most rewarding (ahem DBT dialect), actions I have done for myself throughout recovery. I still have days where I feel like recovery is not possible, and I feel like that happens a little for everyone. Everyone doubts themselves from time to time because we’re all human, flawed, and no one is perfect. I have learned that I deserve recovery, and I deserve to not self-harm. I deserve self-love and self-compassion. If I can do it, and fight this battle, so can you.

Examples of Coping Skills I Use to Fight Self-Harm Urges:

  • Phone a friend/FaceTime a friend
  • Watching a funny or emotional YouTube video
  • Listening to music really really loud
  • Going for a drive
  • Coloring in “adult coloring books” (the ones with cuss words are really fun)
  • Holding ice cubes (temperature is part of distractions and the TIPP DBT skill)
  • Going outside for a walk (getting out of the triggering environment)
  • Creating a kind environment (using my weighted blanket, taking a shower, putting on my favorite PJs)
  • Distractions: Putting on my favorite show (Gilmore Girls)
  • DBT phone coaching, if you have access (for when it feels like skills aren’t working for me)

Getty photo by jacoblund

Originally published: July 5, 2019
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