One of the most important purposes of dialectical behavior therapy is to help you stop engaging in self-destructive behaviors, such as cutting, burning, scratching, and mutilating yourself (Linehan, 1993a). No one can deny the amount of pain you are in when you engage in one of these behaviors.
Some people with overwhelming emotions say that self-injury temporarily relieves them of some of the pain they’re feeling. This might be true, but it’s also true that these actions can cause serious permanent damage and even death if taken to an extreme. Think about all the pain you’ve already been through in your life. Think about all the people who have hurt you physically, sexually, emotionally, and verbally. Does it make sense to continue hurting yourself even more in the present?
Doesn’t it make more sense to start healing yourself and your wounds? If you really want to recover from the pain you’ve already experienced, stopping these self-destructive behaviors is the first step you should take. This can be very hard to do. You might be addicted to the rush of natural painkillers called endorphins that are released when you hurt yourself. However, these types of self-destructive actions are highly dangerous and certainly deserve your best efforts to control them.
Here are some safer actions that you can use to distract yourself from your self-destructive emotions and thoughts. Check (…) the ones you’re willing to do, and then add any healthy, nonharming activities that you can think of:
(…) Instead of hurting yourself, hold an ice cube in one hand and squeeze it. The sensation from the cold ice is numbing and very distracting.
(…) Write on yourself with a red felt-tip marker instead of cutting. Draw exactly where you would cut. Use red paint or nail polish to make it look like you’re bleeding. Then draw stitches with a black marker. If you need to make it even more distracting, squeeze an ice cube in the other hand at the same time.
(…) Snap a rubber band on your wrist each time you feel like hurting yourself. This is very painful, but it causes less permanent damage than cutting, burning, or mutilating yourself.
(…) Dig your fingernails into your arm without breaking the skin.
(…) Draw faces of people you hate on balloons and then pop them.
(…) Write letters to people you hate or to people who have hurt you. Tell them what they did to you and tell them why you hate them. Then throw the letters away or save them to read later. Throw foam balls, rolled-up socks, or pillows against the wall as hard as you can.
(…) Scream as loud as you can into a pillow or scream some place where you won’t draw the attention of other people, like at a loud concert or in your car.
(…) Stick pins in a voodoo doll instead of hurting yourself. You can make a voodoo doll with some rolled-up socks or a foam ball and some markers. Or you can buy a doll in a store for the specific purpose of sticking pins in it. Buy one that’s soft and easy to stick.
(…) Cry. Sometimes people do other things instead of crying because they’re afraid that if they start to cry they’ll never stop. This never happens. In fact, the truth is that crying can make you feel better because it releases stress hormones.
(…) Your own healthy, nonharming ideas:
Distress Tolerance Skills:
- DISTRESS TOLERANCE SKILLS
- RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
- DISTRACT YOURSELF FROM SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS
- DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH PLEASURABLE ACTIVITIES
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY PAYING ATTENTION TO SOMEONE ELSE
- DISTRACT YOUR THOUGHTS
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY LEAVING
- DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH TASKS AND CHORES
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY COUNTING
- CREATE YOUR DISTRACTION PLAN
- RELAX AND SOOTHE YOURSELF
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Smell
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Touch
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Taste
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Hearing
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Vision
- Self-Soothing – CREATE A RELAXATION PLAN
Advanced Distress Tolerance Skills:
- Advanced Distress Tolerance Skills: Improve the Moment
- SAFE-PLACE VISUALIZATION
- CUE-CONTROLLED RELAXATION
- REDISCOVER YOUR VALUES
- SELF-ENCOURAGING COPING THOUGHTS
- TAKE A TIME-OUT
- LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
- IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHER POWER
- ADVANCED RADICAL ACCEPTANCE