Understanding & Coping with Self-Injurious Behaviours

Self-injurious behaviours can be devastating to the sufferer and disturbing for friends and loved ones. Common self-injurious behaviours include cutting, head-banging and hand-biting, as well as excessive self-rubbing and scratching. These behaviours can be manifested for a number of reasons, ranging from biochemical causes to social environmental factors.

Self-Injurious Behaviours

Wendy E.M. LeBlanc, M.A.P's, L.Psych

Psychologist

Common Causes of Self-Injurious Behaviours:

  • This is the one thing in my life I can control
  • I am lonely
  • It keeps me from feeling numb and dead inside
  • It is better than thinking of all the bad memories I have
  • I deserve to be punished
  • It is exactly the kind of thing that would upset my parents
  • It makes me feel things I can't put into words

If you cut/self-injure to calm and soothe yourself:

  • Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket, use a heating pad
  • Take a bath or hot shower
  • Massage your neck, hands, and feet
  • Listen to calming (or happy) music

If you cut/self-injure because you feel disconnected and numb:

  • Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
  • Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg/rub it on your skin
  • Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel.
  • Take a cold shower or bath
  • Make plans, schedule time with friends and family

If you cut/self-injure to release tension or vent anger:

  • Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
  • Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
  • Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
  • Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans, stomp your feet)
  • Punch a mattress/cushion or scream into your pillow

Substitutes for the cutting sensation

  • Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
  • Use red food coloring to replace the sight of blood
  • Draw creatively on your skin, something fun or meaningful
  • Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
  • Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs and snap them instead of cutting or hitting

If you cut/self-injure to express pain and intense emotions:

  • Express your feelings in a journal, or through creative writing
  • Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
  • Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
  • Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling
  • Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint

To learn more about self-injurious behaviours and how best to cope with them, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.

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353 St. George Street Suite 200

Moncton, NB E1C 1W8

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Moncton and surrounding areas in the Maritime

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College of Psychologists of New Brunswick

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