Alternatives to Self-Harm.

What a lot of people don’t understand about self-harm is that it’s addictive. For those who’ve never been there, that doesn’t make sense. How can you get addicted to physically hurting yourself?

If you’re struggling with self-harm here are some useful alternatives for you to use to fight the urge.

For many, self-harm is a reaction and a way to alleviate difficult emotions. The need to self-harm can be severely overwhelming, especially in the wake of a traumatic and emotional event. When we feel ready to burst with anger or frustration or emotional pain, it can seem like an easy solution. The pain caused by self-harm releases much-needed endorphins to help chase those feelings that we simply don’t want to deal with. But at what cost?

Although it’s all too easy to give in to the urge, here are some safer alternatives that can eventually grow into healthy coping mechanisms.

Learn more about self-harm from this post.


Top 8 Alternatives to Self-Harm.

One thing that I find the majority of people don’t understand about self-harm is just how addictive it can be. If you’re on the outside looking in, you’re probably wondering how that can even make sense. How can someone be addicted to physically harming themselves? Just like it’s difficult for some people to understand the attractiveness of starving yourself or getting drunk. While cutting yourself isn’t the only form of self-harm, it’s the first example that any of us can think of. Therefore I’m going to be using cutting to help describe how exactly our mind works when we deliberately harm ourselves.

You feel overwhelmed. Emotionally, you’re frayed! And you harm yourself. The dopamine is released and you feel instant relief, followed by shame and even guilt. But then it becomes a need, a strong craving each and every time you’re feeling emotionally distraught. Soon, even the smallest of inconveniences have you reaching for a sharp object.

Self-harming for me was an addiction that I needed to quell along with my eating disorder. It, along with smoking, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to break free from. Even now I find myself craving it!

But there’s good news. You can stop! And while these alternatives may not be the answer you need, they can certainly help you on your journey to recovery.

Creative Alternatives To Self-Harm.

There are various ways to steer away from self-harming. Some might be mindful techniques, while others can be creative. I personally find that distraction works best, specifically if it gets your hands moving. You can paint, sew, draw, work with clay or even play an instrument. Some people even cook as a means of distracting themselves.

The Butterfly Project.

I remember reading about and taking part in this project as a young teenager. The concept is simple; if you feel like self-harming draw a butterfly on your skin and name it after someone you love. Let the image rest on your skin and allow it to fade naturally (this also includes letting it fade from washing etc). But if you harm yourself, specifically in that spot, it’s seen as harming the butterfly. It’s a cute way of distracting ourselves from the immediate need to self-harm and enables us to stop and think. While quite primitive, it’s helped me on several occasions.

This project has become so well known among the community that the butterfly has become a symbol of rebirth and active recovery.

While this has worked for me in the past, I am also aware that it can make you feel guilted into not self-harming by adding the name of a loved one. So, on several occasions, I just chose to leave it nameless. It still works because who wants to hurt a butterfly, right?

Distraction Alternatives.

Distraction is one of the most common ways that people stop themselves from self-harming and there is a variety to choose from. Different things work for different people and different situations! Have a look, think about what might work for you, and even add your own!

If you’re feeling angry or frustrated try these.

  • Take some light exercise. If that doesn’t work, hit the gym, lift weights or even kick a ball against a fence. You could even go for a run.
  • Hit cushions, pillows or soft surfaces.
  • Shout at the top of your lungs or sing.
  • Move,shake and dance!
  • Tear up pieces of paper or card.
  • Listen to angry, loud music.

If you’re feeling sad or anxious, try these.

  • Wrap yourself up in a blanket.
  • Spend time with your pet.
  • Go for a light walk, bonus points if it’s out in nature.
  • Simply let yourself cry.
  • Listen to slow, soothing music.
  • Speak to a loved one.
  • Practice self massage. Massage your temples, wrists, arms etc.
  • Take slow, deliberate breaths. This is part of grounding and can be extremilly helpful when it comes to self-harm.

If you’re simply needing to regain control, try these.

  • Write yourself some lists.
  • Tidy your space.
  • Declutter
  • Do some gardening.

There are so many other methods out there! Let me know some of yours in the comments.

Substitute Alternatives.

Sometimes we simply need to feel something. But instead of self-harming, there are various alternatives to help release various chemicals in the brain. Here are just a few.

  • Hold ice cubes in your hands, or move them across your skin. The cold is a shock to the system but can help calm down the senses where needed.
  • Draw lines on your skin where you would self-harm. This can be done with a pen or a marker. While some may choose red for obvious reasons, they can be drawn in any colour. You might even go as far as to create a master piece!
  • Snap rubber bands on your wrist. It’s possibly the least helpful as it still leaves a welt and could be classed as a non-intrusive method. But it was something that really helped me in the early stages of recovery, and can be helpful on the go.
  • If you’re at home why not go for a shower? It can be cold or warm, and acts as a way to dull your senses. Showering has been espeically helpful to me when I’m feeling overwhlemed and simply need it all to shut down for a bit. In the shower no one can contact me, there are no means to self-harm and the only noise is that of the water and the fan.

Recovery isn’t linear.

Not everyone recovers in the same way or in the same time frame. We’re all different and how we react to recovery is a very different experience. Don’t be so hard on yourself if you fall down a few times because there’s always tomorrow.

If you’re recovering or have recovered from self-harm, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments! What methods have you tried? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

74 comments

  1. I don’t think I have knowingly ever done self-harm but I do feel like some of those ideas could have definitely helped at some point, and will definitely help me at some other points too. Thank you for sharing these coping mechanisms, I am sure they will do a lot of good for some people!

  2. I learned so much by reading this post. Thank you so much for sharing this very important information about self harm alternatives.

  3. This was informative, helpful and sensitive to people who struggle with this. Thank you for helping me understand this better.

    Lauren x

  4. I needed this more than you know! I’ve has such anxiety recently and your suggestions are such a good reminder of how to handle my anxiety in a healthy manner!

  5. This is so important and honest post! I can understand how self harm can become addictive. For me overthinking and anxiety I can say are forms of self harm. And they are really hard to get rid of them. Some of your advice can definitely help me on this also. Thank you for sharing something. I don’t think I have read anything else like this.

  6. Thank you for sharing these distraction alternatives. I agree with you that doing some light exercise actually helps. I also sometimes listen to loud music.

    To regain control, cleaning and decluttering always does wonders for me.

  7. This breaks my heart, mainly because self harm is a commonly used practice to alleviate emotional pain and often times it goes unnoticed or overlooked by those around the person harming themselves. My niece has recently been struggling with this and we have discussed some of these very alternatives with her. Thankfully we have caught it early enough that I believe we can course correct. When we see her hit that emotional state we offer alternatives such as screaming into a void, running (this has been a really good one), and punching pillows or a punching bag. Anything that will help her reach that dopamine dump without the shame that comes after. Thank you for sharing and bringing light to this very real issue that plagues our youth more today than ever before.

  8. I hope this helps a lot of people! I’m sure most people are not aware that there are alternatives. It’s so great of you to write about them.

  9. It is so good of you to share the pictorial cycle of self-harm. It’s best explained that way. I didn’t know wrapping myself in my blanket can do something about my anxiety. Thanks for sharing about it.

  10. I honestly can say that I relate to self-harm, but I didn’t do it for a long time. I was busy working on improving and as time pass, I stopped doing it.

  11. I always switch to my happy place when I’m frustrated and my happy place includes exercising. It’s a great alternative and a distraction for me.

  12. I had never even considered there were alternatives to self harm but this is great to know especially as my daughter gets older as I worry about this a lot. I love that you have put this out there. I think exercise really helps with a lot of things as it’s a great release.

  13. Sometimes reaching out to a relative stranger via a tweet or from a Facebook group can help. People can always relate to what people are going through.

  14. This is the first time I am reading about alternatives to self-harm. I am so glad you are bringing awareness to it. The alternatives you have written about sounds so helpful and distraction methods are definitely useful especially in this scenario.

    Maureen |

  15. I think this is going to help a lot of people. There are so many out there who resort to self-harm to ease their mental pain.

  16. This such an important post! I’ve struggled with self harm in the past and I completely agree that you never understand how additive it is unless you’ve been there. The butterfly project is such a lovely idea and I think the ice cube idea would also be a massive help! Thank you so much for sharing and shedding light on this x

  17. It’s my first time to read about alternative to self harm and I think it’s a great idea because these Will not hurt. That butterfly tattoo looks pretty!

  18. Self-harm can be so subtle with some and not so much with others. I hope these tips help you no matter which category you’re in.
    Thank you so much for reading. x

  19. This is such a powerful post. It is loaded with healthy options of perspectives and activities. Love the reassuring message at the end.

  20. I’ve never been thinking that I would ever self-harm myself. However, it has occurred to me that I’ve been doing it for most of my life. Since I’ve always sufferend from some acne, which wouldn’t be that bad itself, but I would scratch it so badly, not paying much attention to the pain and scars. I do it compulsory and mostly when I’m stressed. I hope your tips will help me a bit! 🙂

  21. Amazing Aisling, I can’t thank you enough for all of these life saving options, THANK YOU!!! Sharing it…

  22. I think those alternatives are great, because they may keep people from actually harming themselves. It would be especially great for teenagers.

  23. These are some peaceful alternatives to self harm. I wish blogs like these were available when I was a teenager. I hope your post helps someone who is struggling.

  24. These are amazing alternatives. I am sure this post will help many people in need. Thanks for posting that!

  25. I have never been affected by self-harm and I have never met people who have been affected, but it is nice that there are ways to get away from something so harmful and certainly senseless. Why harm us? Because surely we have a problem but there are many other ways to deal with it.

  26. I love all of these alternatives! Thank you for sharing these tips, and I really hope that others find it very useful.

  27. This is such a wonderful post and there’s some fantastic ideas here for self-harm alternatives. I’d only ever heard of the butterfly one but I really love the idea of the paper chains and origami stars too. Thank you for sharing ❤

  28. Therapy animals can be a huge help! Although no licensed I find that my cats can be of great help!

    Thank you so much for reading 🙂

  29. I love that idea! I have yet to get anything but I have tattoos on my arm & thighs which deter me from harming myself in my usual haunts. It does help in the long run. x

  30. I never realised that self-harm was a thing. It is great to know that there are all those really useful alternatives for anyone who needs them. Thanks for sharing.

  31. it is a very important and useful post. self harm is an issue and it should we thought of

  32. This is a great idea on the alternatives of self-harm. I will suggest these and spread them across the internet so more can be aware!

  33. This is a great post that I’m sure will help a lot of people who are self-harming.

  34. These are all really great alternatives for someone who is working through their self-harm journey. Thank you for sharing these!

  35. I have never heard of any of these, but I love them all! My daughter had a snowglobe in her favorite colors for anxiety. The butterfly idea is by far my favorite!

  36. Is so unfortunate that people harm themselves. Everybody has a whole world in their mind we don’t know the suffer, we just know that if this helps them to avoid that is a good thing.

  37. These are all really good alternatives, I kind of like them for anxiety as well. I may have to participate even though I don’t self-harm. As always thanks for sharing Nyxie. And I hope you’re doing well.

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