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Coping Skills for Reducing Your Self-Injury


Updated December 30, 2010

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Self-injury is defined as the deliberate and direct destruction or alteration of body tissue without suicidal intent. PTSD and self-injury frequently co-occur.  It is thought that people use self-injury as a way of managing intense emotional experiences, such as shame, guilt, anger, and fear. Self-injury can be hard to stop; however, by learning healthy ways of managing your emotions, self-injury may be reduced. This article presents a number of emotion regulation skills that may be helpful in stopping self-injurious behavior.

The Relationship between PTSD and Self-Injury

Individuals with PTSD may be more likely to engage in self-injurious behaviors, such as cutting or burning oneself, as a way of managing intense and unpleasant emotions. Before you can stop engaging in self-injurious behavior, it is important to first learn why it might have developed. In this article, you can learn more about the connection between self-injury and PTSD.

Why Do We Have Emotions?

Emotions may often feel very unpredictable and unpleasant; however, they serve very important functions. Learn more about why we have emotions in this article. Understanding why we have certain emotions can help make them more tolerable, reducing the likelihood that you may try to avoid them.

Increasing Emotional Awareness

Before you can successfully manage your emotions, it is important to understand what emotions are and how you experience them. This article provides some basic information on emotions, as well as ways of increasing your emotional awareness.

Reducing Negative Reactions to Your Emotions

People with PTSD often evaluate and respond negatively to their emotional experiences. For example, a person with PTSD may feel shame because they are anxious or sad. This type of emotional reaction is called a "secondary emotion." As a result, people may try hard to avoid their emotions, such as through self-injury. One way of reducing self-injury is by increasing acceptance of your emotions. Learn more about secondary emotions, where they come from, and how to cope with them.

Monitoring Your Emotions

A number of coping skills may help you manage your emotions, but how do you know if those coping skills are actually working? Not every coping skill is going to be effective in every situation. One way to determine whether or not a coping skill is working for you is to monitor your emotions.

Using Distraction to Manage Intense Emotions

Intense emotions can be more difficult to manage. Distraction strategies can help you make it through intense emotional experiences without engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as self-injury.

Self-Soothing Coping Strategies

Self-soothing coping strategies can be very helpful in reducing distress and improving your mood, reducing the likelihood of self-injury. Learn more about some coping strategies that may be effective in managing your distress.

Using Writing to Express Your Emotions

Holding in your emotions can make them more intense and difficult to manage. As a result, people may be more at risk for engaging in impulsive behaviors like self-injury. Writing is one healthy way of expressing your emotions. Learn more about expressive writing in this article.

Managing Negative Beliefs about Emotions

It is very common for people to develop negative beliefs about emotions, and this may be particularly the case for people who have a history of traumatic exposure. Learn more about some common negative beliefs about emotions, their consequences, and how to cope with them.

Using Mindfulness to Increase Acceptance of Emotions

Mindfulness can be a very important skill to learn if you struggle with intense and unpleasant emotions. Practicing mindfulness of emotions can increase your acceptance and tolerance of these emotions. An exercise for promoting mindfulness of emotions is presented here.

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