Good To Know

Understanding the Emotional Triggers of Self-Harm – Strategies for Coping


People who self-harm often feel intense pain and anger that they can’t express in other ways. Speaking to a mental health professional experienced in dialectical behavior therapy may benefit this issue.

Choosing someone to confide in can be difficult, but finding someone who will listen and support you without judgment is important.

Identify Your Triggers

Understanding self-harm and identifying your triggers can help you find ways to cope. For example, if commuting past a hospital makes you remember traumas from previous self-harm episodes, you could try finding another way to get to work. Or if feeling alone is a trigger, talking to someone can ease your loneliness.

If you know a loved one who engages in self-harming, listen to their feelings and be supportive. Avoid judgmental comments or ultimatums, as these can make them feel defensive and less likely to open up.

If you can’t talk to a friend, consider seeing a counselor or psychologist specializing in mental health. These professionals can teach you coping skills and offer support in distress. Your GP can refer you to these services for free or cheap. Alternatively, online services like BetterHelp connect you to a qualified therapist.

Create a Safe Box

Many young people who self-harm have underlying issues like blocked anger, sadness or fear and may need to work through those emotions safely. Unless these emotional issues are addressed, the person will likely continue to use self-harm as a coping mechanism.

Self-harming can be very dangerous and may permanently damage the body. If you are experiencing self-harm urges, try to distract yourself with activities that won’t cause harm, such as writing, art, music or walking. You can also try using a ‘mimicking’ strategy, such as flicking a rubber band around your wrist or holding ice cubes.

Creating a box is a great idea for storing items that can help you through difficult moments. You can include anything you need, such as family photos, small trinkets, a notebook, and a pen to write things down.

Talk to Someone

If you suspect a friend or loved one is engaging in self-harm, it is important to have a conversation with them. This is usually easiest if it’s done face to face, as the person can see your body language and tone of voice. But if you’re uncomfortable doing this, there are still ways to help.

Reassure them that you’re there to listen and don’t judge them. It’s also important to remember that the severity of the wounds or injuries has nothing to do with how much pain they may feel. The physical pain releases endorphins that can give them a temporary sense of relief.

Encourage them to seek support from a trusted source, like a teacher, GP, or even a counselor, if they feel comfortable. Avoid giving them ultimatums, as this can drive the behavior underground and lead to more harm.

Move Your Body

Self-harm is a way of dealing with pain, anger, sadness and stress. It usually involves non-suicidal self-injury, such as cutting or burning. It can temporarily relieve these emotions but isn’t a long-term solution.

It can help to think about what triggers the urge to self-harm and consider ways you could try to address these triggers. For example, if feeling lonely is one of your triggers, trying to set up regular meetings with friends might help.

Finding a health professional with experience working with people who self-harm can be helpful. They can help you identify the underlying issues that might lead to this behavior and recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy. You can find a healthcare provider with this expertise by searching for ‘self-harm’ or ’emotional trauma’ in your area.

Change Your Environment

Non-suicidal self-injury, which includes things like cutting and burning, is a way to cope with pain, sadness, anger and stress. It can be a dangerous habit and sometimes leads to life-threatening injuries.

The research suggests that in-the-moment strategies can be helpful for young people experiencing distressing emotions and an urge to self-harm. This might include physical activities that produce pleasant sensations, a sense of connection to others through social media or other ways of communicating, reducing feelings of isolation, and changing the environment where self-harm is most likely to happen to avoid access to harmful tools.

While self-injury may provide short-term relief, it isn’t a sustainable or healthy coping strategy. By learning to express feelings in more beneficial ways and practicing relapse prevention with the help of a professional, young people who struggle with self-harm can find recovery and a positive future.

Take a Break

Self-harm can provide immediate relief but is also a very destructive coping strategy. It puts you at risk for major depression and other problems down the road, and it keeps you from learning different ways to cope with distressing feelings.

Developing a list of alternatives is important when you feel the urge to harm yourself. These coping strategies can help by lowering intense emotions, distracting you, or connecting you with support. Some examples of these coping strategies include holding ice, taking a shower, focusing on your senses (what can you see, hear, touch, taste and smell?), or calling a crisis hotline.

If you’re struggling with an urge to self-harm, talk to your GP or a health professional about the best options for treatment and support. They can offer you counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which will teach you new skills and help you address the issues that trigger your self-harm.


Samantha hails from Virginia and is a proud wife to a retired Deputy Sheriff and mother to two amazing little boys named Jack & William. A veteran product reviewer; Samantha has been reviewing products for 8 years and offers high quality product reviews with original photography.

Samantha hails from Virginia and is a proud wife to a retired Deputy Sheriff and mother to two amazing little boys named Jack & William. A veteran product reviewer; Samantha has been reviewing products for 8 years and offers high quality product reviews with original photography.

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