Self-Harm and Writing: Expressing Emotions

September 6, 2013 Jennifer Aline Graham

During my self-harming years, writing was my main outlet and focus. All my life, I’ve been writing, but as a teenager dealing with deep depression and a parent’s divorce, writing became more than just a hobby. It became the one coping skill I could really count on.

Well, until my floppy disk would crash (yes, floppy disk).

I’m not trying to push writing onto self-harmers who are seeking a positive coping skill to replace their negative one. I’m just putting it out there as an option. There are many other creative ways that can help you stop harming yourself. But since writing is the skill that practically saved my life, it is the one I know best.

Throw Your Negative Urges onto Paper

When I was writing my novel, Noon, I put a lot of my past into the character that struggles with cutting and suicide. Many scenes in the novel were actual scenes from my teenage life and after reading the details I’d written down, I felt relaxed. It was almost as if I’d taken those negative memories out of my own mind and thrown them into someone else’s. In a way, it sounds kind of cruel to throw your unsafe memories and urges onto someone else.

But that’s the nice thing about writing; you can mold your characters into any kind of person you’d like.

Writing allows you to escape your scary reality and enter an unknown, mysterious world where you have all the power. Self-harm has a lot to do with control and by writing a story or a poem, you have full control over the characters, the setting and the emotions. It allows you to release your demons onto the lines in front of you instead of keeping them stuffed in your busy mind.

Like I said, writing is my forte, but any kind of art is similar. Whether you are painting or sketching or cartooning, you can throw all your negative energy onto the paper in front of you. Sometimes it’s fun just to splatter paint. Throwing colors onto a big sheet or wall can be a good way to let out some frustration.

But make sure the wall isn’t in your house or at your school. Art is good, but not worth getting suspended for.

How to Use Writing as a Coping Skill

I know I’ve given lots of reasons on how writing saved my life and pushed me forward. However, there’s more that goes into writing than just writing itself.

Here are some helpful possibilities:

- Find an interesting notebook. I love going to bookstores or shops and finding unique notebooks. Sometimes, having a physical notebook to hold can be more beneficial than staring at a computer.
- Write “Dear Letters”. My therapist used to tell me to write letters to those I was frustrated or upset with. These letters do not need to be given out, but they allow you to let out that energy.
- Make up a story. It felt great to share some of my past with one of the characters in my book, Noon. By creating a story, you have full control – and, as we know, control feels good.
- Write down your emotions. We know that almost every therapist says that writing down your thoughts helps. Well, cliché or not, it does. Try it out, you may surprise yourself.

APA Reference
Aline, J. (2013, September 6). Self-Harm and Writing: Expressing Emotions, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Jennifer Aline Graham

Kathleen Brannon
September, 10 2013 at 2:51 pm

This is a very nice article. I just want to add that self-harmers often feel the urge to self-harm as a physical surge of energy and adrenaline and speeded up thoughts that handwriting rather than typing can help slow down until your thoughts can get control of your body. Handwriting rather than typing offers a way to calm yourself down and slow your impulses.

September, 11 2013 at 9:31 pm

I do not physically self-harm, but I do have Borderline Personality Disorder. Many people with BPD do self-harm. Sometimes harming yourself comes in the form of self-sabotage, such as in relationships, jobs, etc. Here is a poem I wrote recently about how I felt as a teenager, and still very much today:
My Friend, My Crutch
I have you in case I need you,
But since I have you, I don’t need you anymore.
But it feels so good knowing that you’re there if I do need you,
That you can make all my pain go away.
You make me feel safe,
I can lean on you,
My crutch, my support,
My friend, my enemy,
My salvation,
My security blanket beneath my pillow, where I rest my head.
I wish I didn't need you,
That I could cope on my own,
But I feel too weak.
So I retreat into my mind,
An endless soap opera,
Much better than the painful real life I lead every day.
Where I control the players,
I control the plot.
If only I could control these thoughts and emotions that overtake my mind every day.
Maybe someday I won't need this crutch anymore,
Maybe I can learn to cope.
Until then, I know I can depend on you,
That you won't betray me like all the others around me.
My crutch, my support,
My friend, my enemy,
My salvation,
My security blanket.
By Joyce Savage.

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