Using Self-Harm Urge Surfing for Recovery

February 18, 2021 Kim Berkley

One of the most vital components of recovering from self-injury is learning to manage the urges that drive you to hurt yourself. Rarely is this as simple as relying on willpower alone to tell yourself "no." Enter self-harm urge surfing: a potential recovery tool that requires patience, rather than power, to use.

What Is Self-Harm Urge Surfing?

Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that involves observing and accepting an urge without feeding or fighting it. A simple self-harm urge surfing exercise might look something like this:

  1. Close your eyes (or fix them softly upon a single spot). Bring your attention to your breath, noticing the pattern of your breathing without changing it.
  2. Open your mind, observe the thoughts that surface without judging them or reacting to them. Simply acknowledge that you are having them, and then return to focusing on your breath.
  3. Scan your body mentally. Pay attention to how your craving physically feels and where in your body you feel it the most. (For example, you might be clenching your fists, or you might feel a knot in the pit of your stomach.)
  4. Continue to observe these sensations—again, without judging, feeding, or fighting them. Anytime you begin to feel overwhelmed or that you are spiraling into judgment and reaction, return to focusing on your breath.
  5. Continue this exercise until the craving has passed or lessened to the extent that feels more manageable.

The idea is that you ride the urge like you would a wave. Instead of trying to out-swim it or letting yourself sink below it, you float on the surface, until at last, the wave peters out, and you find yourself in calm waters once more. In fact, sometimes, I find it helpful to visualize myself riding that wave while performing self-harm urge surfing when I have difficulty focusing on breath or body alone.

Does Self-Harm Urge Surfing Really Work?

Just as your recovery journey is unique to you, so too may your experience of this and other recovery tools differ from that of others. In short, self-harm urge surfing may be helpful for some people, as it has been for me—but it's not necessarily for everyone.

Personally, I've found this type of passive observation exercise helpful not only in recovering from self-harm but in coping with difficult emotions related to other health issues as well. However, I've found that it's more effective for managing mild to moderate experiences—very intense moments can be a bit too much to simply "ride out." It's also a technique that, like any mindfulness exercise, takes practice before it begins to become truly effective.

On the other hand, there is no harm in trying this technique for yourself. If you find it unhelpful, there are a wealth of other tools and resources you can research online that might serve you better. If you have difficulty focusing during the exercise, you might also try searching for a guided meditation you can listen to that uses this or a similar approach. Or, better yet, consult a therapist or other mental health professional who can help you wield this and other tools for recovery to your best advantage.

Have you tried self-harm urge surfing or a similar technique? How did it go? Please feel free to tell us about your experiences and share any additional tips you might have in the comments.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2021, February 18). Using Self-Harm Urge Surfing for Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Kim Berkley

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