Self-Harming to Self-Soothe—What to Do Instead

April 7, 2022 Kim Berkley

Self-injury can seem like the most accessible path to relief when other doors have been shut in your face, but self-harming to self-soothe creates a vicious cycle from which it can be difficult to disengage. Recognizing that there are other, healthier ways to feel better—ways that are still open to you—is vital to recovery.

Why Self-Harming to Self-Soothe Is Tempting

Self-harming to self-soothe seems counterintuitive on its surface. To someone who has never self-harmed, it can be hard to imagine how hurting yourself can make you feel better.

But for many of us who struggle with nonsuicidal self-injury, myself included, self-harm can bring relief from a challenging situation. For some, it's a euphoric escape from despair; for others, it's a calm after the storm. Some people would rather feel pain than remain numb, and some seek out physical pain as a distraction from emotional distress.

Whatever your specific reasons, the fact remains—if you're self-harming to self-soothe, you're seeking some sort of relief. However, the relief that self-injury provides is temporary and comes at a cost to your long-term physical and psychological health. It's a dangerous downward spiral of hurting yourself to feel better only to find the respite doesn't last—and hurting yourself, again and again, to keep unwanted experiences at bay.

Even knowing this, it can be hard to stop, especially if you feel like it's the only coping tool you have at your disposal. The first step, then, is to recognize this for the optical illusion it is. Just because you feel like it's the only way doesn't make it true. There are a number of ways to self-soothe that are much better for you and significantly more effective in the long run.

Alternatives to Self-Harming to Self-Soothe

Instead of self-harming to self-soothe, consider trying any of the following techniques that I've tried:

  • Imagine someone you love or look up to giving you a pep talk.
  • Practice self-compassion, including positive self-talk. (e.g., "You're strong, and you can get through this.")
  • Make up your own mantra to repeat until you feel calmer.
  • Cuddle up or spend some quality time with a pet or other loved one.
  • Try mindful emotional regulation techniques, such as urge surfing or breathing exercises.
  • List things that you enjoy thinking about—your favorite places, books, songs, etc.
  • Listen to calming or uplifting music or ambient sounds.
  • Vent difficult thoughts or emotions through creative activities such as writing, art, or music.
  • Take a bath, light some scented candles, or step outside for a moment—whatever creates a soothing atmosphere for you.

Making a habit out of good self-care will help you build up resilience over time, alleviate stress, and develop healthier coping instincts. In short, you'll feel better overall when you take better care of yourself. (Note that an important part of self-care is asking for help when you need it. Everyone needs support sometimes.)

The truth is, no matter how well you are, there will always be bad days. That's an inescapable part of life—one, if I'm honest, I'm still coming to terms with. But by learning to reach for healing self-soothing techniques rather than destructive ones, I've empowered myself to weather those bad days more effectively and recover from them more quickly than ever before. My hope is that, by sharing these options with you, I can help you do the same.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2022, April 7). Self-Harming to Self-Soothe—What to Do Instead, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Kim Berkley

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