Having Intrusive Thoughts About Self-Harm? Don't Ignore Them

August 25, 2022 Kim Berkley

If you've been having intrusive thoughts about self-harm—even if you've never hurt yourself and don't believe you ever would—ignoring them won't make them go away. In fact, it may make things worse.

Do Intrusive Thoughts Lead to Self-Harm?

Thoughts don't always lead to action. I've thought a lot about running away to become the witch of the woods, but that doesn't mean I'd ever actually do it. (You never know, though.)

But thoughts do influence our actions and emotions—and in the case of something like intrusive thoughts about self-harm, they can serve as a red flag of worse things to come.

It's been a long time since I first hurt myself, but I do know it wasn't exactly a spur-of-the-moment decision. I'd thought about it before. And I'd struggled with the intrusive thoughts that eventually contributed to my self-injury long before I first picked up a tool to hurt myself

But I was in the habit of hiding things. I felt like I had no good reason to be hurting—I generally had a pretty good childhood, and my family lived a comfortable life—so I didn't tell anyone. I didn't want to be "crazy," but having the thoughts I had back then certainly made me feel like I was losing my mind.

Proactively Addressing Intrusive Thoughts About Self-Harm

If I had told someone about what I was dealing with, if I had done something about those thoughts before they pushed me to the breaking point, who knows? Maybe I would have gotten better sooner. Maybe I never would have hurt myself at all.

Not everyone who has intrusive thoughts about self-harm actually hurts themselves. But the fact remains that if you are having intrusive thoughts, it's a sign that something's up. The sooner you take action to address them, the sooner you can begin to feel better—and the less likely you will hurt yourself down the road.

Some things you can do now if you are having intrusive thoughts—about self-harm or about anything else you may find distressing—include:

  • Practice identifying intrusive thoughts—look for thoughts that are recurring, disturbing, and feel difficult to push out of your mind
  • Challenge your thoughts—write them down, then see if you can find evidence that refutes them
  • Imagine you're someone else—what would you say to someone you love if they told you they were thinking these things?
  • Try simple stress management techniquesbreathing exercises, yoga, and meditation can all help lower stress, which can make intrusive thoughts harder to manage
  • Come up with an empowering mantra—something you can remember and recite whenever you start to struggle with intrusive thoughts
  • Tell someone about it—ideally a medical professional, but reaching out to a friend or family member can also help you gain perspective

That last point is the most important one. If you're not ready for therapy and feel unable to reach out to anyone in your personal life, see if there are any hotlines, local support groups, or online resources you can turn to for support. Even simply leaving a comment on a blog post like this one can be a step in the right direction. (You can call 9-8-8 in the US for any kind of distress—you don't have to be suicidal.)

Above all, don't give up. Intrusive thoughts seem like they are beyond your control, but they're not. You can reroute your thought patterns in a more balanced direction. Just take it one step, and one day at a time.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2022, August 25). Having Intrusive Thoughts About Self-Harm? Don't Ignore Them, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Kim Berkley

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