Self-Harm Recovery Coping Skills to Help You Heal

March 17, 2022 Kim Berkley

Healing is a journey, one most of us walk for many years. It's not always an easy path to follow, but these self-harm recovery coping skills can help smooth the road ahead.

Self-Harm Recovery Coping Skills to Begin Healing

When I first stopped hurting myself, my main focus was—not surprisingly—understanding my triggers and overcoming the urge to self-harm. Even if this is a step you have taken before, it is worth revisiting from time to time, as triggers may change (or you may discover new ones along the way), and urges can sometimes take you by surprise.

In my opinion, the most important self-harm recovery coping skill you'll want to work on first is simply listening to yourself. Stress, anxiety, depression—all of these and more are things that can easily creep up on you and build up over time if you're not paying attention.

Being aware of when you are reacting negatively to something—and taking the time to understand how exactly you are reacting and why—sounds simple but takes practice to incorporate into your daily life. The better you get at it, however, the better you'll be able to manage your emotions and make choices that will help, not hinder, the healing process.

It's great to practice this skill whenever you need to. But obviously, there are times when this isn't possible—say, in the middle of a meeting with your teacher or boss. In these cases, the next best thing is to get through that moment as best you can. Later, when you do have time (and privacy) to do so, sit down and write, draw, or make a voice memo about what happened and how you felt about it.

Later on, you can add to this by working through things like why you reacted the way you did and how you would like to modify this in the future. But when you're just getting started, simply being able to identify what you're feeling and when is a big first step.

Learning to overcome self-harm urges also takes practice and patience. Everyone has different techniques that work best for them, but for me, these have proven the most helpful when an urge strikes:

  • Mindfulness techniques like urge surfing and guided meditations
  • Breathing exercises such as box breathing
  • Low-impact exercises, including yoga, walking, or swimming
  • Music therapy—listening, singing along, or even dancing
  • Journaling or art therapy

I've also found that most of these techniques are useful for managing other mental health issues that may cause, or exacerbate, self-harm urges. The key, for me, has been to engage with these techniques regularly—not just when I feel I'm at a crisis point, but any time I start to feel the early telltale signs of anxiety, depression, or stress beginning to manifest.

Advanced Self-Harm Recovery Coping Skills

The self-harm recovery coping skills above are fundamental techniques that you may have heard of before and will likely encounter again. But your triggers and urges aren't the only challenges you'll need to cope with as you continue to work towards long-term recovery. Let's take a look at a few of the challenges I've faced along the way and the coping skills I've found most helpful for each.

One thing I struggled with early on was the sheer loneliness of trying to heal alone. The obvious solution here would be to not do it alone—to talk to someone, even just one person, about what you're going through. But if you're not ready, or not able, to take this step, a temporary solution is to become that person for yourself.

When you have difficult or discouraging thoughts, such as "I can't do this" or "It's all too hard," take some time to write it down as if you're telling a friend. Then, switch sides and try writing out what you would say if someone you loved shared those thoughts with you. Be supportive, understanding—be kind. It may feel a little silly at first, but the more you practice it, the more it helps—especially if you struggle with intrusive thoughts and negative thought patterns, as I have.

Another challenge, one I didn't see coming, was that of recovering my self-esteem. When I was actively hurting myself, I purposely tried to turn my wounds into scars—subtle ones, but ones that would last for years to come. But later, those scars became embarrassing evidence of a past I didn't want anyone to find out about. I used to lie in bed at night, looking at them in the dim light of my reading lamp, and worry what my future romantic partner would think once he noticed them. Would he be disgusted, freaked out, or disappointed?

(This dilemma got much worse when I was saddled with more obvious surgery scars following an open-heart operation several years ago.)

Living with scars you don't want can be difficult to cope with. Some people like to cover them up with tattoos or banish them forever with scar removal surgeries. I've been warned against tattoos (I'm permanently on blood thinners), and I never want to undergo surgery that isn't necessary to my survival. So for me, the best approach has always been to not try to hide my scars (which isn't always practical or possible) but to accept them. It's still a work in progress, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises such as cognitive reframing have helped me immensely.

Another challenge many people must overcome at some point during the healing process is stigma. I've been lucky; I've never personally had to deal face-to-face with any sort of obvious prejudice or discrimination related to my self-harm. But of course, subtle stigma is a thing too—a much more insidious one. I thought less of myself because I'd unknowingly absorbed negative cultural messages that told me being self-harmer meant I was weak and disturbed—a freak.

None of these things, of course, is true. But when you've spent your entire life immersed in a culture that, too often, teaches these myths as facts, it's always going to take a lot of time and effort to unlearn them. Again, I've found CBT to be an invaluable source of self-harm recovery coping skills for this part of the process—especially behavioral experiments that helped me disprove these false narratives.

What other barriers to recovery have you faced besides managing triggers and urges? Have you discovered any helpful self-harm recovery coping skills for overcoming them? Let me know in the comments.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2022, March 17). Self-Harm Recovery Coping Skills to Help You Heal, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Kim Berkley

Find Kim on Instagram, Facebook and her blog.

Leave a reply