January 17, 2009
This blog is a continuation of the initial article posted on December 31, 2008, “25 Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm.”
If you are feeling pressured to get past the “heat of the moment” and you need some ideas of how to do this safely, try using a handful of the following ideas. These ideas will not help solve your self-injury issue on a long-term basis, but they could help you to get through the actual moments when you are feeling at the highest risk. Safe distractions that also provide some element of emotional expression are a good balance.
- Find a brick wall (or any kind of strong wall with no windows), and kick a soccer ball against the wall. Consciously put the anger you are feeling into the ball as you kick it. The cracking sound of the ball smacking the wall can be satisfying as well. The louder the better!
- Use handfuls of ice, ice packs, or cool cloths to soothe and calm yourself. Some people may find warm cloths or heated warm towels more comforting. Changing a physical sensation in your body and concentrating on that may help to calm your frayed nerves.
- Put your anger into something useful — be more assertive with utility companies that aren’t doing their job, or tackle other external household issue that need a more aggressive approach. I’m not necessarily promoting being rude to someone who doesn’t deserve it, but you might be able to constructively resolve an existing problem with your added energy and intensity.
- Color or draw. Small, repetitive movements are soothing and calming, and you might learn something from your picture. The others inside might tell what they are upset about through the drawing that is made.
- Dance out your feelings. Use strong energetic body movements to release the adrenaline and to wear yourself out. Pick music that fits your mood. Sing along if you can – the voice release is good too.
- Write a long letter to your abuser(s). At this point, write these letters with plans to NOT send them. The point is not to set up a confrontation. Let your focus be on expressing your feelings about what they did to you. Write the things that you might never have the courage to actually say to them in real life. When you are finished, you can read the letters out loud repeatedly. Use intensity in your voice. Let yourself say the words with emotional honesty and genuine expression.
- Get obsessed with some safe activity — for example, do in-depth research on a particular subject on the internet, pull every weed from your yard, wash every dish in your cupboards, pace 10,000 steps, etc.
- Count those annoying little doodads on the ceiling, and when you lose count - which you will – start over.
- Do puzzles (the harder the better). There are lots of free online jigsaw puzzle sites if you do not have any actual puzzles in your home.
- Practice relaxation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. Take long, slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply and slowly, hold for a few counts, then release your breath slowly. Do this until you can feel yourself calm down.
- Play video games, and take your aggression out on beating the game, or smashing and bashing the other “enemy” characters in the games. Time away “in another world” can help release the pressure you are feeling right now in your world.
- Clean out your fridge or freezer, scrub it, making it clean and organized. This same idea can be applied to closets, or drawers, or bookshelves, etc. Getting involved with a complicated household task will give you another focus, a place to put your energy, and a positive sense of accomplishment when you are finished.
- Alphabetize your books, CD’s, Videos, DVDs, etc.
- Hammer nails into a piece of lumber or old tree stumps until you are exhausted. Watch your fingers – the idea is to NOT do any self-injury! The physical movement will be helpful, the noise will be satisfying, and if you speak about your anger and upset while you are banging away, you will be expressing your feelings at the same time.
- Wash your vehicle, your outside windows, your driveway, your floors, etc. The physical movement helps, and the accomplished feeling of being clean afterwards can help lift your mood.
- Go sit in the waiting room of a hospital, and read a book or magazines, and sip on coffee. You do not have to talk to doctors or any of the hospital staff – people will assume you are there waiting for someone who has an appointment. Just being in a calm, safe place can help.
- Take the time to groom your pets and give them treats. Try teaching your dog a new trick.
- Do something for yourself that makes you feel pretty, such as brushing your hair, doing your nails, getting your hair cut, coloring your hair, wearing perfume, etc. When you feel lousy, try doing the OPPOSITE of that by doing something that helps you feel pretty.
- Make something creative. You might have to pre-plan this, or have some options available just around the house. Finish a paint-by-number picture, work on needlepoint or sewing projects, try beading, learn how to make your own jewelry, etc. Getting creative will help distract you and put you in a better frame of mind.
- Do a collage. It is amazing what comes out in pictures, and you might not have realized what was going on in the background. The collage might explain it to you.
- Do acronym writing exercises. These might help you uncover why you are feeling so terrible while expressing some of the pain. Expression often eases the pain.
- Hold a frozen orange. Feel the coldness. Look closely at the frost on it. Hold the frozen orange where you wish to SI. Scratch the orange, smell the aroma. Look at bright orange color. Count the little dots in the orange peel. As you feel better, allow yourself to eat the orange and throw the peelings away.
- Throw water balloons at a fence, a wall, or a tree and watch them explode. As you throw each water balloon, make a comment about something you are upset about. Use your body and your voice to express your feelings.
- Build a model car or airplane or create something that takes a lot of detailed mental focus.
- Go to the library or book stores where it’s fairly quiet, but people are around. Make a list of 100 books you would like to read at some point in time. Or pick five books from each aisle that you would be willing to read. You can browse for hours, and no one would think anything of it. The same kind of book browsing could happen at online book sites as well.
Stay busy – do things over and over from these lists until you feel safe enough to manage your self-injury impulses. Sometimes just getting past the peak time will be enough to keep you safe.
The more you work on emotional expression in an ongoing way without allowing it to build up to a critical numbing point, the better. One of the biggest keys to resolving self-injury issues is to increase your emotional endurance. The more you can sit with your feelings, the less you will have to hurt yourself to numb them away.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 16, 2009
This is an excellent journaling exercise that can be adapted to any topic at any time. The entirety of the exercise is to find a difficult or complicated topic. Ask yourself a question about that topic and then write out 100 responses to that question.
For lots of people, one hundred sounds like a huge number for a writing exercise, but once you start thinking about the issue in smaller increments, you might be pleasantly surprised with how many thoughts come to mind so quickly. Most people find this exercise easier to do than they realize. On really big or complex topics, one hundred might not be enough. If you want to keep going past one hundred, please do so.
This exercise is good when you do not have an immediate or direct answer for your struggle. Start with listing the peripheral, simple reasons, and as you write more and more, you will likely reach more specific and complex answers to your concern.
Or this exercise is good to use when you feel like you are flooded with too many answers. Writing out every option that comes to mind can help to organize your thoughts and validate your big feelings.
Any of the following questions could be your starting point:
- What are 100 things that are on my mind right now?
- When I am feeling overwhelmed what 100 things are bothering me?
- What are 100 things that frighten me?
- What are 100 things that I am angry about?
- What are 100 positive things that happened when I was a child? (100 negative things? 100 harmful things? 100 helpful things?)
- What are 100 things that I like and enjoy?
- What are 100 things I wish I could say to my mother (father) but can’t or won’t?
- What are 100 things I wish my parents had handled better for me?
You can pick the topic and make the question relative to whatever you are experiencing at the time. Pick an issue that you are addressing in therapy now. Use this process to help sort through your thoughts and feelings.
The purpose of such a long list is to take sufficient time to get past the surface obvious answers to your question and to get into the deeper more subconscious answers to your question. Plus, the self-expression and self revelation required to do this exercise make it an interesting task. Breaking down any huge emotion, or any complex situation, or any frightening topic into smaller chunks will help you to develop a sense of mastery and control over the issue. Smaller items are easier to manage than the overwhelming whole. You might be able to fine-tune your struggle into more specific areas by doing this exercise than how it felt ahead of time.
For example, “I’m scared of everything” – a vague, over-whelming, sweeping out-of-control feeling – could become “I’m afraid of specific item A, specific item B, and specific situation C.” By definition, you can start to consciously realize and remember that there are lots of “everythings” in the world that are not specifically A, B, or C. Pinpointing troubled areas helps you to know there are other areas that are not a problem. That’s a good thing. Finding safety somewhere is better than feeling afraid “everywhere”.
It is best to complete the list in one sitting, if at all possible. Write your answers as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if an answer gets repeated more than once. The repetition of an answer can imply that that particular issue is truly bigger than many of the other issues listed.
Remember to pay attention to your own emotional saturation point. While this journaling exercise is intended to help you gain mastery over difficult topics, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed from pulling up too much at once, immediately step back for a few minutes and take a breather. Get grounded again before you start to work on it more. You might consider dividing your topic into an even smaller focus area, or you might purposefully start and stop a few times, just to keep more stabilized.
Once you have completed your lists of reasons, be sure to read over it a few times. When you are looking at it from a whole, you might see different things than when you were inching through the individual points. You might find several repeating themes, or whole new areas of thought that you hadn’t expected to surface. Be sure to discuss your findings with your therapist, especially when you learn new bits of information.
To make this an exercise in system communication, allow and encourage the other parts of your system to participate in the making of the list of 100 things. Individual parts can each have their own lists, or they can put their name / initials beside their contributions to the group lists. Or use this exercise to focus questions more in the directions of system work. For example:
- What are 100 kind things I can say or do for my inner kid parts this week?
- What are 100 areas of conversation that we as a system can talk about?
- What are 100 activities I want to do with my inner people?
- What are 100 things we can do in our internal world to make our internal landscape more pleasing and comfortable for us?
- What are 100 things that I hear from inside today?
These kinds of exercises, whether done on paper, or within your internal committee meetings can give you a format, a method, or a starting place to help you hear and understand your other system members.
Remember, developing good, effective internal communication is the key to your healing.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 15, 2009
Acronyms are some of my favorite writing exercises. I am repeatedly impressed with the amount and quality of helpful information that can surface through the use of acronyms.
Acronyms are helpful when you get stuck. They are also particularly helpful when addressing a topic head-on or “with logic” is getting you nowhere. Sometimes, it is better to take a more gentle, roundabout, less direct approach. Let the information and feelings surface on their own without having to break the no-talk rules that are often so deeply embedded within.
Acronyms are particularly helpful when you just can’t quite figure out how to say what is going on for you. Or, when the parts inside are struggling with whether to tell you or not, and they don’t want to say it directly.
Acronyms are a creative way of “telling without telling.”
Pick any word or phrase or theme that describes how you feeling or what you are thinking at that moment. For example:
- What’s bothering me today?
Upset about school; Angry with my boss; Blocked feelings
- How would I describe how I feel today?
Frustrated and mad; totally numb; scared of everything
- What about my relationship with _________.
My mother is stupid; Afternoons with Suzie; Uncle Sam is weird
- I am remembering ________.
Nights at that house; Visits from Ted; Nightmares
- I keep thinking about __________.
Voices I hear; Seeing others inside; My puppy Patches
Write this word or phrase vertically on the page.
As you think of that theme, take one letter at a time, and write down the first word or phrase that you think of that starts with that particular letter. Again, there is no right or wrong, just write down the words that come to mind as you think about your theme word. If you immediately think of more than one word for any particular letter, you can write down both words if you want to.
If you get stuck on a letter that is difficult, you can adjust the exercise however you see fit. The easiest option is to turn the difficult letter into any “miscellaneous” letter of your choice, allowing you to fill that spot in with any words that come to mind about your theme.
Once you have completed the list of words for your acronym, read through what you have written. Take this writing exercise a step further by using that same list of words as parts of a paragraph. The words can be used in any order in combination with as many other words as needed to complete your paragraph.
Read through your paragraph. Is there a particular phrase, or word that stands out to you? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Pick a word or phrase that either needs further explanation, or seems to summarize your thoughts the best, or just “hits you” as important.
Using this new word or phrase, start the exercise again. Repeat this process as many times as necessary – with a new acronym, a new list of words, a new summary paragraph. You can repeat this process again and again because each new acronym will lead to greater understanding of the issue at hand.
Example of Acronym Writing:
Reaching the inside is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they have experienced terrible things that no one should ever have to endure. They need reassurance that they will never have to do that yucky stuff ever again. Let each part of you live a safe life.
R real scared
C crying, comfort
I understand that everybody feels real scared about writing, and talking, and telling. It is important to know the reality of what has happened so you can learn how to become safe. It is ok now for each of the child parts to have comfort. They are still crying because they have been hurt again and again. They need to know they can always be safe. I am here to help you find safety. Nobody deserves to be hurt, not even the inside parts that are named Nobody.
Pick the word or phrase that sticks out for you in this second paragraph. Do a third acronym with those words, then a fourth acronym, then a fifth, etc. Keep going until you have reached some answers to the words and feelings you were searching for.
Kathy Broady LCSW