Stopping Self-Harm Urges Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
If you feel you may harm yourself, get help now.
I talked about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in the last post. Dialectical behavior therapy is designed to work specifically with borderline personality disorder and part of this disorder is often self-harm so DBT uses specific techniques to try to stop self-harm urges and prevent self-harm.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is a huge problem for many people. It is typically a sign of borderline personality disorder (BPD) but it can occur with any disorder (or no diagnosis at all). Self-harm, also known as self-mutilation or self-injury, can be any form of self-abuse including cutting, burning, hitting and statistics often include those with eating disorders as well. Millions of people in the US practice some form of self-harm.
Self-harm is often practiced by teens and is more common in women than in men, but make no mistake about it, many adults self-harm and men do as well. It is a behavior to be taken seriously. Here are some techniques to stop self-harm urges.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Self-Harm
A lot of DBT techniques are built on scientific principles. The idea is to work to change your own neurochemistry or autonomic nervous system in a crisis. This sounds complicated, but really it isn’t; the techniques are quite simple.
Dialectical behavior therapy uses many acronyms to help people remember techniques and this one is T.I.P. – Temperature, Intense exercise, Progressive relaxation.
Self-Harm Avoidance Techniques
T – Change your body temperature to change your autonomic nervous system (the part of your body that handles unconscious functions like breathing and heart rate)
- Take advantage of your dive reflex, seen when you dive into cold water. Hold your breath and submerge your face into ice water or hold cold packs up to your face. It’s important that you get the eye socket area and under the eye cold.
- Warm your body to relax. Soak in a warm bath or put your feet in hot water.
I – Intensely exercise to calm down a body revved up by stress and emotions.
- Engage in intense exercise even if only for a short time
- Expend your body’s pent up energy and strength by running, walking fast, walking up stairs, playing basketball, weightlifting, etc.
P – Progressively relax your muscles. (There are many relaxation and meditation techniques that work to do this.)
- Starting with your hands and moving to your forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, forehead, eyes, cheeks and lips, tongue and teeth, chest, upper back, stomach, buttocks, thighs, calves, ankles and feet – tense for 10 seconds the relax each muscle and move onto the next.
Putting Self-Harm Avoidance Techniques into Practice
Only you can stop your own self-harm. You have to trust that some of these techniques are going to work for you but you have to actually do them for them to work. You have to want to stop your self-harm. You have to reach out to others. You have to get help. You can stop self-harming, but you have to do the work to make it happen.
Note: TIP self-harm avoidance techniques provided by local DBT practitioners.