There are without any doubt multiple reasons behind the decision to self-harm at any given moment. Sometimes it is in response to some circumstance or stressor that has happened there and then and sometimes it is because our mind has wandered back to a painful or distressing or unhealthy memory. Other times it can be less of a wandering and more of an instant jump back to a painful or distressing time.
For me personally there are a few ‘triggers’ that seem to instantly send me back to that memory and thus to a dangerous or unhealthy place.
When this instant situation happens dealing with it is much harder although not impossible and I intend to share about this later. But for the purpose of this piece I thought it might be helpful if I shared what I do when my mind starts to wander towards dangerous or unhealthy memories or thoughts. Times when I desperately need to claim and keep hold of the now and not to go back ‘there’.
Distraction from the memories back onto current things can be a very useful tool. Whether this is done by calling and friend or by interacting with someone else or through focussing the mind on current tasks is entirely up to the person concerned and their personal circumstances at that time. Factors such as; the time of day, how many friends – especially understanding ones – you have, how much telephone credit you have left, where you are when the need arises, all can affect the choice you make in terms of what method you choose.
Very often I will play a game that I find absorbing. Sudoku or something that requires me to focus and concentrate. Or I will do chores such as cleaning or tidying or something like that. Responding to emails or writing a letter to a friend or family can also distract me from those past thoughts and memories. Although I do of course have to be careful not to choose folk with whom there is some association with those memories.
Grounding is another technique that I use. I make mental and verbal inventories of my surroundings which thus bring my attention to the now and not the past. Imaging that I am on the phone to a friend and describing what is around me or pretending that they have never seen my home or room and have asked me what it looks like and thus I am describing it in detail can be a real help.
Sometimes I play a game I call Increasing Vowels. In this game I go through my house finding different items beginning with each of the vowels. I start by finding one item beginning with an ‘A’ then an ‘E’ then an ‘I’ and so forth and then try to find two and then three and so forth until I am feeling much stronger.
There is infact a whole number of different things that can be done to help us ‘claim and keep the now’ and some of them can be found on the ‘Coping Techniques‘ page.
Some may work for you and some may not. Likewise some may work in some situations and others not work. What is important, I feel, it’s that we firstly recognize what is happening when we do ‘wander’ or we do ‘trigger’ and that we have in our tool bag a number of tried and tested methods for safely and healthily dealing with these situations.
There is, I believe, a truth here that we need to hold onto in these situations. Self-harm, whilst being a coping technique, is a very poor one, offering short-term relief at best and nearly always adding more problems than it relieves.
Going back to the ‘place’ which causes this type of response in us, is not a good thing unless done in therapy and a safe controlled environment where the related issues are being addressed. So staying away from that place at all other times – claiming and keeping the now, if you will, can be a very real advantage and an essential coping tool.