Safety and Wellness

How Can I Stop Cutting?

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Resisting the Urge to Cut

If you've been cutting and you want to stop, here are some approaches that might help you.

For people who cut, doing something different may be a big change. Making this change can take time because you are learning new ways of dealing with the things that led you to cut. The tips you'll see below can get you started. But a therapist or counselor can do more to help you heal old hurt and use your strengths to cope with life's struggles.

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Start by being aware of which situations are likely to trigger your urge to cut. Make a commitment that this time you will not follow the urge, but will do something else instead.

Then make a plan for what you will do instead of cutting when you feel this urge.

Below are some tips you can try when you feel the urge to cut. We've put them into several categories because different people cut for different reasons. So certain techniques will work better for some people than others.

Look through all the tips and try the ones that you think might work for you. You may need to experiment because not all of these ideas will work for everyone. For example, some readers have told us that snapping a rubber band works for them as a substitute for cutting but others say that the rubber band triggers an urge to snap it too hard and they end up hurting themselves.

If one tip isn't right for you, that's OK. Use your creativity to find a better idea. Or talk with your therapist to get other ideas on what could work for you. The idea is to find a substitute for cutting — something that satisfies a need you might feel without being as harmful as cutting.

You may also find that one of these ideas works for you sometimes but not always. That's OK too. What a person needs can vary from time to time and from situation to situation.

The techniques listed on the following pages will help you think about why you might cut — as well as offer ideas on other things to do when you feel like cutting. The more you learn about what's underneath your cutting behavior, the better you will be able to understand and develop healthy ways to heal that pain.

Things to Distract You

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Like all urges, the urge to cut will pass if you wait it out. Distracting yourself with something else helps time go by and gets your mind off the urge to cut. The more you wait out the urge without giving in, the more your urges will decrease over time.

Here are some things you can try while waiting for a cutting urge to pass:

  • call a friend and talk about something completely different
  • take a shower (make sure you don't have razors in the shower)
  • go for a walk or run, take a bike ride, dance like crazy, or get some other form of exercise
  • play with a pet
  • watch TV (change the channel if the show gets upsetting or features cutting)
  • drink a glass of water

Things to Soothe and Calm You

Sometimes people cut because they're agitated or angry — even though they may not recognize that feeling. If that's true for you, it can help to do something calming when you feel the need to cut.

Even if you're not sure why you're cutting, it's worth giving these ideas a try:

  • play with a pet
  • take a shower (make sure you don't have razors in the shower)
  • take a bath (make sure you don't have razors near the tub)
  • listen to soothing music that will shift your mood
  • try a breathing exercise
  • try some relaxing yoga exercises

Things to Help You Express the Pain and Deep Emotion

Some people cut because the emotions that they feel seem way too powerful and painful to handle. Often, it may be hard for them to recognize these emotions for what they are — like anger, sadness, or other feelings. Here are some alternatives to cutting that you can try:

  • draw or scribble designs on paper using a red pen or paint on white paper — if it helps, make the paint drip
  • write out your hurt, anger, or pain using a pen and paper
  • draw the pain
  • compose songs or poetry to express what you're feeling
  • listen to music that talks about how you feel

Things to Help Release Physical Tension and Distress

Sometimes, doing things that express anger or release tension can help a person gradually move away from cutting. Try these ideas:

  • go for a walk or run, ride a bike, dance like crazy, or get some other form of exercise
  • rip up some paper
  • write out your hurt, anger, or pain using a pen and paper
  • scribble on paper using a red pen
  • squeeze, knead, or smoosh a stress ball, handful of clay, or Play-Doh

Things to Help You Feel Supported and Connected

If you cut because you feel alone, misunderstood, unloved, or disconnected, these ideas may help:

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  • call a friend
  • play with a pet
  • make a cup of tea, some warm milk, or cocoa
  • try some yoga exercises that help you feel grounded, such as triangle pose
  • try a breathing exercise like the one in the button above
  • curl up on your bed in a soft, cozy blanket

Substitutes for the Cutting Sensation

You'll notice that all the tips in the lists above have nothing to do with the cutting sensation. When you have the idea to self-injure, start by trying the ideas on those lists — such as making art, walking your dog, or going for run.

If they don't help, move on to the substitute behaviors shown below.

These substitute behaviors won't work for everyone. They also don't help people get in touch with why they are cutting. What they do is provide immediate relief in a way that doesn't involve cutting, and therefore holds less risk of harm.

  • rub an ice cube on your skin instead of cutting it
  • wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it gently against your skin
  • draw on the skin with a soft-tipped red pen in the place you might usually cut

You Can Do It

Cutting can be a difficult pattern to break. But it is possible.

If you want help overcoming a self-injury habit and you're having trouble finding anything that works for you, talk with a therapist. Getting professional help to overcome the problem doesn't mean that someone is weak or crazy. Therapists and counselors are trained to help people discover inner strengths that help them heal. These inner strengths can then be used to cope with life's problems in a healthy way.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: June 2012



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