Wherever I go on the web to research coping methods for self-injury, I repeatedly encounter a string of people who promote somewhat controversial forms of coping. These approaches are characterized by giving into with the urge to self-injure but in ways that don’t leave behind physical damage the way a cut or burn would. They recommend things like snapping rubber bands against your wrist hard enough to sting or holding ice cubes until your hands hurt. The ideas behind it are that it’s okay to hurt yourself as long as you’re not leaving lasting damage on your body or that it’s less harmful for you to hurt yourself in this fashion over cutting, burning, etc. I know there are many people on both sides of the fence who support or oppose these methods. I still wrestle with where I stand but I lean toward the belief that it may be helpful for some people in the short-term but that ultimately it does not constitute recovery.
I tried them myself many years ago when I was desperate for anything that might help. However, I found that my anger and self-loathing did not subside. I kept wanting to hold the ice longer and snap myself with the band a few more times each time. I wanted to feel pain and I wanted to make it last. I tried to tell myself it was good because it was safer than cutting, right? So yes, I suppose it was good that I wasn’t drawing blood and leaving marks all over myself but was I truly becoming a healthier person? No, because what I did still fed my desire to punish myself and my craving for the sensation of pain. No amount of icing or snapping took those from me.
It might be possible to use controversial coping as a way to wean yourself off more self-injurious acts with the intention of eventually not self-injuring at all. I don’t know. I wasn’t able to do it. I had to quit cutting cold turkey in order stop, which wasn’t easy. I wish there had been another bridge between actively cutting and stopping altogether. Maybe I would’ve had fewer relapses if I’d been able to find one.
Wherever you stand, I think it’s really important to think through why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you hope to accomplish. If your goal is to eventually stop, then at some point you’ll need to stop hurting yourself altogether and not just in ways that leave visible aftermath on your body. I believe that recovery involves challenging the idea that we need to punish ourselves or deserve to be treated like trash. If either of those two ideas are still something you believe, I can’t imagine how controversial forms of coping would make you suffer any less on the inside than leaving a lasting mark on yourself. One path may be less physically destructive but I think they both eat you up on the inside regardless. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you challenge those two ideas, you’re likely to find yourself with more options to choose from than merely deciding how you’ll hurt yourself that day. Maybe it would get easier to say “No, I don’t need to this time.”