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Ask The Experts

Handling Emotions?


I have cut multiple times in my life and oddly I am not ashamed of them. I only start to feel ashamed when I feel like people will notice them right away. I really don’t want to cut to deal with my problem but I like it for some reason. I am currently seeing a therapist right now but besides seeing her what are some other ways that I can deal with my emotions in a positive way other than cutting? And how can I calm down the want to cut?

Janis Whitlock, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Cornell University College of Human Ecology answers:

This is a great question and a critical first step on the road to helping yourself learn how to cope in ways other than cutting. One of the most common issues confronted by people who have used cutting to regulate their emotions is the scarring that occurs as a result. For many people, these scars last for life – long beyond the time that they stop self-injuring to cope. As you have noted, scaring can make for awkward moments and conversations. Learning how to use other methods of coping, most especially those that do not injure your body, mind or soul in some way will allow you a broader degree of choice over the assumptions people make about you. Ideas for other coping techniques can be found on the website: (look for the coping fact sheets – they have very specific ideas and suggestions; the recovery fact sheet may also be useful for you). The SAFE Alternatives website also has an array of tips and guides you may find helpful in finding other coping alternatives. The key to actually using these other coping techniques is to find a few that feel like they might work for you and to practice using them before you find yourself with a strong urge to self-injure. All of us tend to find strategies that work for us in self-soothing and consistent use of these strategies creates neurological pathways in the brain that become pretty automatic and comfortable. To learn new coping methods you will need to actually begin creating new neurological pathways and this will require time and steady practice. It is also likely to feel a little less satisfying than self-injuring at first – until the brain and body settle into new routines. As for dealing with strong urges as you are learning new strategies, people weaning themselves off of self-injury and other not so helpful habits have said that simply doing nothing when the urge strikes (except focusing on breathing which is, in and of itself, a really positive coping strategy) is helpful in allowing the urge to wash through and then leave without having to act on it. In addition to focusing on breathing during this time you can physically leave the space you are in (e.g. try taking a 10-15 minute walk) or do something else to move your body and mind out of the space. Often, these simple steps will help you resist the urge while also creating new patterns for dealing with stress. Lastly, be gentle with yourself and give yourself a lot of praise for small steps. Even wanting to learn something different is a big step and will open you to all sorts of new possibilities. Just keep watering the tree of that desire and you will see significant progress over time. Good luck!