Self-harm takes on many forms, including self-inflicted slaps and punches.
Even with the pain, bruises, and possibility of internal injuries or permanent damage, stopping this behavior can be difficult:
- The self-inflicted hitting may have already become compulsive.
- The behavior has become a reliable way to cope with overwhelming emotions, such as intense fear, anger, and self-loathing.
- The idea of seeking help fills people with shame or embarrassment.
One way to resist and weaken the impulse to self-harm is to come up with other techniques that replace the self-harming behavior. Examples include squeezing a stress ball, doing jumping jacks, taking deep breaths and counting them, and repeating a mantra or talking to yourself until the urge to harm yourself fades. Sometimes, people suggest hitting something else – a soft object – to avoid hurting yourself.
Does Hitting Something Else Work?
Some people try to avoid hitting themselves by hitting a pillow, a couch cushion, or a mattress. This seems like a good idea, and it’s better to hit the cushion instead of your own body. But reacting to intense emotions by hitting things, even objects, doesn’t necessarily help in the long run.
The underlying association between ‘overwhelming emotion’ and ‘hit something’ may become reinforced and strengthened, and you could wind up turning it on yourself again. In the absence of a soft object, you might punch a wall and injure yourself.
Also, people often assume that hitting objects will calm them, when instead it may inflame their emotions, making them angrier or more upset. So be careful about using this as a long-term strategy – especially as a solo strategy, and especially if you don’t want to rely on any sort of hitting as a coping technique.
This advice isn’t absolute. For example, you may find that a workout with a punching bag helps you a lot. However, there’s a difference between 1) incorporating an exercise routine into your life that you commit to even in moments when you aren’t overwhelmed by emotions and 2) relying on hitting during the intense, overwhelming, and painful moments that prompt self-harm behaviors (and you aren’t always going to have a punching bag nearby, though shadow boxing may be one alternative in that scenario).
Another point to consider – is the hitting part of something constructive? For example, some people cope by making an object out of clay. The sensations of punching, kneading, and squeezing clay gives them relief. Maybe this is better than hitting a pillow, because you’re creating something with the clay. The hitting is part of a productive, creative act.
In any case, here are some points to think about:
– Be aware of the possibility that punching other things may have drawbacks (though again, it’s better to lay into a pillow than your own body).
– Try to stay attuned to what you’re feeling when you rely on the strategy of punching or hitting something else. It may be helpful to some degree, particularly as a form of immediate release. But maybe you don’t feel much calmer or in control for long, if at all, because there’s still a difference between reacting to emotions in a less controlled way vs. responding to them with more control. And the underlying problems remain.
– Develop additional strategies for managing self-harm behaviors. Confront the issues underlying your self-harm and how you understand and respond to emotions. Speaking to a reputable, compassionate therapist or counselor can definitely help, or you can start by texting a helpline or calling one (this is something that can be done quickly, even in the middle of intense emotions).