Micro Acts of Self-Harm: How To Recognise Them and How To Stop Them

WARNING: this post contains mention of self-harm. If that is triggering to you, please do not read the post!

We’re all familiar with the so-called ‘big-hitters’ of self-harm - cutting, burning, scratching etc. But we don’t talk about micro acts of self-harm. I’m talking about smoking, soft drugs, picking the skin and pulling hair. Things look like normal (ish) everyday things, but underneath them, they have a current of hurt. As in, you are doing these things to hurt yourself.

We’re all familiar with the so-called ‘big-hitters’ of self-harm - cutting, burning, scratching etc. But we don’t talk about micro acts of self-harm. I’m talking about smoking, soft drugs, picking the skin and pulling hair. Things look like normal (ish) everyday things, but underneath them, they have a current of hurt. As in, you are doing these things to hurt yourself.

I am not exempt from these acts. My vice is smoking, and I know I smoke as a way of hurting myself. Whenever I have a bad day I find myself chanismoking well beyond reasonable limits, up until I feel sick and have a terrible migraine. But I keep going, because I’m hurting myself.

Often we don’t understand the real reason we’re doing these things, and if you’re anything like me then it can take several years for you to realise what your habits are doing to you. You start to notice patterns and triggers. Today we’re going to be talking about how to recognise those patterns and triggers, and most importantly, how to interrupt and hopefully stop them.


WHAT IS YOUR HABIT?

The first thing to do is identify the problem. Maybe it’s kinda obvious (like smoking), but maybe it’s a little more subtle (like skin picking). What are you doing on a habitual basis that is harming you?

AWARENESS

Now you’ve identified your habit, it’s time to become aware of it. This means recognising you’re doing it every time you do it. A good way to see how often you do it is to keep a journal. You can download a tracker for free here.

IDENTIFY TRIGGERS

As you write a note of whenever you do your thing, also write down whatever emotions you’re feeling at that time. For example, when I chain smoked myself into looking like disappearing magician last week, I did this because I was triggered by my old job. Be honest with yourself, because not doing so isn’t going to help you at all.

BLOCK THE HABIT

So now you’ve identified your habit and triggers, it’s time to stop that baby in its tracks. Whenever you find yourself doing your thing, stop, stand up and acknowledge your emotions. You can do this by writing them down or saying them out loud. Don’t be afraid of your feelings, because they are just that. Feelings. They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them. So sink into the feeling, and find another way to express it. If you’re angry scream into a pillow. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re overwhelmed then trying some freewriting.

FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

This one can be tricky, as these kinds of acts and emotions are so intensely private. However, you don’t have to explore conventional routes. If you feel like you can lean on your family and friends, then, by all means, do so, but you can also try calling organisations such as the Samaritans whenever you need to be held to account, or trying messaging apps such as I’m Alive. If you’re seeing a doctor or a therapist, confide in them. People just want to help.

KEEP GOING

This is not an easy thing to do. Breaking any habit is hard, but self-harm habits are just that bit harder. But I promise you that you can do this. You may have already stopped self-harming in conventional ways, and this should surely be a sign that you can stop this too. You’re strong and resilient.


I hope this was helpful to you. I hope that you find you’re able to overcome the obstacles that your mind throws at you. If you feel like you need an accountability partner, then just ask me. I’m always here.

What are your tips for stopping micro acts of self-harm? Share in the comments below!