I’ve wanted to write this post for a quite a while and I’m really glad it’s finished now. For a long time my relationship with skills was not the best but I’ve come to realize that was only because I didn’t have sufficient information. To this day I can’t really use classics such as putting ice cubes on my arms or snapping rubber bands against my wrist. They don’t help me and above all my first therapist and a psychiatrist I saw only once described skills as a substitue for self-harm which they can’t or shouldn’t be.
My current therapist thinks that skills are just supposed to bridge time in which I would injure myself otherwise so that I can last until I get “real” help, so for example until the next session. That makes sense to me and works very well at the moment. She also explained that one could view just about anything as a skill – after all setting the alarm in the morning so that I wake up on time is a sort of skill as well. Skills that can help handle anger can differ from those that help against self-harm and therefore the lists you can find may go from “exercising” to “putting stones into your shoes” or “painting a picture” and many more things.
I for example got inspired by such lists and now have a porcupine ball in my pocket when I go to a difficult meeting; I can squeeze and feel it in order to stay inside my body instead of dissociating. Or I’ve started showering with a body scrub that smells strongly as the smell and the sensation on the skin are often enough to make me stay here and now instead of drifting off into memories. One could also say that it is a skill to have chewing gum with me all the time in case I start biting the inside of my cheeks or my fingers (at home I even have chewable jewellery made of silicone to bite on, this can be bought in specialist shops for children on the autisum spectrum).
There are countless options as long as they don’t turn into self-harm…
An important element of DBT my therapist also uses is an emergency skills-chain. It consists of three skills and is supposed to be a fixed routine that can be used when distress level or the urge to self-harm are very high and ideally makes it possible to calm down step by step. Since November I have experimented a lot and my emergency chain now is:
- Smell! In order to get myself back into reality, an intense smell often works amazingly well. This can be an essential oil, horseradish or ammonia which is also used in many clinics. One can buy ampoules with ammonia and lavender and I always have some of them in my bag now. The dilution is chosen in a way that prevents the mucous membranes from taking damage but the stimulus is quite…intense. Basically it is similar to the smelling salts used by court ladies in the 17th and 18th century (just without the tight corsets :D).
- Heat cream! Is usually used after sports injuries (there’s also a cooling version but for me personally, heat works better) and can be bought in drug stores by different manufacturers and in different strengths. I don’t want to advertise a certain product as every skin reacts differently. For me it is very helpful to put the cream onto spots I want to cut and maybe even bandage them and then feel it burn.
- Motivational Tattoos! This is something I discovered through blogging and I’m immensly grateful for it!
I immediately ordered the tattoos and you can see one of them on my hand on the pictures in this post. It’s not just that they look cute and are beautifully colourful, it’s also that the messages on them are good to hear several times a day and above all: I can see something on my skin! The fact that I’m supposed to stop cutting is (among other things) hard because I need to see something when I feel bad. And for this the tattoos are perfect! By the way this isn’t sponsored, I’m just really excited 🙂
You can find this awesome idea here:
With this skills chain I have managed to treat myself well the last few weeks when I usually wouldn’t have. And each time I manage coping with a difficult situation without using self-harm and then can talk to my therapist my trust that it is possible increases.
Tell me – what are the skills that help you most? What are your skill chains like? Looking forward to your answers 🙂