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Navigating A Self Harm Relapse with DBT: A Teen’s Guide to Healing and Hope

Facing a setback after a period of progress can be disheartening. You may have felt like you were finally managing your self-harm urges, returning to feeling more like yourself, and then something triggered a self harm relapse. Now, you’re left feeling overwhelmed with emotions—shame, fear, and a sense of hopelessness.

Take a deep breath.

This is not uncommon; you can certainly bounce back and continue your journey toward healing and creating a healthier future.

Many teenagers experience this roller coaster of progress and setbacks before they finally overcome self-harm completely. One incredibly effective tool in this journey is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT has been a beacon of hope for countless teenagers, and it can guide you through the fog of self harm relapse. It equips you with essential skills to navigate through the storm of painful and distressing emotions, helps you to dispel the clouds of negative thoughts in a compassionate and non-judgmental way, and fortifies your ability to build positive, nurturing relationships. Curious? Keep reading.

Understanding self harm relapse: you’re not alone

Experiencing a relapse into self-harm might flood you with emotions like guilt or a sense of despair. You’re certainly not alone—many teens who have self-harmed before are wrestling with the temptation to fall back into old habits. But here’s the key: don’t be too hard on yourself.

A relapse doesn’t make you weak or label you as lacking hope—quite the contrary. You’re still here, striving for better and determined to make positive shifts despite the hitches, which is a testament to your strength!

  • Forgive yourself. You’re human, and healing isn’t linear. Focus on your progress rather than perceiving the relapse as a failure.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Speak to yourself with compassion and understanding. Take a break from negative self-talk; you deserve kindness.
  • If the urges are too strong, reach out for help right away. Call a crisis hotline or a trusted friend or family member. You don’t have to go through this alone.
  • Get back on track. Don’t give up! Meet with your therapist, practice self-care and your DBT skills, and commit to your treatment plan. Healing is a journey with ups and downs. You’ve got this.

The Power of DBT for Teens: Skills for Life

Imagine your life, full of potential and free from self-harm. It might seem like a distant dream, but it can become your reality.

DBT is a powerful tool that can help you navigate the path to this dream life.

It’s like a roadmap, guiding you with actionable steps to build the resilience you need to overcome self-harm relapses and discover new possibilities.

Some powerful DBT strategies you can try at home and with a therapist include:


DBT teaches you mindfulness—how to be fully present and aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness helps you avoid reacting impulsively.

You’ll learn techniques like:

  • Deep breathing to stay calm
  • Progressive muscle relaxation to release tension
  • Visualizing a peaceful place to shift your mindset

Emotional Regulation

DBT helps you manage intense emotions in constructive ways. You’ll gain strategies to:

  • Identify triggers that lead to self-harm
  • Cope with distressing feelings and urges
  • Challenge negative thoughts
  • Take care of yourself when you’re vulnerable

Interpersonal Effectiveness

DBT strengthens your relationships by teaching you how to:

  • Say no while maintaining self-respect and the respect of others
  • Ask for what you need in a way that improves the likelihood of getting it
  • Improve interactions so you feel heard and understood

Building a Path to Healing: Coping with Self-Harm Urges

Feeling the surge of a self-harm urge can be a tidal wave of overwhelming emotions, but you’re not alone or powerless in this storm. You can navigate these treacherous waters with the right toolkit—one your DBT therapist is eager to help you build. This life raft of resilience isn’t one-size-fits-all but an “urge coping plan” tailored perfectly to your unique needs. It may appear challenging initially, but don’t let this deter you. With every wave you conquer, these skills become second nature. In the darkest of times, hold onto hope. The strength to heal, to rise above this, resides within you.

Some of the strategies in your plan may include:

  • Practicing mindfulness. Take a step back. Notice the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing without judgment. This can help reduce distress and make the urge feel less intense.
  • Using distraction techniques. Do something to get your mind off the urge, like exercising, calling a friend, engaging in a hobby, etc. The more you immerse yourself in an activity, the more the urge will fade.
  • Challenging unhealthy thoughts. Identify negative thoughts about self-harm and replace them with more positive, realistic ones. Speak to yourself with compassion and encouragement.
  • Delaying the urge. Tell yourself you will revisit the urge in 1 hour, then find ways to occupy yourself. The intensity will likely decrease when the hour is up, and you’ll have a fresh perspective. You can continue delaying in 1-hour increments.

The Path Forward

Imagine holding a compass that could guide you through the stormy seas of emotion, distressing thoughts, and relationship challenges. This compass is not magical but a practical tool you can find in therapy.

You might think, “That’s great, but is there a therapist for teens near me who can guide me on this journey?” Well, your compass just hit the jackpot! Suffolk DBT is right in your neighborhood, in bustling Manhattan and the serene landscapes of Suffolk and Nassau counties.

Finding the Right Therapist

The therapists at Suffolk DBT are experienced in helping with healing and self-discovery. We’re skilled in the area of self-harm and trauma in teens. Our approach is empathetic and focused on understanding the cause of your pain and giving you tools to manage stress and emotional distress. You’re not alone in this journey. We have many therapists ready to help teens who self-injure.

Commit to Your Treatment Plan

Once you find your therapist, work closely with them to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all areas of your well-being. Attend all therapy sessions and skills groups, practice the coping strategies you learn, and be open to trying new techniques. Healing is a journey, not a destination—commit to the process and have patience with yourself. With time and practice, the skills and insights you gain will transform into second nature.

Walking Alongside You: Support for Teens Who Self-Injure

Even when you’re committed to recovery, self-harm urges can creep back in when you least expect them. Don’t beat yourself up—every struggle makes you stronger and wiser. In these challenging moments, we offer you the following guiding lights:

  • Talk to your therapist right away. Let them know what triggered your relapse so you can devise a plan to avoid or better cope with those triggers in the future. Your therapist is there to support you without judgment.
  • Lean on your support network. Call a friend or family member you trust and discuss your feelings. Ask them to spend time with you until the urge passes. Their comfort can help take your mind off the pain.
  • Use your DBT skills. Remember the coping strategies you’ve learned, like mindfulness, distraction, and self-soothing. Take a walk, do some light exercise, cook a meal, or engage in a hobby that engages your hands and mind.
  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t condemn yourself for slipping up. Everyone stumbles, so offer yourself the same compassion you would a friend. Forgive yourself and focus on moving forward healthily.
  • Safety plan. Remove anything you could use to self-harm from your environment. Make a list of people to call in an emergency and keep it on hand. Develop a routine to follow when you have urges, like doing jumping jacks or calling a crisis hotline.
  • Compile affirmations that remind you that one relapse does not undo all the progress you’ve made. A simple one to start with is this “Every day is a chance to start over”.

Take a deep breath, friend. You’re stronger than you think. Yes, you’ve had a slip-up, but remember this: relapses are part of the journey to recovery, not a sign of failure. We’re all human, and we all stumble sometimes. Rather than getting stuck in self-blame, reach out for support.

With the anchor of a trusted therapist, you can dive deeper into understanding the currents that drive your self-harm and learn to cultivate a garden of self-compassion. The compulsion to self-harm will begin to recede, replaced by the blossoming realization of your true worth and purpose.

Yes, this journey is challenging, but it holds the potential to be genuinely transformative. There are always lifelines available to you, alternatives to self-harm, even when navigating through the darkest of seas. Hold on to the knowledge that you are a treasure chest of potential—one misstep doesn’t define your entire journey.

Keep your eyes on the horizon of your progress, grant yourself the gift of forgiveness, and diligently practice your DBT skills. Let this moment be a new chapter in your story—a tale of hope, personal growth, and liberation.

Commitment is critical; with the skills you’ll gain through DBT, you will be well-equipped to continue your journey. Envision a life free from self-harm—you deserve that happiness and fulfillment. There’s always an alternative to self-harm, and there’s always someone ready to lend a hand. With practice and commitment to your therapy, the intensity and frequency of self-harming urges will decrease. Harness the power within you to conquer your struggles.

You have the strength; believe in it. What do you say? 

Call Suffolk DBT today to schedule your free consultation!

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