You might have heard of signing a safety contract when someone is feeling suicidal. However, you can create a contract for safety for any situation in which there might be self-harm. In fact, for some recovering addicts the possibility of self-harm and self-neglect is always present.

For instance, with feelings of anger, guilt, shame, and remorse, there may be additional feelings of frustration if you feel you’re unable to express those feelings. If you were able to go to the person who upset you, then you might be able work through anger in a constructive way. However, if you felt trapped in your anger, as though it were very difficult to express it to anyone, you might find yourself expressing it by hurting yourself or someone else.

In fact, hurting yourself or others can be a common tendency of those struggling with addiction, particularly those who have also experienced trauma, neglect, or an upbringing with addiction in the family. Frequently, families in which there is addiction, emotions are often stifled or repressed. There might be a message in the family that emotions are not okay to communicate or express. As a result, children might feel they need to get aggressive in order to express their emotions, or it might have been taught that expressing anger destructively, in a harmful way, is the only way to show someone how you feel.

Also, when emotions get really intense and if there is no way to express them, some men and women have found that hurting themselves is a way to provide relief to these emotions. Cutting, burning the skin, overeating, drinking, using drugs, depriving yourself of food, or engaging in risky behavior are all ways of hurting oneself.

For all these reasons and more, it might be necessary to create a contract with yourself in which you commit to your own safety. You might begin by making a list of the warning signs that point to possibly hurting yourself. For instance, you might feel the need to hurt yourself when you feel angry, trapped, or lonely. You might feel the urge to hurt yourself when no one is listening to you or when you feel no one understands what you’re going through.

Once you’ve made a clear list of your warning signs, write down next to each one what you will do in response. For instance, if you wrote down that you begin to eat poorly as a warning sign, then your action for safety might be to tell your therapist. Or if you wrote down that you begin to not care about your life as a warning sign, then perhaps an action toward creating safety is to call a friend and talk with him or her.

The point of the safety contract is to keep yourself safe by committing to safety. You’re essentially agreeing to not hurt yourself ever again. However, it can get tricky because hurting yourself might have been a coping mechanism for a long time. Plus, there are many different ways one can hurt themselves. You might be so used to neglecting yourself or you might have gotten used to expressing your intense emotions through drinking. Of course, now that you’re sober, you won’t have to worry about hurting yourself through drugs or alcohol. Yet, once you sign a safety contract you might have to be on the lookout for other, more subtle ways you might self-harm.

One other important point about a safety contract is to recognize that there are various levels of danger. For instance, perhaps eating poorly is the first sign that things aren’t going well. In this case, there might be minimal danger, but enough to do something about it. You might also identify the signs that point to moderate levels of danger as well as extreme danger, such as possibility of suicide. Once you have your signs of danger listed along with what you’re going to do to stay safe, sign it. You might also have a therapist or drug counselor sign it to so that you have someone who can hold you accountable.

Creating and signing a safety contract is a way to commit to safety, especially if you’re someone who tends to engage in self-harm.

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