High levels of stress, emotions, and overwhelming thoughts can drive a person to turn to self-harm as a coping mechanism. It may help them to feel like they are in control of a difficult situation. Although self-harm may be difficult to understand when one has not experienced it, there are many people who suffer from this compulsive habit. Whether you are working through temptations to self-harm or you know someone who needs help, it is important to find the right resources and assistance required to overcome these dangerous behaviours.
Definition of Self-Harm
The term self-harm, also commonly known as self-injury or self-mutilation, is a broad term that refers to many behaviours. Any time a person hurts themselves deliberately, it is classified as self-harm. Here are a few examples of habits that fall under this term:
- Picking at wounds so healing is prevented
- Burning the skin with cigarettes or other hot objects
- Cutting anywhere on the body
- Inflicting bruises with blunt force trauma
- Drawing blood
- Carving symbols or words on the skin
- Pulling out hair
The symptoms can vary for each person. Typically, these behaviours occur in private, in a ritualistic or controlled manner.
Why is Self-Harm a Problem?
Why do some people find it difficult to avoid these addictive habits? There are various reasons why people fall into the habit of self-injury. Sometimes, the habit is downstream from other problems, such as drug addiction that leads to self-injury. Other times, compulsive behaviour starts with self-harm and can lead to alcohol or drug abuse. Another common problem is body dysmorphia, such as anorexia, which results in shame or guilt and can lead to other self-harming activities. Self-harm is often co-occurring with other addictive or harmful behaviours.
Usually, a person will use the injury or harm as a way to relieve or distract themselves from uncomfortable or painful experiences or emotions in life. The buildup of emotions is too difficult to handle, causing a person to seek relief through some form of masochism. For example, an individual might turn to self-injury as a way to:
- Cope with stress
- Deal with overwhelming thoughts
- Manage emotions such as shame, sadness, rage, or anger
- Distract from unhappy life circumstances
- Numb unwanted emotions
- Take the mind off other physical, mental, or emotional sufferings
Although self-mutilation might provide temporary relief from emotional pain, it is a short-lived phenomenon. Not only will you carry the weight of the emotions that led to these actions, but you will also feel the burden of hiding the scars because you are ashamed of yourself. It can be a lonely path to travel if you don’t seek professional assistance to overcome the addiction.
Treatment Options for a Self-Harm Addiction
Most people know that their actions are dangerous, but they find it difficult to stop. Like other addictions, certain pleasure centers in the brain are activated when a person self harms, causing chemical reactions that drive the need to continue the behaviour.
The good news is that you can heal from this path of addiction. If you are having a hard time overcoming these urges, then it is time to enlist the support of an experienced addiction recovery team. Most people understand the need for substance use treatment, but it can be harder to see the need for recovery when a substance isn’t involved.
The truth is that the non-substance addictions, such as self-harm, need professional treatment in the same way as alcohol or drug recovery. The treatment programs might be different, to cater to the unique concerns for each type of addiction. But, there is no question that professional assistance is required for the best long-term support.
It’s scary and uncomfortable to face the addiction that has been a part of your life for so long. But, rest assured to know that it is possible to heal and experience a healthy, happy life. The best solution is to focus on a holistic approach that addresses every aspect of recovery: physical, emotional, mental, and social.