March is self harm awareness month in Canada, the USA, and Britain. “Self-injury is any deliberate, non suicidal behaviour that inflicts physical harm on your body and is aimed at relieving emotional distress.” Life Signs UK chose to use the term self-injury as it is more specific to the act of injuring oneself. The term self harm which can be viewed as a larger combination of behaviours that cause a person damage. For this blog we will use the term self harm as we will be looking at some of those other behaviours.
Why do some people self harm?
Some people self harm to deal with emotional pain that has become too great to bear. Others use it is a way to experience some kind of sensation when they have become numb to their surroundings. It is also used a form of control when a person feels they have no control in other areas of their life. There are many reasons why people self harm, however it is often very misunderstood by people who don’t. This kind of coping mechanism can become a person’s default way to deal with their issues. Unfortunately this means self harm may increase in frequency and severity as it becomes more ingrained in someone’s daily life.
Can self harm become an addiction?
New reviews of studies state that there is evidence to suggest continued self harm behaviours can be considered a process addiction like shopping, sex, and gambling addictions. Characteristics of process addictions like tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse are seen in self harm processes. Since it is a coping mechanism for some, if no other coping mechanisms are developed it becomes a crutch that they can be unwilling to throw away. Self harm can also become a form of addiction as it a physical release/high that the person begins to crave.
There is also a slight correlation between self harm and substance use. An Oxford study found that 8.7% of people who engaged in self harm also excessively used substances, sometimes using said substance for the purpose of self harming. Self harm does not spring out of a vacuum, and there is always an underlying reason for continued self harm. One of the prevailing theories is that trauma in childhood contributes to this behaviour, so some kind of therapy or counseling is a good first step for recovery. Looking at self harm as a process addiction is important because it has ramifications for therapy. Process addiction therapy models could now be used to help treat those with self harm behaviours. If you or a loved one is struggling with self harm, please contact our specialist to find treatment close by.