National Therapeutic Services treats individuals who are suffering from self-harm addiction, also known as self-mutilation. The signs of self-harm are often clear, and they result from the act of cutting and burning oneself. The different types of self-harm aren’t often thought of as an addiction, even though they have the same components. People who self-harm behave in obsessive and compulsive ways that cause physical damage to their bodies; the underlying motivation involves an effort to avoid feelings that are hard to handle or process. Self-harm awareness requires the same amount of attention as any other obsessive and compulsive behavior. In fact, many people who end one compulsive behavior find themselves engaging in other types of self-destructive and addictive behavior to deal with the feelings that surface.
What are the types of self-harm?
Self-harm, in general, is any act of bodily harm, but it often is demonstrated by acts like cutting with razors or burning with cigarette lighters. The severity of the self-mutilation can be such that medical treatment and hospitalization may be required. The permanent scars of self-harm may bring the sufferer feelings of both pride and shame; they may choose to flaunt or hide the scars depending on their emotional state.
If a person is addicted to the obsessive and compulsive behaviors related to self-harming, the person is generally secretive about their behavior. Fear of being confronted results in the hiding of their actions. Many sufferers report their self-harm behavior as ‘ritualistic’, just as with drug addicts and alcoholics. For example, a person who uses a lighter to burn their arms may have a strict routine that they follow, which could include getting a special and “safe place” ready for their self-harm to be carried out without disturbance. The implements used, the method of harming, and the aftermath may follow a very similar pattern each time. The location of self-harm infliction on their bodies may be in one place, such as the arms, thighs, stomach and sometimes even the face.
Why does a person self-harm?
The process of self-harming generally involves the sufferer experiencing some sort of an emotion, such as rejection and the resulting self-hatred, and following this, a desperate need to “cleanse” themselves of the unbearable feelings.
The sufferer will feel some pain when they inflict the harm on their bodies, but they will also feel immediate relief flood over themselves when the first cut is drawn or first burn is inflicted. The sufferer will carry on mutilating their bodies until the feeling has passed and their feelings have been completely extinguished. The body will suffer the natural reaction of the release of adrenalin when physical harm occurs which is resultant in the extinguishing of emotion and the “high” which self-harmers feel.
Sufferers report feeling high at the first infliction of pain which they desperately try to retrieve again and again, much like a drug addict chasing that first high for years after it occurred. Yet the self-harmer will be in a state of distraction and distance following an episode and will usually be completely calm, without any emotion whatsoever.
What are the signs of self-harm and how does a person stop?
The signs of self-harm are secretive behavior, wearing long sleeves even when the weather is hot in an attempt to hide the scarring, staring at or playing with scars, and obsessions with whatever implement they choose to use. Also watch for uncharacteristic behavior such as mood swings and engaging in other self-destructive behavior, some of which are drug use, alcohol abuse, starvation, purging, overeating and promiscuity.
Treatment and Hope
Self-harm treatment is of a similar approach to treating other addictions. Firstly the behavior must be ceased to allow the feelings which the sufferer is avoiding to surface. It is only then that healing can begin in the form of therapy and counseling. At NTS, self-mutilation treatment consists of one-on-one counseling, group therapy and a daily program of recovery. A 12-Step program is extremely beneficial to a person who suffers from self-mutilation addiction. A 12-Step program is a daily program which allows addicts to find cessation of their obsessive and compulsive behaviors and provides tools and support for continued recovery. A combination of treatment, therapy and a program of recovery are widely considered to be the best method of maintaining abstinence from this self-destructive compulsion.
Self-harming addiction is incredibly serious and can take sufferers to such dark places that they may feel they can never recover or live a life free of the obsessions and compulsions. Yet, with the help of NTS and a daily program of recovery, a self-harming addict can regain a normal and happy life.