Understanding Self Harm

Panic Disorders 300x199 Understanding Self Harm  photo

Self harm is distressing to those who witness its effects and is rightfully understood as a cry for help

Northbound is prepared and able to assist individuals practicing self harm in a safe and effective treatment setting. Each person treated not only understands the underlying causes of their behavior, yet also becomes empowered to arrest the behavior and experience inner healing. Self harm is distressing to those who witness its effects and is rightfully understood as a cry for help. At Northbound we administer a sensitive and compassionate treatment program, designed with evidence based practices, for individuals who are suffering from self-harm addiction, also known as self-mutilation.

Sadly, the signs of self-harm are often clear, as the sufferer carries the scars that 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 share many of 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. Diagnosing and treating self harm requires the same level of clinical knowledge and caring as any other obsessive and compulsive behavior. In fact, effective treatment requires a deep understanding of compulsive behaviors and addictions, as many people who end one compulsive behavior find themselves engaging in other types of self-destructive and addictive behavior in an effort to cope with the feelings that surface.

What are the types of self-harm?

Self-harm, in general, is any act of bodily harm, but it is often demonstrated through acts of self-mutilation, like cutting oneself with razors or burning oneself with cigarette lighters. The severity of the self-mutilation can be such that medical treatment and hospitalization may be required. The psychology of self harm can be complex—the permanent scars of self harm may bring the sufferer feelings of both pride and shame, and they may choose to flaunt or hide the scars depending on their emotional state.

Someone who is addicted to the obsessive and compulsive behaviors related to self-harming is often secretive about their behavior. Fear of being confronted causes them to hide their actions and cover up any evidence of self mutilation. 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 his or her arms may follow a strict routine, which could include preparing a special and “safe place” to carry out that self-harm without disturbance. 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 even be centralized 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 begins with the sufferer experiencing a powerful emotion (such as rejection and a resulting self-hatred) followed by a desperate need to “cleanse” herself of the unbearable feelings.

The sufferer will feel some pain when they first inflict physical harm on their body, but this pain is tempered by an immediate feeling of relief that floods the senses when the first cut is drawn or first burn is inflicted. The sufferer will carry on mutilating his or her body until these emotions have been completely extinguished. Meanwhile the body will suffer the natural reaction of the release of adrenalin that occurs along with physical harm. This can be found in that extinguishing of emotion and the “high” which self-harmers feel.

Sufferers report feeling this “high” at the first infliction of pain, which they desperately try to retrieve again and again, much like a drug addict pursues that same experience of a first high. Following an episode of self harm, the addict will often revert to a state of distraction and distance and will usually be completely calm, showing little or no emotion whatsoever.

What are the signs of self-harm and how does a person stop?

The signs of self-harm include: 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 method they choose to use in their self harming ritual. It is also helpful to watch for uncharacteristic behavior such as mood swings or engaging in other self-destructive behavior (such as drug use, alcohol abuse, starvation, purging, overeating and promiscuity).

Treatment and Hope

In treating self harm, we follow a similar approach as with other addictions. The first step is ending the behavior and allowing the feelings which the sufferer is avoiding to surface. It is only then that healing can begin in the form of therapy and counseling.

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At Northbound Treatment Services, 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. This 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-harm addiction is incredibly serious and can take sufferers to dark places where one believes they can never recover or live a life free of the obsessions and compulsions. Yet, with the help of Northbound’s skilled and compassionate clinical team and a daily program of recovery, a self-harming addict can regain a normal and happy life.

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