If you think about it, addiction itself is a form of self-harm. An addiction can become so strong that it becomes the sole focus of your life to the detriment of other life-activities. Your marriage, career, and family relationships might slowly fall apart.
However, another form of self-harm that’s not often talked about, especially not among adults is self-harming behavior. It’s behavior in which you are inflicting direct harm to your own body, without the intention of committing suicide. It can include cutting, biting, scratching, burning, and bruising the skin. People might harm themselves as a way to feel physical pain, to create a lasting sign of distress, as a punishment for perceived failure, to release feelings, or to cope with strong emotions that might result from trauma or challenging past experiences. Using self-harm as a coping mechanism for anxiety and other strong emotions is most common among teens and adults.
However, there is a certain addiction that can develop with self-harming behavior. When someone hurts themselves through cutting their wrists for instance, endorphins are secreted into the bloodstream and they often experience a numbing or pleasurable sensation. For some people, cutting or harming their own body numbs any unpleasant thoughts and feelings and often a high comes with the experience. It can be similar to a high that comes with drug use. Over time, that high builds a psychological dependence and creates a compulsive need. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, behaviors, such as cutting, can have the same high or rush in the brain, which is similar to the use of drugs. In that way, addictions can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create.
As you end the substance use, especially if you were using it as a coping tool for life’s challenges, you might find that self-harming behaviors increase. Because of the high that it brings, self-injury might be what you replace for the drinking or drug use. However, as you can imagine, it’s important to tend to self-harming behaviors. Self-injury treatment is multifaceted because at root there are many reasons why you might engaging in such behavior. For instance, self-harm is often a way to cope with intense emotions, to calm and soothe, to feel more alive if they feel disconnected or numb, or to release pent up anger. For this reason, part of the treatment would be to tenderly support you in getting in touch with the reason behind the behavior. Of course, self-injury treatment will need to first address the endorphin effect and break the cycle of addiction.
Once the reason behind the self-mutilation is identified, alternative coping mechanisms can be provided. For instance, if you need to release tension or vent anger, you might engage in vigorous exercise, punch a cushion or mattress, scream into a pillow, squeeze a stress ball, make some noise such as playing an instrument, banging on drums or even pots and pans. If you are cutting to calm and soothe, you might take a bath or hot shower instead, or participate in a yoga class, cuddle with a dog or cat, wrap up in a warm blanket, watch a relaxing movie, get a massage, or listen to soft music. If you are using self-injury as a way to feel alive again and to avoid feeling disconnected or numb, it might be helpful to call a friend instead, take a cold shower, or eat something with a strong taste or spice.
Of course, these are only suggestions. Yet, the best way to treat any kind of addiction, especially if it includes self-harming behavior, is to call upon the support of a mental health professional.
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