When you think of addiction, what comes to mind? Alcohol, drugs, gambling, maybe even sex? Does cutting or any other form of self-harm come to mind? Self-harm continues to be the most taboo form of addiction and it can be forgotten that the struggle with self-harm can be life long. Too many people see self-harm as an attention seeking behavior of moody teens. This is the narrative that people have been told, and just like any stereotype, there is some truth to it. Just like teenagers and young adults’ experiment with substances, some experiment with what it is like to hurt themselves. People see self-harm so differently from other addictions because frankly, I think it just doesn’t make any sense. How could someone become addicted to causing themselves pain? It at least makes sense when people first get hooked on alcohol, drugs, and sex because those feel good. But cutting? Burning? Punching things or oneself? Why would anyone succumb to that odd form of addiction?
First and foremost, it is important for people to recognize and understand that all addiction is self-harm. Just because alcohol doesn’t leave scars and gambling doesn’t cause bruising, doesn’t mean they aren’t an active or subconscious way of self-harming. Addiction stems from a myriad of struggles people face in this world. Some people choose a bottle, some a needle, and others a razor blade. Every addiction battle is so different, but they are all one in the same. Addiction is never about the thing one is addicted to, it’s about what drives them to engage in the addiction, what’s under the surface.
Unfortunately, there is little research or resources out there discussing self-harm as an addiction. Studies that have been done have found similarities in the vocabulary used around self-harm. Individuals who struggle with self-harm experience urges or cravings, tolerance build-ups, extended periods of being clean, and relapses. All of these are criteria that must be met for any other addiction. The problem with the lack of research and the misunderstandings around self-harm as a whole, creates a gap in care for individuals that truly deserve relief. If self-harm were to truly be seen as an addiction in the field of psychology as a whole, more professionals would have the ability to help individuals within an addiction protocol. Sadly, because of the nature of self-harm, there are still many professionals that do not feel comfortable working with that form of addiction.
Luckily, there are many individuals in the field that see things through the perspective I am sharing. Finding the right therapist is the most important aspect of the therapeutic work. If you are someone who struggles with self-harm, ensure that you find a therapist that you feel safe to share your self-harming behaviors with. The first step is to talk about the behaviors we engage in that bring us shame. Shame thrives in darkness and dies in the light. Also know, that you are not alone. Self-harm is not something that gets talked about enough in society, yet so many people do struggle. According to Psychology Today “approximately 17 percent of adolescents, 13 percent of young adults, and 6 percent of adults report a lifetime history of non-suicidal self-injury.”
Remember that all addictions deserve to be seen, understood, listened to, and healed. You are not crazy, weird, or completely unhinged if you fall into patterns of hurting yourself. If you continue to fall back into that pattern, it is not because you are weak, but because you are going against a real addiction, and addiction is hard to break. If you aren’t someone who struggles, keep this information in mind the next time you see scars on someone’s body. Just remember, everyone struggles at one point or another and no one deserves to be judged for the ways in which they find comfort. Be kind, hug a friend a little tighter when you notice a new wound but don’t make a huge deal of it. Lastly, remember that everyone deserves love and acceptance, even if we do not understand.
If you or someone you care about is confronting these issues, please get in touch with Good Therapy’s team of licensed professional counselors and therapists today at 630-473-3971.