Breaking the Self-Harm Addiction
You wouldn't think a self-harm addiction could be possible, but the scariest thing about people is that we can get used to anything. Unfamiliar things quickly evolve into habit and routine often without our knowing. This adaptive ability, while necessary for survival, can, paradoxically, sustain and intensify our destructive tendencies — and in the case of self-harm, our strongest self-destructive tendencies can turn into self-harm addiction.
Reconceptualizing Self-Harm as Addiction
Self-harm is dangerous because it is never satisfied. It could even be framed with the same language used for addiction issues: the momentary sense of relief and/or euphoria, the increasingly strong urges, the build-up of tolerance, etc. One moment snowballs into multiple moments, which then snowballs into a habit, which then snowballs into a full-blown addiction (Is It Possible to Be Addicted to Self-Injury?).
The Evolution of Self-Harm
Stage I. Self-harm gives the user instant relief. The feeling cannot be described as “pleasurable” or even “good,” necessarily, but it helps numb painful emotions and/or cut through emotional numbness.
Stage II. Self-harm becomes more frequent. The reliable, instant relief once promised by self-harm starts to weaken. In an attempt to replicate the initial relief, self-harm is pushed toward its boundaries. This could mean increased frequency or more extreme methods of self-harm — often both.
Stage III. Given enough time, self-harm becomes something of a habit. It occurs with regularity, largely for regularity’s sake. At this point, the user may feel surprised and concerned by the extent of their own self-harm, which for reasons they cannot quite pin down just seems unstoppable. The user may seek out help for self-harm at this stage. Alternately, the user may be in denial of the severity of the self-harm. This denial can be total or selective (e.g., recognizing a problem but not the full magnitude of it, recognizing the full magnitude of it but ignoring it, acknowledging the full magnitude of it but not seeing it as a problem, acknowledging the problem but not taking steps to address it, etc.).
Stage IV. Without intervention, self-administered or otherwise, the self-harm evolves into an addiction. It becomes a sure thing the same way one can be reasonably sure of the sun rising and setting each day. It colors every aspect of the user’s life and self-identity. It affects and often disrupts relationships and supplants previously held interests and hobbies. Most notably, it becomes impossible to imagine a life beyond and outside of self-harm and so the user stops imagining.
Self-Harm Addiction and the Hope of Recovery
Ideally, self-harm issues would be resolved before they ever reached the latter stages. But in the event that it does reach that final stage — the addiction stage — one can take comfort in knowing that recovery from self-harm addiction, though difficult, is possible.
There are countless stories of recovered addicts that serve as proof of this possibility. There are also as many different ways of approaching self-harm addiction recovery as there are stories of recovered addicts. It is all about finding what works for the individual. This could take some trial and error but it is, again, entirely possible.
Thinking of self-harm as an addiction problem on some level creates hope for recovery. Hope is sometimes the only motivating factor. We may be able to get used to anything, but with hope, we are able to imagine and keep imagining something beyond and something outside of that — a life beyond and outside of self-harm.
Chang, K. (2018, May 30). Breaking the Self-Harm Addiction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2018/5/breaking-the-self-harm-addiction