Many of us don’t think of self-mutilation as an addiction. We think of drugs, alcohol, gambling and even sex as addictions, but rarely do we classify cutting, burning or other self-harm acts as an addiction. Many people turn to self-mutilation as a consequence of simply inadequate coping skills, the same reason that many turn to drugs. Nearly 2 million people identify themselves as “self-injurers” in the United States alone. Self-injury is defined as a deliberate injury to one’s body that causes tissue damage or marks on the skin as a way to deal with overwhelming feelings or situations. Self-harm is usually not done with the intention of suicide, yet in some cases death does occur. There are many different ways in which people self-harm, they include: cutting, branding, picking at skin or wounds, hair pulling, hitting, excessive piercing or tattooing and even drinking harmful chemicals. At first people usually stumble upon self-harm due to hearing about it and think that it may help them cope with unbearable feelings that they don’t know how to other wise express. People will continue to self-harm if it proves as a successful way of relieving uncomfortable emotions. Endorphins, which are the “feel-good” chemicals in your brain are released during self-harm and are natural pain killers. People recognize the relief self-harm grants them as well as the feeling that they get from the release of endorphins and thus the behavior turns into an addiction. Once the behavior passes into that of an addiction, even though the person may be feeling shame or remorse they find it increasingly difficult to stop.
People who self-harm exhibit some similar traits. Having a limited social support system may contribute as well as growing up in a family where expressions of emotions are discouraged. Many self-injurers usually are also dealing with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are many ways that a loved one can contribute to getting someone help. Some examples of ways that a loved one can help a self-injurer include: encourage expressions of emotions, offering a listening empathetic ear, offering to share enjoyable activities and offering support in the way of a therapist of professional. It is also very important to shy away from judgment or shame as it may trigger the self-injurer to want to harm themselves more due to low self-esteem and a feeling of worthlessness.