Self-harm is an addictive behaviour because apart from being dangerous, painful and damaging – it works. People self-harm to either create pain to stop the numb dissociative effects of severe trauma or to physicalise a mental pain that they can’t process. The act of self-harm releases endorphines which makes someone who self-harms feel better. Unfortunately, if someone has found a really effective way to deal with extreme trauma or emotional pain, encouraging them to try something less effective can take a long time.
Because self-harm is an addictive behaviour, the level of self-harm required to achieve the same effect is likely to increase over time. Someone who scratches may move onto cutting and the cuts can become so severe that they require surgery or do permanent damage to movement and feelings.
The reason people self-harm may change over time. Guilt and shame, self-loathing because of their trauma, disappointment when they start to have thoughts of self-harm again or complex difficulties with relationships (for example) can form deep layers of trauma and emotional pain that can take years to unpick and resolve. Relapses are common as with any addictive behaviour and it can take several failed attempts to stop self-harming permanently.
It is incredibly difficult and courageous to attempt to stop self-harming and anyone working towards that goal deserves praise and support
Self-harm is most common amongst women and girls but it is not unusual in boys, men, people who don’t assign themselves a gender, people who are straight, gay, bi, LGBTQ and trans.