Addiction and Self Harming


It commonly goes with eating disorders. This process is itself addictive. People will self-harm in order paradoxically to feel better.  They do it in order to change the way they feel and that’s why we use any form of addictive substance or process. They will try to feel better, but as soon as they’ve done it, they regret it and they feel sad about it. They feel that they let themselves down and let other people down, and so on.

Well that again is in parallel with every other addictive behaviour. We tend to do what we feel compiled to do. And as soon as we’ve done it we regret it and we’re sad about it and we wonder how on earth we did it, and we despair, and we beat ourselves up and so on.

So, self-harming is no different from any other behaviour in that way. But it’s just sad when you see people resenting the prospect of getting better they say, “This is my thing.” I choose to do this; it’s nothing to do with you.” Well again I’ve heard exactly the same from people with alcohol problems, with drug problems or gambling problems or whatever. That we do intend to try to isolate ourselves emotionally and say, “This is my problem, nothing to do with you.” We’ll as John Donne said, “No man is an island.”  We do affect other people through our behaviour. We have inevitably, there are people who love us, people who work with us, people who have some form of relationship with us and they do get affected by our addictive behaviour.

So self-harming is not the isolated event that sometimes people make it out to be. There are pro anorexia websites that you can look up. There are pro self-harming websites that you can look up. I was looking at one last weekend.

It’s a very distressing process that people would want to do that and to publicize it saying, “This is my right.” Well I’ve heard that in here.  I think they’re born with a sense of desperate inner emptiness and we discover what will help that. Some people discover alcohol, some people discover drugs, some people discover food, some people discover self-harming. It changes the way they feel. They lose that initial sense of desperation but then of course as soon as the effect wears off, back it comes.

And so one needs a process, first of all of abstinence to stop doing the thing that’s harming us. Second is to find some other way of healing that inner emptiness. And that again, is true not just for self-harming but also for alcohol, drugs, food, and gambling, any form of addictive behaviour.

The initial internal problem is probably a defect in the neurotransmission centers and the mood center of the brain. Now, prove it? I can’t. Again, all I can do is to look epidemiologically at the clusters of behaviour that come together, such as the eating disorders and the self-harming and work and exercise and shopping and spending. That tends to be in a cluster.

People who have any one of those addictive tendencies will tend to have the other and I anticipate that it will in due course be found to be all mediated by one particular gene. Then there’s another gene which I believe is responsible for the hedonistic cluster which is alcohol, drugs, prescription drugs, nicotine, gambling and risk taking, sex and love addiction, caffeine. That tends to go as a group.

Then the third group is the relationship group either a relationship addiction using other people as if they were the drugs or using one’s self as a drug for other people. Again, I can’t prove that but epidemiologically with suddenly over five thousand patients on that and found that people tend to come into those clusters.  And some people will have one cluster, some people have two, some people have three. I’ve got all three. So there’s no big deal, it just means that I have to be more careful  with my abstinence, but the twelve-step program is identical for all of them, the addictions. So just because I got a whole nest of them doesn’t make it more difficult for me.

Once I start working the program, it’s just the initial abstinence I have to say, “I’m at risk with this, this and this.” So therefore I don’t do those things. “Well, look at the beautiful things I do too. I’ve got a lovely little doggy. I go to the opera. I enjoy my work. I’ve got a lovely relationship with my wife. You’ll have to ask her whether she’s got lovely relationship with me. There’s lots of beautiful things in my life without the addictive substances and processes. I really don’t need them. ”

So, as far as the self-harming is concerned, all addiction is self-harming. It’s all damaging to us and to our families and to our work and to everything else. All addiction is self-harming, but the specific things that people do is not just cutting, just one form of self-harming.

Now, just as there are idiots who will propose a sense of drinking for people who are alcoholics. They can’t drink sensibly that’s why they’re alcoholic. There are people would you believe that provide clean cutting kits. They provide a clean razorblade, clean bandages, so that people can go off and self-harm and they won’t get any damage from it. That sort of attitude I find quite extraordinary that medical people and social people will have that sort of attitude towards an utterly destructive, despairing behaviour.

The twelve-step program is able to deal with all of that and that’s what we try to recommend here. Initially, the simple basis of it is taking our minds off ourselves and reaching out to help somebody else. So, combating the isolation with working in with other people and it’s that process that ultimately gets us better.