Dysfunction, Is It Our Addiction?

By Susan Mansfield 05/28/15

Despite the dysfunction of our current circumstances, I am determined to reclaim the dreams of my family and myself.

Susan Mansfield

The term addiction is defined as: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity. Synonyms are: dependency, craving, habit, weakness, compulsion, fixation, enslavement. When I think about the biggest benefit an addict has when using, I would have to guess it is the immediate satisfaction they feel from the high, but the high may come from a variety of substances or behaviors. Most common addictions society thinks of, are of course drug and/or alcohol addiction, yet there are so many other types. On Wikipedia, it did surprise me the types of addiction they refer to: substances, gambling, eating disorders, cellphone use, Internet/computer use, tanning and exercise. In my opinion there are so many other behaviors that can become an addiction, but the one I want to focus on is not the one that led me to write my blog in the first place (substances) but rather, I would like to consider self-harm as an addiction, which many organizations have already acknowledged it as such.

On the Addiction Care website, they offer help from a far more extensive range of addictions.They cover alcohol and drugs but also: gambling, sex, co-dependency, eating disorders/compulsive over-eating/bulimia, spending, exercise, Internet/gaming, work, and self-harm. On the website they explain that:

"Self-harming does make people feel better; the act releases endorphins, a brain chemical, which can bring on a sense of well-being and relaxation. Self-harm can be a way to get a release from intense emotions that can seem overwhelming and impossible to survive. A self-harmer might typically cut, burn or scratch themselves. The objective of self-harm might be to quell intense rage or anger or even to distract themselves from other physical pain."

Self-harming becomes addictive because there is a feel good factor. It appears to work. But, of course, the need to cause injury to oneself escalates.

I sometimes think that my daughter's self-harming is her addiction and she is getting the same sort of release from her self-harming as my son gets from substances. She started self-harming when her brother lived here and there was a lot of chaos and anger in the home. She has continued off and on, though, and many times we think she has "overcome" this problem, she then begins again. Her self-harming started with scratching her head until it bled, then cutting, and then she began burning herself. The marks and scars on her are many.

I was the most distressed by the burning since it eventually left large scabs that she would then pick. After the burning, blistering, healing, picking, process, she would be left with these marks/scabs that resembled craters. No matter how many times I would search her room for sharp objects and matches, she would find a way, especially since all she would need is to break the blade out of a pencil sharpener from her school bag to start cutting again. I would hide knives, matches, scissors, etc., but it got to the point where I would feel it is never enough because there will always be something I had not thought of. Even if there were no "tools" to harm herself with, she always had her fingernails to scratch the bloody skin off of her scalp. Just as my son would always find a way of getting his hands on any substance that would sedate him.

I understand how this could be classed as an addiction and interestingly enough my daughters behavior at home is much like her brother's was in the sense that they seem to have addictive personality-type behaviors. I am referring to some behaviors/feelings that fit into addictive personality traits such as:

  • Need for immediate gratification, 
  • Low self-worth.
  • Mood swings.
  • Social alienation and loneliness.
  • Constant stress and/or anxiety.    
  • Inability to control impulsive behavior.

Also, her behavior with me when she wants something is very much like the behavior of her brother, an addict. She can be extremely:

  • Manipulative.
  • Controlling.
  • Dishonest.
  • Angry and threatening.
  • Relentless.

Then I began to realize that my daughter also seems to have a lot of attention-seeking behaviors as well, but in a completely different way to my son's. Of course, both my son and daughter craved attention and love and acceptance in one way or another, as all human beings do. Sometimes seeking other people's attention and approval can manifest into a disorder as well. One of the theorized characteristics of people with attention-seeking disorder is that they also look for immediate gratification in situations. In relationships they tend to use emotional manipulation on one level but displaying dependency on another level. There are many incidences when my daughter's behavior is not in the realm of an attention-seeking disorder, but is most definitely a young person trying to get attention! Of course, we can also argue that the reason much of my daughter's behavior mimics my son's is due to learnt behavior or possibly even genetics.

Some people may argue that most of my concerns for what my daughter does or has done is all attention seeking. Self-harm, an overdose suicide attempt (which she immediately induced vomiting), complaining of constant pains and generally feeling unwell, issues revolving around food and eating, refusing to go to school, changing her mind on her sexuality more than once, refusing to cover up her neck and chest when covered in hickies, and others. Writing them down, I feel it unlikely that they are all attention-seeking behaviors, but some I feel are. As I said, though there are people out there, both professionals and laypeople who I know would shake it all off as attention seeking.

Maybe the simple truth is that my children, the first two in particular, grew up in a dysfunctional family which impacted their self-esteem and sense of self-worth which lead them to seek gratification in less traditional or socially acceptable ways. Perhaps, they both suffer from the lack of a positive male role model and in fact rather than having no male role model, their role model negatively affected their emotional development. Alongside this, there was little, if any, extended family or social support system to help offer these children guidance, love and acceptance.

In addition, the main female role model was emotionally and financially controlled, and though she loved and praised her children it was not enough to alleviate the tensions and inequalities within the family. Perhaps, her self-doubt and frustrations overshadowed her attempts to be a positive and loving mother. Perhaps, these children, a product of an unhealthy and, to some extent, forced union, were just confused and ill prepared for life and they have tried to help themselves along in the only ways they found that worked for them.

Whatever the twisted and complex reasons behind who and what we are, we may never be privy to why we have become this way— in some ways it is irrelevant. I can only try to help myself become a better person, stopping bad habits and fears and insecurities influence me and rather seek out positive people and positive solutions to better my life and my children's lives as well. I must try to stop the cycle of negative learnt behavior and dysfunction. I will continue to love them and support as well as become frustrated with them and even angry with them, but at the end of the day I want them to learn that they are worth it and they deserve happiness and a healthier way of life. Maybe we have all become used to and addicted to dysfunction since it has been our way of life for so long, but it is not what I am compelled to do, it is not my natural self. I long for a life in which I can truly be myself,  living with the family I feel robbed of. Dysfunction and addiction have messed up my plan, damn it, and I want to find the power to reclaim my dream and make my kids believe in dreams, too!

Susan Mansfield is a single mother of three children, the oldest of whom is an alcoholic and drug addict. She writes about her experiences of how living with an addict affects us all in many ways. Susan grew up in America but now lives in the UK. Read more in her blog.

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Susan Mansfield is a single mother of three children, the oldest of whom is an alcoholic and drug addict. She writes about her experiences of how living with an addict affects us all in many ways. Susan grew up in America but now lives in the UK. Read more in her blog.