The Politics of Self-Harm

Copyright Jenny

There are many contradictory issues involved in socially sensitive subjects such as self harm. We cannot deny that there are many people in our society today who choose to harm themselves (in various ways) and also that there have always been people like this throughout different histories. Perhaps it is important to consider what the majority’s opinion of this behaviour would be. Probably either fear, disgust, empathy or in very rare cases, an understanding of the issues surrounding self harm, without being a self harmer.

There are, of course, many medical and psychological/cognitive explanations for all the different categorized types of self harm, which can range from burning or cutting the skin, to deep depressions, or paranoia where the person seems to make life extremely difficult for themselves. Also anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are two other examples. Although there are many different theories concerning all types of self harm, and many different variations on the terminology involved, self harm is widely viewed as part of a psychological disorder, or more basically, that there is something wrong with a person. Something is biologically/medically defective and this manifests itself in various types of self harming behaviour(s).

But what if there were nothing wrong with a person, nothing defective or abnormal and this was simply a way of dealing with life’s difficulties. We usually disapprove of, but generally accept alcoholism, drug abuse and other such self abusive activities which help people cope. However, more direct abuse such as cutting or burning etc etc, seems to disturb us more. We seem to be living in a society that can accept many faults, such as violence towards others, prejudice and unequal opportunities but cannot accept a person who privately harms themselves as a way of coping.

Self abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural

Also, today we living in a society obsessed by looks. It is perfectly natural for someone to always pursue the perfect image, and be vain or big headed about how they look, but again we are ultimately more disturbed by someone who does not appreciate the way they look, who is repelled by their own image and wishes for nothing but to change.

Self disgust is self obsession honey, and I do as I please

Again if we carefully consider our own views to a further extent, we generally approve of body piercing, tattooing, etc etc, and yet are disgusted at the thought of someone scarring themselves.

So, the subject is much more complicated than we first imagine, and as with any social/psychological issue there is no right answer and no right way to behave. And as someone is entitled to be entirely disgusted at the thought of even piercing our bodies, any other person is entitled to be unhappy with the way they look and perhaps have such emotional difficulties that they seek comfort and peace of mind by hurting their bodies.

Many psychological theories will try to explain WHY people harm themselves, and indeed it is an intriguing question. Why would anyone want to hurt or scar their bodies? What could drive them to this? The answers vary but commonly mention personal influences, family, friends, state of mind or the way we think. However, there is another issue and that is the view of self harm that is held by society. There is little understanding of the issue compared to, for example anorexia or bulimia, and many misconceptions. Mainly, people are disturbed by this behaviour, disgusted at the actions of people who self harm and frightened by their scars. So how would this make a self harmer feel… if they are not aware of the issues surrounding self harm, and do not know of anyone else who does this, and realises the opinion held by most of society this will make dealing with their problems very very difficult. Hopefully we will soon reach a time where there is more of an understanding of self harm and less of a taboo surrounding the subject. Soon we might see organisations that seek to help self harmers, run by those who have self harmed or who understand the issues involved.

Self harm is NOT just a psychological issue, it is also, along with many other psychological “difficulties”, a sociological issue. Self harm is obviously not an ideal way of behaving. Many people who do abuse themselves would gladly stop their behaviour if they could be happy. But we will never be able to stop people being depressed, or being abused, or being controlled, and so self harm will continue to be used by people who depend on it to survive.

Maybe you agree that society should be more understanding and accepting of people who abuse themselves, or maybe you are still disgusted at the behaviour, but it is a basic human RIGHT to treat your body as you wish, dress as you wish etc etc, and everyone should respect this right in other people.

Perhaps you hold many stereotypes of people who self harm, but the truth is they are often happy, outgoing people who occasionally feel the need to privately harm themselves in some way, be it cutting or burning or starving, in order to help them cope. They will usually not impose this on anyone and do not ask anyone’s approval, and will ask you, if my private behaviour helps me cope and harms no-one else, why shouldn’t I do it?

No-one could be accused of glamourising the subject, it is not something that can be glamourised, it is always a personal choice by a person to harm themselves and they would only do it if it helps them. If people oppose it, they will not do it, even if they are depressed. They may drink, or eat, or not eat instead… everyone has their own ways of surviving, and hopefully, soon enough society will recognise this and enlighten everyone as to the issues involved.

Until then we can only respect each other’s views and ways of living — but think about the subject and clarify your views.


Permanent location: