First Signs are a UK-based charitable organisation devoted to the prevention, or at least the minimisation of, self-harm. Whilst as regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t really see the big issue with (controlled) self-harm, I can and do admire the work that FS are undertaking. If nothing else, at least they’re raising awareness on the issue – why people self-harm, that most people who do it aren’t dangerous to normals and so on.
However, as you can see from the title this isn’t a post espousing the worthwhile cause of this user-led charity. I am writing in response to this supposed distraction technique. Yes, folks, they are arguing that bringing yourself off is a viable alternative to cutting or burning yourself. Riiiiight.
I read a lot of articles on psychiatry and psychology, much to the detriment of my Twitter followers (not so much on the account allied to this blog), but I rarely feel the need to respond to them. However, I just find this article so ridiculous that in this case I felt compelled to do so.
The first thing that struck me about the piece was that FS had devoted the entire thing to masturbation. I mean, even if you do accept that wanking is a credible alternative to self-harm, it’s not the only distraction technique that exists out there. When C and I first discussed the stupid DBT bullshit way back in week 12 of our therapy, some of the stuff in the material he gave me was devoted to distracting oneself – and, as it happens, masturbation was mentioned (to which I responded with an ‘LOL’ which I know is really rather puerile)…but the difference was, it was only mentioned in passing, as one technique amongst dozens available. No 1,300 word article on this topic per se was deemed to be required.
Personally, I think distraction techniques are all bollocks, but that’s not really the point. The point is, to what extent is masturbation really a viable alternative to self-injury?
FS pose this question:
When you’re urging to hurt yourself, aren’t you looking for a release, and some relief from the emotional distress you’re having trouble coping with?
This basically forms the central tenet of their entire argument as far as I can see. In fact, looking again at the article, it seems to be their only tenet. What a convincing argument they must have if they only have one major thread to their point.
That said, OK – successfully orgasming undoubtedly does relieve tension, and no doubt endorphins are released upon climax just as they are in cutting. But for goodness sake, how obvious is it that it is an entirely different type of release?!
I wrote about the satisfaction, if that’s the correct term, that I get from self-harm in this post a few weeks ago. I suppose my main point was that bloodletting is beautiful because one feels, temporarily, that they are watching their own evil flow away along with their blood.
Which, to be objective, is the only point I really made – but it feeds into the idea that many people will injure themselves as some sort of ritualistic punishment for their perceived inherent evil, or for the self-disgust they feel. I know I have been known to cut for this reason.
Why, then, would I allow myself the satisfaction of a pleasurable activity? If I am a bad person, I need some obvious form of punishment, not a reward, whether that’s sexual or otherwise. Now, satisfaction is undoubtedly garnered from the ‘punishment’ of cutting – but it’s not a premeditated satisfaction (masturbation is in my view, even if a sexual urge comes on one quickly, because it usually has a clear objective that one is trying to meet). And in any case, the satisfaction is, primarily, mental, not physical (which is all masturbation, unless conducted mutually with a partner, can ever be). You are satisfied because you have done what needed to be done to this bad individual; you have hurt them.
Of course, that’s only one aspect of self-harm. One other major function of it is to reorientate oneself when going doolally or, as FS admit, to release some psychic pain in the same circumstances.
Now let me get this straight. When I am going off my head in a mixed state or panic attack, am I seriously going to sit down and analyse distraction techniques (this is why I think they are all complete arse, as discussed here, for example, or there’s always this epic rant specifically about methods of distraction)?! In particular, am I going to think, “Christ, life is so fucking terrible right now…an orgasm would make it better”? Well, maybe it would actually, in an ephemeral sort of way, but would that really be forefront in my mind? The idea, as any one who’s experienced such a state will appreciate, is ludicrous.
All one can think about when going mental is the mentalism. The ‘decision’ to harm, if it can be termed that as it is not always conscious, is almost innate. OK, so sexuality is innate too, but there the comparisons end. Perhaps the reason for the visceral nature of self-harm in these circumstances is simply that its effects are instantaneous (my mantra to C: “it’s quick and it works”). Even if we (erroneously) were to agree that an orgasm can have exactly the same physiological effects as self-harm, time (for most women but I reckon to some extent blokes too) is required. One does not feel like they have time when one is going mental.
Another issue that escapes them, and my aforementioned post on blood being beautiful ties in with this, is that cutting isn’t always about pain or distraction; sometimes it’s about blood. Personally speaking, I love watching the blood. Occasionally I cut only to watch the blood and how it flows. Again, if we make the false assumption that orgasm release = cutting release, where is anything tactile or tangible from that? FS do state that “…masturbation doesn’t cause any physical problems..,” and in doing so of course acknowledge that cutting can and does of course have physical consequences – but, as I said, they miss the point that that can be exactly why it is done in the first place.
Above all, what antagonises me most about this article is how it trivialises the issue of self-injury. Now, I don’t think it’s a big deal if done under controlled circumstances, but neither do I think it can simply be equated as having similar physical and mental properties as something that most people have done in their lives and that is seen, rightly or wrongly, as something to be sniggered about at the back of a classroom.
FS state several times in the article that they fully recognise that self-harm is a serious issue, and to be fair they wouldn’t exist in the first place if they didn’t think so. Nevertheless, singling out masturbation as a distraction technique in this fashion strikes me as counting it as some sort of panacea in a path to recovery from self-harm. That probably wasn’t their aim, and what they have written was clearly with the best of intentions, but it has sadly worked out as over-simplified and utterly ineffective.
It may seem like I’m saying, “fuck distraction techniques, self-harm for the win!” in this and other posts – I am not. This may be what I think for myself, but I would not advocate such for anyone else. One thing FS got right in this article was to remember that everyone is different, and so other cutters / burners / whateverers may find a range of distractions, including this one, effective. To that end may I reiterate that I admire the work that First Signs do; I applaud their very existence.
But wanking is never going to be a viable alternative to the scalpel for me. Sorry folks.