Ableists to Self-Harmer: “Poor You”

I just read an ‘article‘ of sorts discussing research on the ‘typical’ self-injurer. Result: this random, rushed and frustrated commentary before I dash to the airport:

While there are definitely many who fit some or all of the descriptors mentioned, this research data (from ONE source) most likely came from populations seeking help leaving no representation of people who are not self destructive or disempowered and also practice or cope with self harm. And, what is so horrible about having to pick yourself up now and then? The source website is called “secret shame: you are not the only one” yet wrapped in its attempts of empowerment are repeated points of “oh, we are so sad and self-harming. look at how pathetic we are.” Bullshit.

Speaking as someone in the field of mental health who also has a history with self harm, this is a load of privileged, oppressive crap that feeds the stigma and ‘pity factor’ of mental health conditions. What is being described in this article is depression, not self harm. Sometimes people who practice self-harm are depressed, but sometimes they are not. Many people with self-harm histories are perfectly empowered, many empowered about their self-harm to where it is a positive coping mechanism for them. I’ll be honest; I still struggle with the negative parts of self-harm, but I never tell anyone about it because of articles like this one, that paint people like me as impulsive people who are incapable of having their shit together, deserving pity and ‘help’ with traditional, conformative pathologization.

No one has their shit together all the time, and the expectation for everyone to be shiny and happy constantly is both oppressive and unrealistic. We aren’t robots. (at least I’m not one, no hate for robots). The concept  that self-harm = bad feeds stigmas not just on self-harm and mental variance in the more “traditional” sense but also BDSM and related sexual variances, all listed in the DSM as a mental disorder or paraphilia. It is this social construct that is disempowering, that leaves us to feel ashamed. If we could recognize that this experience is part of many people’s realities then we would be getting somewhere.  Either way, there is no lack of legitimacy of experience here, nor is there any reason for us to pity ourselves or others about it. Pity does not lead to empowerment.

(sorry if there are typos. no time to edit right now!)

6 comments

  • musingsofacmlife

    Not to mention the fact that a good portion of us that “self harm” keep it hidden from even our closest friends. Not I’m not going to say that this next statement is true for all people who self harm but it is true for some of us.

    It is not a show for others to see, its private and personal, something done in moments only when necessary to prevent ourselves from becoming so irrational that we more than seriously hurt or kill ourselves.

    -MCML

  • Ummm, I am no expert but even I know that “self-harm” involves a serious pathology.

    There is a reason people inflict harm on themselves and though their logic for inflicting such harm may seem perfectly normal to them, they (the reasons) are anything but normal or logical. It is the perfect example of negative energy turning on itself and an illegitimate channel of expression.

    Guilt is a normal emotional expression that teaches us humility in our actions and is a means of guiding us in learning to correctly express ourselves. And punishment is also a natural consequence of our actions within “normal” parameters. “Normal” parameters, about which you may think what you may, are absolutely necessary in establishing a standard by which all may co-exist in some relative degree of harmony. It’s normal to argue with someone and perhaps hold a grudge. It is not normal to argue with someone and then shoot them because you disagree. A standard must be established.

    Inflicting physical harm on oneself bypasses the logical components of guilt and punishment and pushes one into pathological behavior, which is unhealthy to say the least and not standard or normal. Surely, we can “beat ourselves up” over something but again, to actually do that involves bypassing “normal” parameters. Unfortunately when you do this, you are entering unchartered territory and open to unpredictable consequences.

    • Thomas,
      First, I challenge this concept of normal being required for harmony. According to this culture, I am not a normal person, I am not a normal man, not a normal transperson… Yet I am able to live a satisfying life. “Normal” has nothing to do with my “harmony.” Normalcy is subjective. Cultural normalcy is nothing short of oppressive because it demands an unrealistic uniformity from a diverse population. Psychopathology in and of itself is not based on science, but personal experience and cultural conceptions of what behavior is SUPPOSED to be. If someone is suffering, then they should be helped, but what about when someone is not suffering when they supposedly should be? Who decides what “quality of life” is? Self harm as a practice, contrary to title, is not always an act of self-punishment. Many people and cultures use cutting and scarring as a self-affirming action. You say you are not an expert, but in addition to my professional background actually being psychology, I have my personal experience and knowledge that we live in an ablist society. To make over-arching statements that people with depression, people who do self harm, people who have disabilities, have a lessened quality of life simply because their life doesn’t look like what we think a ‘normal’ is, is really oppressive, problematic, and fucked up. The uncharted territory here is not what is outside the bounds of “normal.” It is the privilege of those who believe in “normal” because they continually fail to check it and themselves.

  • Wow, intense and angry! I am 43 years old and at no point in my life has anyone ever described me as normal. I’ve been called weird, not normal, unusual, different, eccentric, freak, blah, blah, blah. I have had a problem with depression my entire life (being gay and black does not help :)

    Yet, within this framework I intellectually comprehend the utilitarian nature of “normalcy” and a “standard”, not as a cultural, psychological, or emotional dictatorship, as you seem to imply but as a simple matter of efficacy.

    I am assuming you understand the difference between order and chaos and the utilitarian nature of order over chaos when trying to accomplish something. Do you recall the incident at the Tower of Babel? When the people could speak as one with a unified tongue their efforts were unified and cohesive. But when God disrupted that unity by dividing them by making them speak different languages they dispersed unable to complete their ambition because there was no “standard” no “normal” means of communicating the unified vision they had. Thus, chaos ensued and the project was abandoned.

    ‘Tis true enough, “normal” people make fun of, mock and taunt those of us perceived as not normal. But this is within a personal framework, not universal. I can tell you are tangled up in this as I once was and hence the appearance of what seems to be anger and resentment when you feel your “type” is being affronted or accosted by “normal” assertions, assumptions, etc.

    And how could you possibly say, “Psychopathology in and of itself is not based on science, but personal experience and cultural conceptions of what behavior is SUPPOSED to be.” With a professional background in psychology surely you understand the role science has played in psychology, which has relentlessly sought to legitimize itself to the other sciences. The modes and methods by which psychology and its branches asserts itself is through the empirical methods. We can talk about subjective data (emotions and feelings and sensitivity and impressions) until the cows come home, they are “legitimized” by things like the DSM manual and other quantitative methods, all empirical in nature, not subjective (subjective complaints have to quantified).

    And finally, “To make over-arching statements that people with depression, people who do self harm, people who have disabilities, have a lessened quality of life simply because their life doesn’t look like what we think a ‘normal’ is, is really oppressive, problematic, and fucked up.” You have revealed in this statement that you have intense issue with are and how you view the world. I never made such statements and if you drew those conclusions from my simple statement that ““Normal” parameters, about which you may think what you may, are absolutely necessary in establishing a standard by which all may co-exist in some relative degree of harmony,” I am sorry.

    It is never easy being unique in your time and space, but it’s even worse when you are out of harmony with your time and space. We can be ourselves and still “fit in” (not in the socialogical sense but the universal) which is what I have learned. I used to celebrate and relish my uniqueness, if you will, but grew tired of the lack of harmony in and around my life. So I have/am learning to “fit in” and life is much more beautiful.

    People will always be asses and attempt to make the lives of others difficult whom they consider outcasts but the “victims” give them this power. They/We must learn to take it back while at the same time giving back the anger and resentment.
    Thank you for this post.

    • Thomas,
      there are a lot of assumptions in your response, and we all know what happens when people make assumptions. ;) I would suggest in future arguments to avoid making assumptions about others experiences and stick to “I” statements about your own experience, which is essential in creating a safe space for dialogue. The DSM has brought legitimacy to many conditions, but also created many conditions that would otherwise not be pathologized without a cultural lens, such as borderline personality, gender identity disorder, and most sexual paraphilias. In many diagnosis, the science behind it was nothing more than psychopathologists theorizing without data and without taking societal elements and oppressions into account. One of the many reasons why social psychology is so important.

      I agree that the victim mentality is not a place of empowerment, which is what this post is about. Challenging normalcy is an important part of deconstructing the society we live in and challenging the lot we have been given. It is about owning our own experiences and not allowing others or society to put us down, even if they assume to know our experiences or don’t recognize the importance of being true to ourselves no matter how hard it gets.

      thanks for reading!

  • Lol, thanks for posting!

Leave a Reply