Why my BDSM is not a form of self-harm (trigger warning)

Disclaimer: There is no such thing as a universal experience of mental illness. The content of this post refers specifically to me, and should not be held as representative of everyone with clinical depression.

A lot of perverts of around my generation had some kind of awakening upon watching the film Secretary. For those who don’t know, a potted summary: Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a chronic self-harmer, finds a new kind of release in BDSM.

Secretary helped me to identify my sexual preferences (in more ways than one – Maggie Gyllenhaal was the first female celebrity I openly admitted I was attracted to). However, its depiction of the intersection between BDSM and self-harm is hella problematic.

I am a depressive and a recovering self-harmer. I have not self-injured in 4 months to the day. As I type this, my arms are covered in bruises and rope-marks from a tricky suspension and a fairly vicious hojojutsu session. These two things are not related.

For me, self-harm is one of two things: an act of self-hatred, or externalising emotional pain. Wounds are reassuring, because they heal, and if the wounds on the outside can heal, maybe the ones on the inside can too. Pain can help to make the noise in my head subside during a particularly bad episode. Sometimes I just want to hurt myself because that’s all I deserve.

Fundamentally, I do not self-injure because I enjoy pain. That’s the realm of SM. If I am tempted to engage in SM as a replacement for self harm, I am doing it for the wrong reasons, and I am self-aware enough to isolate myself if I have to.

SM can be a tool to manage the urge to self-harm. It is not, and should never be, a substitute for self-harm. If you wield SM against yourself as a tool of self-hatred, you are almost certainly doing it with the wrong person and for the wrong reasons.

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4 thoughts on “Why my BDSM is not a form of self-harm (trigger warning)

  1. Hi, I’m a (former? I’ve done it on and off for several years) self-harmer too and very much into SM. I have a slightly different perspective on the two in that I don’t generally see self-harm (for myself) as particularly negative, but as a neutral coping mechanism. (It’s the feelings behind it that are negative.)

    All this: “Wounds are reassuring, because they heal, and if the wounds on the outside can heal, maybe the ones on the inside can too. Pain can help to make the noise in my head subside during a particularly bad episode,” applies to me w/r/t SM as well as self-harm. I agree that engaging in BDSM because you hate youself is a pretty bad idea. But engaging in it for the above reasons is something I have done and would do again – it’s a coping mechanism, too, but a more positive one, in that it allows me to reach out to someone else & be taken care of.

    Just my 2p. I’m about to go and read some more of your blog now.

    • It sounds to me like your attitude to your self-harm impulse is healthier and more considered than mine. Congratulations on that.

      With the right person and in the right state of mind, I think SM is as good a tool for self-harm management as any other. The crucial difference, for me, is whether my desire for SM-type pain is constructive (part of the bond, a way of dragging myself into the present moment and the love that my partner is surrounding me with as it’s happening) or destructive (“I am bad and I should feel bad”). Does this make sense to you?

      If you feel able to share, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts. This post followed on from a mildly distressing conversation with someone and is essentially an attempt to get all my ducks in a row in the aftermath.

  2. Thank you for having the strength to share this personal journey, Self harm doesn’t mean you hate yourself, nor does it mean that you enjoy the pain, its simply how you have come to deal with the pain so deeply trapped inside you…..hugs Angel

    • Thanks for reading 🙂

      As I say up top, different people self-harm for different reasons. I most definitely do self-harm because I hate myself, which is why I feel it’s important to make the distinction between that and SM for myself, and to make the distinction clear to the people I play with.

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