Most resources will tell you that people who self-harm are seeking emotional relief by self-inflicting pain. Through the presence of pain sensations on your physical level, nerves send signals to the brain and take the mental energy or mental focus away from the intense emotional disturbance from mental issues that one is dealing with. The desired result is that mental energy is pulled back to the “here and now”, preventing a fall deeper into the darkness.
The UK support group Minds defines it this way on their website:
Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, old memories, or overwhelming situations and experiences. The ways you hurt yourself can be physical, such as cutting yourself. They can also be less obvious, such as putting yourself in risky situations, or not looking after your own physical or emotional needs.
Ways of self-harming can include:
• cutting yourself
• poisoning yourself
• over-eating or under-eating
• burning your skin
• inserting objects into your body
• hitting yourself or walls
• exercising excessively
• scratching and hair pulling
This is certainly true of MANY people who self-harm, but in the BDSM community some people identify as masochists. Are masochists seeking the same thing if they self-harm?
BOYDENON’S STORY – CHILDHOOD
i believe i have had a strong submissive nature since young. As a kid, i derived sexual pleasure from bondage and torment – especially POW scenes on the TV. As i grew up, i journied deeper into depression and PTSD.
i started to use a screw driver to scratch my skin, in order to “feel the world” again. It got particularly bad at night and i’d fear the loneliness and introspection that came after sunset. When i discovered how to connect to Doms on the internet in my last years of school, i would send out mass messages looking for a human connection.
BOYDENON’S STORY – FIRST YEAR OF UNIVERSITY
When i moved to a new city to start university, where i knew no-one, all my demons came out to haunt me every time the sun went down.
i would send out mass messages on the gay fetish cruising app Recon, asking people to come to me and stay with me, or tie me up. i presenting myself as a desperate horny boy to attract partners, but actually i was seeking guys to assist me in a kind of self-harm. Or, perhaps it wasn’t purely self-harm but something in the middle of self-harm and masochism. It’s hard to know where the line is drawn.
It was very confusing for me back then, i was desperate for intimate and lasting human connection with others through intense pain sessions, but i found that for most other kinksters out there, pain is a form of sexual pleasure and so their idea of a good time was not the ideal i had in my head. mine was not a sexual drive (and it became less and less so as the year went on). i was struggling with mental issues and i was desperate for human connection, emotional relief or really just for someone to give me a fucking hug. In my search, I’d continuously be looking for someone into bondage, and ask if they were willing to tie me up for the night. i just wanted to be tied up so i could sleep without feeling panic for the whole night.
As the year went on, the cycle of seeking something and not finding it took me deeper and deeper into depression. i lost any spark of hope of finding what i was looking for, and began feeling like nothing would ever work. i began to view everyone as being too busy with their own lives to spend any time with me, let alone give a damn. my view of the world became “everyone is working for themselves, and people who are born with a lovely family will live lovely lives, and no-one’s really ever going to care about me”.
For me, plain BDSM pleasure had merged with deeper self-harm/depression.
It’s not over for me. It still happens occasionally when i am alone with myself, but at least i’m clear now on what is happening and i know it’s delusional and try to combat it with a different perception of the reality.
WHY DID I SELF-HARM?
i remember these were a few things i was desperately seeking when i was trapped in the darkness of emotions:
- looking for potential care-giver in BDSM context
i would push for intense pain sessions, so i could be broken down and lifted up again. Soon i discovered that this is almost impossible to find, as everyone i met was looking for one thing – sexual pleasure – and no-one had the time to slow down and figure out what was going on and what i needed.
- looking for someone to just “stay with me through the night”
i sent out mass messages to ask people to come to my house and stay with me for the night, or asking them to invite me to their house, so i would have a companion. It turned out that everyone was looking for sex, and i got myself into some serious “rape- type” situations.
- looking for potential self-harm assistant in BDSM context
FINDING HEALTHIER WAYS TO FEEL
Self harm thoughts were my constant companion for a long time, and when i became aware of that i tried to channel the urge into healthier alternatives.
Exercise was a good alternative to self-harm. i remember i didn’t have appetite to eat anything in my everyday life, and there were times where i was so hungry and i swam in the pool to the stage where i was about to faint. And then i went to get some food. It really helped to reduce my urge for self-harm, but the core part of what i was looking for — being loved — was still missing.
A method that i wish i knew when i was depressed is the Ice Cube Method. you hold an ice cube in your palm to act as alternative for cutting.
SELF HARM VERSUS (BDSM) MASOCHISM
This is a hotly discussed topic in the BDSM community, and i can give you my opinion, but there’s no definitive answer. i would say that self harm can be very different from masochism, even if self-harm is “carried out by others in BDSM context”, because it comes from a different motivation.
Although masochism is often associated with submission, it’s not necessarily or always the case, and the goal (for the masochist) is not necessarily subspace. It is pain. Some masochists are not interested in being “dominated” or enslaved by a Master or being rendered powerless, and only accept bondage, for example, to ensure some safety if they feel their movement may imperil them.
The masochistic response to pain is nearly universal in humans. It is a reprocessing of pain signals into other types of readings of that pain signal and it can be everything from extreme sexual arousal to ecstasy.
So, it’s really necessary to look at the reasons for self-harming. If it’s masochistic self-pleasure, then self-harm and seeking a session of pain with a Sadist are really motivated by the same urge.
Self harm is not necessarily masochistic though. It often comes from an emotional need to use physical pain to distract from mental pain.
MentalHelp.net lists six reasons why people self-injure:
People self-injure in order to:
- distract themselves, alter the focus of their attention, or regain control over their minds when experiencing pressing, unavoidable and overwhelming feelings or thoughts
- release tension associated with strong emotions or overwhelming thoughts
- feel something physical when they are otherwise dissociated and numb
- express themselves or communicate and/or document strong emotions they are feeling and cannot otherwise articulate
- punish themselves
- experience a temporary but intense feeling of euphoria that occurs in the immediate aftermath of self-harm
It’s not our place here to say “don’t self-harm” (and would it make any difference if we did?).
But, whether you are motivated by pleasure or by anguish, there may be benefit to finding a Sadist top that you trust, who understands your limits. Playing with others can have a very positive effect on one’s psyche and also keep extreme masochists out of trouble. The presence of more than one person’s judgment (as to the dangers of play) sometimes results in the top’s not allowing the play to go beyond their limits despite the bottom’s insistence on heavier play than is healthy.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
If you self-harm, what is your motivation? Do you think self-harm and masochistic play with another person could be interchangeable? And have you looked for healthier alternatives?
We’d love to hear from you!
• Seani Love – Self Harm and BDSM
• FetLife – Kinksters with BPD: Masochism vs. Self Harm? And bringing kink to a therapist
• HuffPost – 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
• Mayo Clinic – Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms