It is an interesting question isn’t it? One which has been around since ages past and one which will no doubt be around for ages to come.
It is also a question which I think those of us who self-harm should consider at some time or another in respect of our self-harming behaviour.
Self-harming is something which is entering more and more into our public awareness and in the main doing so in a positive way. This is without doubt a good thing. Too long has it gone unrecognized and misunderstood and in truth far too long has it and those who suffer from it been treated with stigma and condemnation.
But we need to be careful don’t we?
There is in life and human nature – especially corporate or collective human nature – , or so it seems to me, something I like to call the pendulum effect.
The pendulum effect is basically an over-compensation in response to a given situation and it is, I would suggest visible, in so much of our history. Many of our laws have evolved through a process of over-compensation before settling to a more rational and appropriate state.
Recently I and at least one other follower (that I know of) of this blog have been following a piece on self-harming where it would appear that the suggestion is that we view self-harming as an ‘authentic’, ‘spiritual awakening’ or a ‘life journey’ or a ‘rite of passage’ . This has all the potential markings of such a pendulum effect
I cannot begin to describe how deeply concerned and disturbed I am over this approach and since that approach is now ‘out there’ in the ‘blogosphere’ I think it is important that an opposing and alternative view be ‘out there’ also.
So let’s look at each of those in turn…
Let me nail my colours to the mast here. I am a Christian and as such I fully believe that there is a spiritual aspect to all things. Likewise I freely and fully accept that in some cases the cause behind a person feeling the need to resort to self-harm may at it’s core be spiritually based. However, is this an ‘awakening’? Well not in my understanding it isn’t!
Could it be a call or even a cause to spiritual awakening? Absolutely, but the truth is that I cannot view it as a spiritual awakening unless the spiritual aspect of it is actually explored.
The word ‘journey’ suggests a process. Its very meaning is a ‘defined course’. But I think we need to be very careful here. If I were to write an auto-biography of my life (to map my journey thus far) it is certainly true that my struggle with self-harming would feature as a part of that journey. BUT is a part of that journey that I should have taken and is it part of that journey that I HAD to take.
The answer to both of those questions is of course NO and actually the fact remains that in terms of my journey (and I would suggest the journey of most people who have struggled with self-harm) it is a part which did more harm than good – but then the clue is pretty much in the term isn’t it?
Which leads me neatly to the next part…
‘Rite of passage’
The term rite of passage was I think originally used by Arnold Van Gennep – a French anthropologist and nowadays is used more commonly to signify ‘A ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person’s life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood’.
Ok so again I can see the tenuous link here BUT again I have major problems with this. As we have already demonstrated yes this can feature as part of an episode or episodes in someone’s life but it is important that we see the ‘rite’ or ‘ritual’ part in the context of it being a series of actions or a type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone and not as something ‘glorious’ or ‘noble’ or even ‘acceptable’
Which I think brings me to the last part and possibly the key part of all this – that suggested ‘authenticity‘
It is here that I want to be as clear as I can possibly be in all of this. I truly struggle with this label – what is meant or implied by it?
Accurate? Reliable? Right? Factual? Proper? Appropriate? Responsible?
Are we really suggesting that these apply to the act of self-harming?
Please do not get me wrong here. I am not disputing the authenticity of the feelings, emotions, or thoughts which can result in a response of self-harming I am simply disputing the ‘authenticity’ of the response itself.
I started this piece with the title and question, “Does the end justify the means?” and it is, in the opinion of this writer, a very pertinent and extremely important question for those of us who struggle with self-harm.
Whilst it is a very simplistic answer I would have to say that the end justifies the means ONLY where no better alternative means or end are available.
And there within lies the truth doesn’t it? The fact is when it come to self-harming in the majority of cases a better alternative is available to us.
I struggle with self-harm. I make no secret of that fact.
Thankfully, I have over time been able to find alternative coping mechanisms, redressed and righted the altered or wrong perceptions that have caused these responses in me or addressed and righted the situations and circumstances in my life which were also causing them.
I understand why I self-harmed and still sometimes still get the urge to self-harm BUT I do not justify, validate or authenticate that behaviour because to do so is both wrong and harmful in itself.
The truth is there are better alternative means and less harmful ways of dealing with things and the truth is that self-harming can have serious and long lasting effects which all too often lead to greater distress, discomfort or problems in life.
If that pendulum I spoke of earlier, in respect of self-harming swings from that place of condemnation, stigma, and ridicule to a place of understanding and appropriate response then I for one am all for it and afterall isn’t that the main purpose of this blog?
BUT the minute it swings too far the other way to a place where the self-harming behavior itself becomes acceptable then I think we are in a very dubious and dangerous area indeed. Because then we are neither endorsing nor encouraging nor enabling the healing but instead we are endorsing, encouraging and enabling a wrong and harmful response.
If you personally struggle with self-harming or know of someone who struggles with it please know that there is help out there and please feel free to get in touch via the comment section below.