I am a lot more comfortable owning the part of me that has manic-depression than the part of me that self-harmed. My body is littered with scars and some of them are hefty in size and not possible to hide. I'm often asked how I get them and nine times out of ten - I make a story up. I do so more to protect other peple's feelings as I don't want to make them feel uncomfortable but in saying that, if I feel I'm making someone uncomfortable, then I feel very uncomfortable (which for me is guilty) so I am really protecting my feelings. I have been told by more than one person that it makes them feel uncomfortable when I talk about it. But as my mentor once told me
No one has the power to make me feel anything. I make my choices, consciously or otherwise. My emotions are mine, they originate in me, and you can’t make me feel anything. If I say you do, then I am in a projection of some kind. That’s not necessarily bad or wrong. But it’s different from saying ‘you make me feel sad/bad/mad!’. If I do, then I am giving my power away and responsibility for my emotional reality
Self-harming is in my judgment, slightly disturbing and I was certainly disturbed state of mind whenever I did. upon reflection I feel a lot of compassion for that part of me that did know how to cope so managed this illness anyway I could. In many ways, self-harm was me taking care of myself and therefore, me loving myself. Some might say that to state self-harm is a form of self-care is absurd. However, all human behaviour has a benefit to us otherwise we wouldn't do it - even with actions that can cause harm or are detrimental to us in the long run. The trick is is to find out what we get or what we want and then to find a healthier way of getting the same thing. Most of the time that means asking for support and being open and honest, however much of a risk that may take.
I feel like I am writing in order to delay copying and pasting the article I wrote and there is still part of me that desperately wants to try and justify to you this part of me.. but fuck it, i'll take the risk and reckon than the only judges that I really fear are my own!
Reflections on self-harming
I live in a society where there has been a 118% increase in young male suicide in a ten year period, in which men account for 80% of suicides and where the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 35 is suicide. Similar patterns exist in debt, gambling, alcohol and drug dependency; violent and anti-social behaviour and the category I fell under – self-harm. I live in a society where I struggle to define myself as a man and where I am stigmatised and shamed because I self-harmed. I live in a society where much of this is going un-noticed as we’d much rather talk about other things - the increase in road accident related deaths makes front page news, but the increase in mental illness related deaths does not. I live in a society where most men suffer in silence as they cannot talk candidly, with authenticity about their emotions; where men are not given the emotional tools to cope with the pressure of our “must have culture” in a post-feminist world and where there is a crisis of masculinity as boys struggle to define themselves as “who they are” for they do not know what it is to become a man amongst men.
I fist began self-harming when I was 19 years old. I had just returned back from America having been powerless to stop someone close being raped and then having the ordeal of being treated as a suspect - after having the summer of my life working as part of the Camp America programme. This was a traumatic ordeal in its own right, yet it had the added trauma of re-surfacing my own ordeal of being sexually abused as a child. I was lost in a tormented emotional abyss and all I felt was pain, sadness, anger and grief. I did not feel like a man as I had failed in my duty as a man to protect our women, I felt less of a man because I had been abused by another man and I felt like a weak man for I could not contain my emotions and “stay strong”.
I felt such shame, disgust and anger at the image that looked back at me in the mirror one night that I vented all of these feelings back at the mirror, demolishing it and cutting my hands in the process. The pain served as release and a relief as the physical pain masked the emotional pain that I was desperately trying to run away from. I was effectively punishing my body as I hated myself. We are given very little emotional literacy if any at all, and therefore I did not have the emotional tools to cope. We are socialised into believing that there is a quick fix for every problem, yet I could find no solution to my problem and this only caused me more stress and more shame. When I did try and reach out I was told to “try and cheer up” or “go out and have a good time”. We live in a talk show culture where we are quick to judge and quick to advice. However, with emotions; when we try to fix, we are actually putting away our problems and according to James Hillman, author of ‘The Souls Code’ – ‘desperation grows worse when we seek ways out of despair’.
I also live in a society where we are taught that sadness, fear and anger are “bad” emotions that we should endeavour not to feel. Self-harming was a medium in which I tried to cope with my emotional pain, and not feeling at all became my coping strategy for my self-harming. However, our emotions, particularly anger, give us a tremendous amount of energy and by disconnecting myself from my emotions, I became lifeless - this is when my depression set in. I became a catatonic zombie of my former self and ironically, self-harm became a medium in which I could feel something, for I didn’t really feel anything at all! No matter where I ran, my problems caught up with me and it is only through confronting them face on, that I have any hope of healing the wounds that run so deep.
I still feel a tremendous amount of shame about my self-harming, but this shame largely exists not just because of society’s attitudes to self-harming, but to men and their emotions in general. I don’t see myself as being to different from most any longer though –.everywhere I look, I see troubled men acting inappropriately to themselves or on others. A weekend of binge-drinking causes more damage to ones body that I ever did by cutting or burning myself and how many fights are started or relationships ended after a night out on the town? That which we hide, suppress or deny will trip us up by manifesting in our behaviour and actions, often for the worse than had we actually confronted them.
‘Lads Mags’ are a perfect example of what Susan Faludi, in her book ‘Stiffed’ calls “ornamental culture – where the glorification of consumption has created new breed of role models that personify the notion that the model of masculinity we should aspire to is having it all. The most famous role model in British society is David Beckham - is championed for his looks, wealth, and sporting talent and cherished by his club for his ability to sell t-shirts. Successful men are now successful brands in which ‘ordinary’ men have the opportunity to buy into rather than look up to. Thoreau stated ‘The mass of men lead lives of desperation’ for they measure themselves in terms of what they own and in today’s society, what they look like rather than their spiritual gifts. Boys are taught to value thinking and distrust feelings, to endure pain without complaint from an early age; effectively teaches them to disconnect and alienate from their emotional self. Men, therefore, become emotionally isolated and as a result are more prone to employing inappropriate coping behaviour and lashing out as they struggle with that which they have been taught isn’t appropriate – feeling and sharing our pain. Men build psychic iron curtains and false personas to hide their true selves which prevent them from forming intimate and authentic relationships with their peers and women. The solution to this problem which should be addressed is the process of preparing boys into men through mentoring and initiation.
Men need an environment in which they do not feel they have to suffer in silence, where they can talk candidly with authenticity about their emotions, whey they are given emotional tools and where they are taught respect, community, loyalty, integrity and accountability. Historically, it was believed that a boy becomes a man only through ritual and effort and only through the active intervention of older men. Manhood doesn’t happen itself and it certainly doesn’t happen when we are old enough to legally get lashed on our 18th birthday. Robert Bly, author of Iron John believes that the active intervention of older men is needed to welcome the younger man into the ancient, mythologized, instinctive male world. The boys in our culture have a continuing need for initiation into manhood and into the male spirit, but generally, this isn’t offered to boys. There are such organisations, such as The Quest, Mankind Project and even Alcoholics Anonymous which do offer a space for initiation and mentoring, yet they are not widespread enough.
The problem of young men acting inappropriately is evident and clear for all to see. We demonise and are quick to punish those who act out “anti-socially” and we shame those who hurt themselves. If we are to tackle young-male bullying, domestic violence, self-harm of all kinds and suicide which really does need to be addressed; then we need to look at the problem with boys as a whole and teach them the authentic version of what being a man is, instead of the materialistic, celebrity obsessed version we are coerced into being. If we want to reduce inappropriate behaviour then we must make it appropriate for boys to have space for their emotional self amongst their peers, under the guidance of men. As for me, although I may not physically self-harm I do so in abundance emotionally - I still beat myself up over the shame I feel over my self-harm and every aspect of my life I consider myself to be a failure, when really I shouldn’t as I coped the best I could and better than most in my situation would have done. Perhaps I need to take the advice of a friend and start “self-charming instead of self-harming”.