Self Harm and BDSM


Over on Facebook, anonymous (F,30) asks me:

Hello! I was just wondering if I could get your advice on something when you have time. As a BDSM practitioner, what do you think about the relationship between self harm and masochism? If you think someone that subs to you sometimes wants you to hurt them as a way of enabling them to express emotional pain, or as self punishment, to what extent do you think bdsm is a healthy way to do that, or as a dom do you think you have a responsibility to set a boundary of not playing in a BDSM way with a partner who is using it as a form of self harm?

I responded forthwith:

Hi – a great question! I had a massive blog post about this on the old Informed Consent site a few years ago. Sadly that site is now offline.

I’m going to share my view and experience with the disclaimer that I am not in any way a medical practitioner. I have some personal experiences and some counselling training but I’m not an expert in this field.

Having said that, my view is that I want myself and the people I work with to move in the direction of more self-acceptance, more consciousness and more self-love… Moving towards a healthy acceptance of what we are compelled to do is a prime marker in the integration of shadow and is a vital part of the journey we must undertake as we move towards wholeness. As a parallel: from the outside, my sadism can appear really horrifying but from within, it’s a very beautiful thing and it’s only by loving and accepting this part of my self that I really learn about the magic, insight  and medicine that it brings me.

I think self-harm as a way of expressing emotional pain can be very effective and sweet within someone who knows what they are doing with it; but too often the self-harm is done in an unconscious and shameful way which doesn’t do much to ease the person out of their state of being. Getting someone to feel joyful about their self-harm is a powerful and rare step taken by some. I generally take the view of empathy and try to frame the activity as an honest expression of true emotional depth leading through acceptance and into a place of greater understanding and possibly healing. If I was to discourage it, it would just continue but hidden from me, much like any ‘shadow’ practice. The only way to deal with it is to try to make it more beautiful and more sacred, more open and more normalised.

The worst thing you could do is shame the person who engages in self-harming activity as shaming is really counter-productive and drives peoples’ activities deeper into the shadows.

I have had some clients who come to me as they wish to engage in a more healthy acceptance of their self-harming practices. It can be very beautiful to witness the journey people go on when their self-harming is honoured. In my personal life I have had a few ongoing colleagues who engaged in self-harm; most notably was C who would pluck her eye lashes as a way to hurt herself. At first I was horrified by this but we managed to turn this into a powerful meditation together and journey through it and now she has peace with it… the shame and guilt she felt at her self-harm activity was doing way more damage than the loss of a few lashes.

From time-to-time I explore self-harming through the use of piercing needles which gives me a beautiful and sweet high. I don’t think it’s in the same category of activity as I never felt the compulsion to do so; never felt the addiction; but I do feel the potential for joy and empowerment that is buried within self-harming practice.

Again I’m no expert and I suppose the level of self-harm I’ve been exposed to has never been life-threatening. If someone in that category reads this I’d recommend seeking help from someone more widely familiar with this field. But with the experiences I’ve had and their outcomes so far, I would generally advocate making a self-harmer’s activities more conscious, more sweet and even possibly turning them into a spiritual practice.

Best wishes from Seani x x x

 

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