Self-harm. There have always been at least two types of self harm (hitting or cutting myself) that habitually I engage(d) in. The oldest type is a tantrum: where some extreme of sadness, frustration, and self-rage, as naturally as boiling milk foams over, fire nerve impulses with violent movements. Since I can only blame myself for such tantrums (the emotions are mine), the rage is turned toward the self, and I end up brutalizing my own body in blind and bruising ways.
The other self harm is much more thoughtful, and hence more insidious. It starts with deep psychological pain. Somehow, I have reacted to the environment and feel strong psychic hurt. But this pain, being lodged in the emotions, has no material existence. Unlike bodily pain, there is no bleeding, no bruise or physical harm which I may blame. No nociception (pain nerves firing). Emotional pain…where is it? Inside me…somewhere.. But not very localized, not an object I can touch or probe. It has an inner presence, yet is completely invisible. This leads to self harm. Why? Because self-harm is a reification, an actualization of this pain. In cutting myself, I can take a purely abstract and internal pain and transform it into a shape physical and external. In such a way, distance is gained as well: instead of being “a part” of the abstract invisibility of emotional life, the pain comes “apart” from the self, becoming external and concrete; and so rather than denying it, I have just moved the locality. My hope is that by making these scars external, the emotional scars too would migrate outside my mind. An actual wound on the skin which is reassuring for having such concrete reality, and even, vitality.
Once accomplished, there is a tangible sense of relief. Then things spiral. Then the awareness that that small wound on my skin isn’t enough to exorcise the poison. Then comes a very real need to keep going. Then I do. Again. And again. Every time, promising to finish, and every time, being pulled back into the satisfactions of actualization. At some point, understanding that if I continue I’d likely disable a muscle, I stop and take a warm bath, crying and sobbing silently with catharsis while sterilizing the wounds and marveling at the smells from same wounds.
Always cutting in the same place means less social awkwardness: people get used to seeing a certain scar, and when the wound is fresh, they usually assume I was picking at it.
I do it to my face, ear, or throat. This makes perfect sense: there are very real and disfiguring wounds on my face that represent the invisible hurts inside. Moreover placing the scars in such a visible place is a signal, a tattoo: I have known pain.
However, let’s make one thing quite clear: the pain comes from me: my reactions or wellspring of difficulty. This pain is real enough that I felt I must respect it and externalize it. Yet comparing my pain to others, the other 8 billions on the planet, what I feel is a speck. I am blessed in never having lived in a war zone, experienced torture or a hideous accident. I’ve never had to scrimp for the calories just to live one more day…my life is trivial, my pain is trivial, and the only value it can be assigned is a subjective one, in that I am the one living my life, not anyone else. Inasmuch as possible, knowing this is not especially helpful, but communicating the knowledge of my own comparative insignificance might offset the enormous narcissism of these paragraphs, the enormous narcissism of self-harm.