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Self harm is actually a very vague term that can have a variety of meanings to many different people. At it’s most basic definition it is “the deliberate non-suicidal injuring of one’s body”. People take this to mean a variety of different things, but typically self-harm is used to refer to people who injure themselves physically: cutting, burning, punching things, etc. This is done for a number of reasons, the most common of which being a “release” feeling or a need to punish oneself (please remember I am generalizing so if you have different experiences feel free to share, but please know I am not trying to invalidate them).

Self-harm is often associated with mental illness, depression being the most common, but also OCD, in some cases schizophrenia, as well as many other disorders in between. It is something that “normal” people can’t understand. It is self-destructive, and that doesn’t make sense to most people. But here’s my question: doesn’t everyone self-harm in some way?

As a disclaimer, I am not trying to invalidate those who self-harm in the way that we typically know it, and I am not here to talk specifically about self-harm and what it is. If you want more information then I will put that at the bottom. This is just a blog to explore in inherent contradictions in our beliefs and behaviors.

So it’s “weird” and “bad” for someone to purposely cut, burn, or hit themselves to feel better? Most people would agree that it is. But what about smoking? Most people smoke to feel better, to calm down, and we can pretty much all agree that by know anyone who smokes knows it’s harmful, so they are deliberately harming themselves. Okay, you might say, but  don’t smoke, so this doesn’t apply to me. What about drinking? A lot of people drink to feel better, to have fun, to “release” after a stressful day or week. Drinking in many cases is physically harmful, especially in excess but we still do it so as to feel better.

Taking a slightly different approach: food. Unhealthy, bad food. Food we all know is in no way “good”. A deep fried Mars Bar for instance. Why do we eat it? To feel good. Either the good flavor, or the good feeling some people may get from the sugar and the fried food. Is it good for us? No, we know that it is harmful to our bodies. It is full of “junk” that can clog our arteries and make us sick, but we still do it.

My final example is one that is, by definition, self-harm but is apparently normal in the “right” circumstances. Punching a wall. Apparently this is fine for a person (mainly a man) to do when feeling frustrated or angry in a particular situation. It’s commonplace, and it is viewed as a man venting his frustrations in a somewhat healthy manner. This is self-harm. This is causing oneself physical damage for the purposes of releasing internal pain/frustration.

So, what is the difference? Is the difference solely in how a person “releases” ones pain? It’s okay to smoke to calm down but not to cut yourself?

I am not by any means advocating self-injurious behavior in any way. This is just something I don’t understand, and no one seems to be able to explain it to me in any way that is not “that’s just what society views as normal”. I get that society can’t accept deliberately harming ones own body; we go out of our way to keep ourselves alive, so it makes sense to people are confused when they see someone purposefully injuring themselves. But where is the line? What time of self harm is socially acceptable and why? And is that even the way it should be?

More information about self-harm: