10 Real Reasons Not to Self Harm

Obvious massive trigger warning for self harm.

There are many, many lists and articles and comments and emails and conversations and every other form of interaction out there about why you shouldn’t self harm. If you have ever hurt yourself and anyone has ever found out, you’ve been subject to a litany of reasons. There are many good reasons to not self harm and lots of really stupid reasons to not self harm. Some people find the generic lists on the internet extremely helpful, but I have never been particularly convinced when I’m in a bad place. They come from a place that assumes I believe in my own worth, and when I want to hurt myself I’m rarely in a state of mind that recognizes that. At a guess, I would suspect that I’m not alone.

At this point, I’ve mostly kicked the habit of self-harm, and I think it can be really helpful for those who have been there to share what helped for them. So here is my list of real, honest to god reasons that I have stopped.


This post has been moved to my new blog at Aut of Spoons. Check out the list there.

Living Divided

Last night I started reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the book yet, but one thing that stuck out to me was that as Obama was talking about the polarization of politics, he mentioned Bush v Gore as one of the starting points of that polarization. When referring to his early days as a senator, he mentioned that the older senators felt that things were getting less and less productive, and that the aisle was getting wider and wider, starting at around 2000.

The first election that I remember is Bush v Gore. I was about 10 at the time, and we had a mock election in my 4th grade classroom. I decided to vote for Gore because he liked The Beatles. Afterwards, I went home and talked to my parents and they explained some of the issues that the election was about. I started to have an inkling that I was probably a Democrat. Even in that classroom there was heated passion about which candidate should win, and some anger towards people who disagreed.

My first memories of politics and the electoral system are remembered by older people as the time when politics started going to shit. The only politics I have ever known is a politics that is sharply divided, one in which there is no middle ground, one in which Republicans and Democrats have become more and more radical in their opinions. My whole generation has grown up in the midst of politics that looks like this. Is this unlike any other generation? What will that mean for us as we grow up? Have we all become cynical and tired? I don’t have hard and fast answers to these questions, but as a Millennial myself, I can speak to some of my own feelings about politics, and make some predictions about how my generation may change what’s happening right now.

I do think that to some extent Millennials are cynical of the political system, and that’s because they’ve never seen it functioning. They don’t trust it to function because it never has. When we hear people talking about how bad politics is now, and how it used to be so much better, it sounds like misty-eyed nostalgia to us. There’s no evidence in our minds that there ever was a good time or that now is worse than it used to be. This is all we have known and it appears to be the norm. Because of that, I doubt many of us will see a long term use for the traditional methods of politics. We are willing to vote, we’re willing to be activists, we’re willing to work on campaigns, but few of us think it will actually do much. I see many millennials who want to take things into their own hands. I see many, many young people who are blogging and writing their own opinions about politics, signing petitions, getting in touch with their congresspeople, engaging in civic hacking, volunteering, and generally finding other ways to improve their communities that aren’t through the traditional means.

One of the things that I see among a lot of my friends and peers is that we’re sick of arguing. We want to make the world better, yes. But we want people to stop being jerks on our facebook pages, we want a little peace and quiet. We’d rather go volunteer at that Humane Society down the street than have people bitch at us and bitch right back, because that’s all that ever happens on the internet. We don’t see that as progress. We do however see education as intensely important, particularly the more liberal-minded among us. We feel like we need to explain ourselves and our opinions to others, but we don’t want to piss people off anymore. Of course there are always more or less argumentative people among us, but I see lots of friends who view politics as something that just gets in the way and makes everyone sad.

Oddly enough, one of the consequences of this kind of radio silence is that we all seem to be a little more certain that we’re Very Right and that people who disagree are The Enemy. That’s because we rarely allow ourselves to hear opposing arguments unless we absolutely can’t avoid it, and when we can’t avoid it it’s often said by the craziest version of that opinion (e.g. Rush Limbaugh). If the only people talking are the ones who don’t care about offending others, we get a fairly skewed view of our opposition. I know that I rarely hear logical, calm, and intelligent presentations of the conservative viewpoints. This makes it incredibly easy for us to straw-man those who disagree with us and assume that they’re horrible individuals.

An additional element of this is that because we have so many possible sources of information, we can pick and choose what we hear so as to create an echo chamber. Then we assume everyone thinks like us because those are the only people we hear. I see many people who are completely set in their ways, but who are not interested in talking to others about their opinions. It’s an odd combination, and is not a good situation for positive movement. We are distant from people who think differently from ourselves. We don’t understand them, and many of us don’t want to because it sounds terrifying.

And so we’re angry. We’re angry that things aren’t working out, that our country appears to be falling apart, that our systems are ineffective, that we don’t have jobs, that we don’t have healthcare, that people like to say shitty things about us all the time. But we’re also hopeless. We don’t know how to talk to each other, we don’t know how to fix the system, we can barely even support ourselves and we wonder how people think we should have the time to fix the country.

The place that I see many Millennials is a place in which we want a complete overhaul. We want to give up on Congress (would you keep putting your faith in a group that can’t do their basic job description for two weeks straight?), and we want a new system that is not motivated by money, but is motivated by our needs. We don’t give a fuck about the pres, cause the pres never gets shit done. Supreme court who? We’re not uninformed. We know about these things, we just don’t see them as worth our time.We just have no idea how to make it because we’ve never seen something that functions.

So when you see Millennials who are frustrated, cynical, and hopeless, remember that they aren’t being whiny and petulant: they’ve never seen a political system that works better than this one. They’ve never had the system function. They’ve been told over and over that things are supposed to be ok, but they’re just not. Wouldn’t you be pissed too?

Consent Is Not Magical

So my post yesterday got some negative feedback (as I somewhat expected), with people saying that it was horrible and wrong of me to butt into other people’s sex lives and that as long as people are agreeing to do something then it’s fine and unproblematic.


Now I want to be clear: I am in no way suggesting that any individual should have control over another person’s sex life. What I am suggesting is that sex should not be a magical pass that keeps any consensual act from criticism. I am suggesting that we should be able to discuss how sex plays into political and patriarchal questions, ask whether certain sex acts might have negative consequences, and explore some of the complexities of consent in a world where women’s choices are necessarily constrained. I also want to be clear that I encourage people to not feel ashamed of their sex lives, sex desires, and choice to have sex because in general shame is an incredibly unhelpful and unnecessary emotion.


It was pointed out to me yesterday that sex-negativity is a misleading name for the position I’m taking, which is a point well taken. That said, I feel comfortable with the ID and want to keep it personally.


But back to choice. This seems to be something that people mistake all the time: because they chose something, because it’s their opinion or their desire, that means it must be right. If all the parties involved in an action consented to it, then it cannot be criticized and it’s fine.


This is just patently false. Choice is not a magical thing that changes all of your actions into positive ones. The moral worth of an action is complicated, and it involves things like choice, consequence, motive, and symbolism. Choice is one element of a variety of intertwining pieces that determine whether your action was positive or negative overall.


But sex is incredibly charged and personal, and it can be a hard place to look to understand the intricacies of choice and criticism. Let’s look at some less charged actions that were freely chosen and yet still really horrible. There are lots of examples of this, but first I’d like to focus on one close to my heart that also happens to terrify the vast majority of the population: self-harm. Self harm is something that is freely chosen and consented to by everyone involved. But it causes harm and negative consequences. Very few people would argue that it is a positive action (and when I’ve tried to point out that it might have some useful or positive elements, people tend to freak out a little bit so don’t suddenly change your mind and say it’s great).


We can see clearly that despite the fact that this is something incredibly personal, something that directly affects only one person, and something that is freely chosen, it is not a positive action and it’s one that we would want to criticize or change. It may impact others indirectly. We want to talk about the things that drive a person to do it and ask them if they might have a different way of dealing with those urges.


Now this example might not do it for all of you as it’s a fairly controversial example (and I’m really not trying to suggest that sex is like BDSM, it was just the clearest example of a negative but freely chosen action I could find). But there are TONS of other examples. Someone brought up organ donation to me recently. Very often, when people say that their choice not to donate their organs is beyond criticism because it’s their choice, I get confused. Yes, we all have bodily autonomy. And no, no one is going to steal your organs out of you because you haven’t consented. But that doesn’t mean that there are no negative consequences to your action or that you couldn’t have made a more positive choice. Simply because you have bodily autonomy doesn’t mean that others can’t ask you to explain your actions or try to convince you that a different action might be better. They’re free to discuss the ramifications of not donating organs, or explain to you why they choose to donate their organs. Sometimes one freely chosen action is better than another.


Again, none of these are supposed to be direct parallels to sexual choices, they are simply illustrations that things we choose to do with our bodies that don’t involve violating another person’s bodily autonomy or consent may still have negative ramifications or be a negative decision.


A final example is one that’s close to home and illustrates how gently we have to move around these kinds of criticisms: veganism. Many people realize that veganism is probably the most ethical life choice in terms of eating: it is best for the planet and respects animal life the best. However many other people choose not to be vegan. Oftentimes non-vegans pretty much ignore all vegan arguments because they think that their right to choose what to do with their body means their food choices should not be open to any criticism. They get incredibly pissed when a vegan suggests that maybe they shouldn’t eat hamburgers filled with bacon for every meal. Now food is a very emotionally fraught topic, and in many ways they might be right: each of us has the right to eat what we choose. However the larger impacts of an individual’s diet mean that the choice to eat meat has larger implications that might make it a negative choice. So while they do have the right to eat as they choose, others may ask them to consider how that action affects the planet as a whole.


Pointing this out is not an attack, nor does it remove the bodily autonomy of an individual to continue eating meat. It begins a conversation and asks them to consider alternative perspectives. Respectful vegans will understand that the situations of other individuals must be taken into account and that no one should be forced to be vegan or insulted or shamed for their choices, however they are still willing to discuss the ramifications of meat-eating. We have seen how quickly this can get ugly, but I have had productive conversations about my own choice to be non-vegan with vegans who adamantly believe that veganism is the best choice.


But somehow when we bring sex into the mix the ability to discuss these larger ramifications is suddenly considered negative, invasive, and shaming. Why is it that when sex is in the mix, choice becomes the magic card that shields all actions from any criticism or questioning? Discussing, criticizing, or questioning does not take away another person’s freedoms, nor does it necessarily shame them (although it can and thus we need to be careful with it). It asks for more, and it asks them to consider if their actions could be more positive. That’s all. Just as free speech does not free you from criticism, neither does bodily autonomy, particularly when your actions have ramifications like reifying patriarchal structures that create negative impacts throughout society.