self-harm harms others

Something else that I’ve been pondering for some time… I’m struggling with expressing it properly, so please excuse my gaucheness.

In continuation of last night’s theme of embracing even the negative aspects of one’s character…self-respect is necessary to living a good life. There have been times in my past when I have not afforded myself that self-respect, and I have pushed myself into situations where I wasn’t comfortable. I have engaged in self-harm without recognizing that it was harmful behavior. Or if I did recognize it as harmful, I ignored it, saying that discomfort was to be expected in a new situation.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m talking about sex here and about the sexual exploration that we all go through at the beginning of this part of our lives. But it’s more than that: it’s about treating your body well, about respecting your inner being and not abusing either. It’s about learning to accept the boundaries that your instincts tell you are there and being okay with these boundaries.

Having been raised in a conservative, Pentecostal household where sex was unacceptable under ANY circumstances except marriage (and even then, things were based on a very unacceptable hierarchy of male needs over female needs), I’ve got more than my fair share of sexual hangups and issues. Since I was old enough to recognize these issues, I’ve struggled with the negative relationship that I was taught to have with my body. Even now, at the age of 25, educated at two liberal, top-notch schools, surrounded by liberal feminists for the past 8 years, I still have this strained relationship with my body and my sensuality. This exchange in Anais Nin’s diary expresses the tension quite well, I think:

Anais: “And if I were frigid, would I be so preoccupied with sex?”

Allendy (her psychoanalyst): “All the more so.”

Her natural “frigidity” leads to her obsession and fascination with sex, much, I think, as mine does. Because I was taught to reject this part of myself as a child and adolescent, I find myself unnaturally fascinated with sex as an adult and give too much credence to my sexual needs and sensuality as an adult.

It’s not that I hate my body or sex or anything like that. I’ve dealt with that a long time ago. In my latter years, however, I’ve erred on the other side of the equation. In struggling to throw off these negative influences of Pentecostal religiosity, I have done as modern feminism bade me and embraced my sexuality and treated my body a little too loosely. Oh, I caught myself before I strayed too far down that path. But for a summer there, I pushed myself to accept less than I wanted, I ignored the reservations of body and mind and pushed myself into casual sex. I reasoned away my fears and discomfort, telling myself that these emotions were only coming up because this was something new and that this kind of behavior was perfectly normal. [1]

Learn to recognize the limits of what is okay for yourself. I was not happy with casual sex — in fact, I was pretty fucking miserable. I was running away from my Pentecostal background so fast that I never stopped to listen to reason. I was reacting, rather than acting of my own free volition. And the result was a lot of misery, heartache, loneliness, and a desperate need for a real connection — results that carried over the year of celibacy that followed my summer of mischief and that affected and ruined my new relationship. I had plenty of warning prior to engaging in this behavior — I had anxiety that manifested itself physically, I experienced great emotional turmoil — but I refused to heed it, because I thought my reactions were the result of rebelling against what I had been taught as a child. I rejected the belief system of my childhood so utterly that I could not accept that there was anything of value to it or that I could naturally agree with anything it taught. I ignored my limits.

Respect your body, respect your emotional needs. Sometimes we forget to listen to our own needs. We think we know what it is we want — but sometimes, these wants are not real or true to ourselves. They are dictated by society at large, by our social circles, by our education, by our parents, our backgrounds, etc. When getting what we want results in negative emotions, in disgust, shame, etc — don’t repress or dismiss these emotions as irrelevant. Listen to your fears honestly, evaluate them and consider their worth truthfully, and if, after consideration, you find your fears are false[2], then you can proceed in pursuing your desire.

Self-harm will eventually harm others. I have been astounded lately by the circularity of the universe. I disrespected my body one year ago and the result was harm to myself and then, harm to someone I cared about. We think that self-harm affects only ourselves — I had been okay with this. I was okay with taking on the consequences of my own rash actions. But because we are all connected, because I am the sister soul to everyone else in the universe, the harm that I inflicted upon myself affected other ppl.

This isn’t something that holds true only in my particular situation and no other. I believe that this idea holds true across many and most situations. In a previous relationship, I had been too timid to express my emotional needs and had held them in, causing myself no small amount of distress. In the end, this had affected the relationship negatively. Because I wasn’t true to myself in expressing something so important, the relationship suffered from my lack of honesty.

In a less intimate example, picture that one person whom we all know who is always negative, always critical of others and his/herself. The negative mindset that he/she has harms him/herself, but it also affects the ppl around him/her. How many of us can tolerate long interactions with such a person? How many friends stick around? That negative mindset which always begins as internal criticism affects others negatively.

How far can we carry these lessons? I think they ought to be applied in all areas of our life. In order to treat our bodies and our emotional selves with respect, we need to be sure that we are eating good food, exercising enough, getting enough sleep, that our friends are supportive, that our community inspires and nourishes us, that we are intellectually stimulated, that our relationships provide us with the love that we need, that we are compassionate to ourselves and accepting of our own flaws, that we allow ourselves to grieve wholeheartedly, that we allow ourselves to feel all of our emotions wholeheartedly.

Of course, this can’t work 100% of the time. We won’t be able to filter out negativity in our social circles or our diet — and maybe we shouldn’t, either. Living a full, rich life is dependent on having many and varied experiences. But we should be careful not to internalize that which is external to ourselves and to only allow in the wholesome and that which nourishes.

 

One final word: what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. What is not right for me might be right for you. That’s all.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. And yet, I hesitate to wish that I never experienced that summer. Yes, I harmed myself, but I needed that time of exploration in order to figure out what I was okay with and what I was not okay with. I learned some very valuable lessons from that summer, and it made me aware of what I truly wanted. So do I wish that I never inflicted that kind of self-harm on myself? It’s complicated.
  2. What constitutes a false fear? I think if it’s something that holds you back from becoming who you truly are. There are fears that are born of crossing limits that you have been taught, and these fears should perhaps not be heeded. But sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.
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