The Allure of Self-Harm

She is beauty, she is grace, she is… longing for self-harm again? Trigger warning for self-harm method descriptions.

Self-harm is a much more complex topic than we think. It’s not just cutting or other direct tissue harm; it’s binge drinking, unsafe sex, reckless driving, stopping medication… it’s intentionally hurting oneself, and it comes in many forms. Self-harm is often associated with borderline personality disorder, yet self-harm is not specific to any one disorder. The relationship between self-harm and suicide has often been portrayed as tight-knit and unbreakable, but this is not usually the case. There is a distinction between self-harm with suicidal intent, and self-harm without suicidal intent. More often than not, self-harm is associated with low or the absence of suicidal intent. Research on this topic is murky at best.

Self-harm is arguably more taboo than talking about suicide.

And research portrays this. As someone who has self-harmed in the past, I wanted to bring up a topic that’s been nudging me for a while. It may make no sense to anyone who has never self-harmed, but it is a real phenomenon that is not addressed when we actually do talk about self-harm. The thought here is this: Sometimes I yearn for self-harm. There is an unspoken allure to it.

My methods of self-harm were either cutting or scratching, and on occasion starvation. When I started self-harming as I transitioned into being a teenager, no part of me wanted to self-harm. Back then, self-harm was a coping mechanism. I hurt myself because I needed to deal with the pain of my life. As I progressed into early adulthood, my self-harm began manifesting in different ways — sometimes in psychosis. When I finally sought treatment for depression, I told every doctor about my self-harm. Strangely enough, there were no questions other than their saying, “Could I have a look? I just want to make sure your wound is okay.”

The only wound that wasn’t okay was the wound in my soul — but we don’t talk about that, right? And so I went on self-harming until I realized I needed to stop. With my bipolar medicated and “under control,” I wasn’t just hurting myself anymore; I was hurting others with my actions against myself. It took a while for it to sink in. The last time I self-harmed was almost two years ago.

One might think that I’m happy knowing I can cope differently, that I can resist the urges and be proactive. Yes, I can. But sometimes I miss the feeling of self-harm. I miss the release it gave me, the ache it soothed. It has a certain mystique to it that I tried to deny for a long time, seeing it as unhealthy on its own. Self-harm has a seductive quality to it — a certain dark charm. From my discussions with a few others, I know I’m not alone. And I know not talking about it only encourages that seduction and tightens its grasp.

The allure of self-harm is real and we need to talk about it, just like we need to talk about suicide.

It felt good to run a needle over my thighs. It felt good scratching my skin until I bled. It felt good not eating much for a while. But I also felt a tremendous amount of shame afterward. Self-harm has always been the most private of acts for me, and knowing that others would see my self-harm made me go to extreme lengths to make my scars as invisible as possible. With that said, sometimes I still miss it — perhaps like I might miss a mysterious lover who is gone before I wake up, taunting me with her infrequency in my life. The better part of me knows to give her up, but sometimes it’s a reverie I get lost in. Sometimes she seems irresistible. But I know I can’t return. With every passing day, her tendrils become farther out of reach.

Yes, the allure of self-harm still entangles me in its fascination. For those of you baffled by this, have compassion for our struggles, if not empathy for our experiences. For those of you struggling with this issue, know that you are not alone.


For research on this topic, please feel free to contact me at ntk@redefiningbipolar.org or visit vivreshare.org for more on self-harm.