BDSM and Self Harm Part One (TW: Self Harm)

This is part one of a pretty heavy topic, but one that I think could be really useful to some people right now. And because of the emotional nature of the theme, breaking it into a lot of sections is difficult so this first piece is very long.

This blog doesn’t usually dive into mental illness, or unhealthy coping mechanisms. That’s not my focus; I’m here about the kinky lifestyle. However, it’s impossible to ignore the cross-over and at times there will be topics that get into that—this is one of them.

I’m not a therapist. I have no training in therapy and I’m not an expert. But I noticed none of the blogs I’ve seen seem to be talking about self-harm and the connection to BDSM. At least not in much detail, and I think it’s important someone do it.

There are things going on right now that made me feel this topic was timely. I promised myself when I started this blog that I wouldn’t avoid the uncomfortable edges, and that I would strive to cover topics that are overlooked. There are people out there searching for answers and I want this blog to be a place where they can find them without judgment.

This is going to be a tough post all around. For me writing it, and for people reading it. Before I start, I need to say that obviously there will be triggers in here. If you self-harm, please do not read this if you aren’t in a safe place to deal with emotional topics that talk about self-harming behaviors. I will be as sensitive as I can but the very nature of it makes that difficult.

And just a word about triggers before we start. Please remember that it’s important to police your own triggers as much as possible. When you’re online things can jump out at you unexpectedly and there’s nothing you can do about that, but you should make a habit of heeding trigger warnings if they apply to you.

When you see one, stop, take an introspective moment to see how you are doing, and then decide whether or not it’s something you can handle in that moment. If it’s not, please don’t push yourself. It’s really not worth the emotional trauma, and even things that are trying to help, like this post, can hurt if you’re not in the right space.

This is the Internet; everything lasts forever. Whatever you want to read or watch will still be there another time, but forcing yourself to see content that you know will trigger you is an unhealthy bit of masochism. Ironically, it’s also a form of self harm.

For you subs out there who have rules about hurting yourself, you should consider the fact that doing emotional harm to yourself is also self-harm, and by not policing your own triggers, that’s exactly what you’re doing. 

So, with that reminder in place, I’d just like to talk a little bit about subs who use BDSM as a safer, healthier outlet for those self-harm urges. It’s a thing. It happens, and it’s actually more common than you think. And like many of my posts, this one has a personal side to it.

I feel like it’s an important topic because it’s one people don’t want to talk about. I think it messes with the public image that the community tries to project. The one where we’re all perfectly healthy and just acting out our naughty fantasies in a Safe, Sane, and Consensual manner. But the reality is, a lot of people are drawn to BDSM because they have trauma and baggage.

Some of the things we do are definitely not ‘Safe’ and whether they are ‘Sane’ is entirely a matter of perspective, which is why I prefer RACK as a motto. (We’ve outgrown Safe, Sane, and Consensual)I think SSC is great for beginners, and then you mature and realize everything has risks and it’s just a matter of how you handle those risks.

So, is substituting someone else hurting you for self-harm safe and healthy? I think so, yes, and some of the studies being done right now back up my opinion, but we’ll get into that in part two.

Even though there are doctors who agree this can be helpful, I’m not a therapist so I can’t give you a professional opinion. All I can say is that it helped me, and I’ve seen that it’s helped other people. But self-harm, like many other issues, has a stigma attached so most don’t want to admit they do it or talk about it.

In the end whatever coping mechanisms work for you, is better than the alternative. And for me, external punishment doesn’t hurt me emotionally like self-harm does.

When I was young and confused, I tended towards some fairly extreme self-harm to the extent that I still have some pretty heavy scarring. In my late teens to early twenties I was a major over-worker, sometimes working 80+ hours a week. I often felt trapped, like I didn’t have time for emotions, so I would shut them off completely.  I also have a ton of childhood trauma that forces its way to the surface from time to time.

I had many reasons for self-harm, cutting or burning usually.  I was exhausted all the time and felt dead inside, so cutting became a habit. Because it was a way to feel things, to remember I was alive.

I was taught to cut by an adult in a parent’s role in my life. He told me it was a way to prove how brave I was, and I took that and ran with it. So, when I became scared, it was something I did to prove I had courage. It was also a way to punish myself if I messed up or hurt someone’s feelings. I worked through my guilt reflexes by hurting myself to get past it.

When I first started playing seriously in BDSM I was about twenty-two. I hadn’t been playing very long when I realized that I could get all the same emotions and catharsis through scenes that I was getting by hurting myself, and that the scenes were a lot safer for me both emotionally and physically.

I didn’t need to cause more scars from cuts or burns, I just needed a good hard spanking that left my butt red and sore. It stirred up all the emotions, broke through the barriers and made me feel everything. If I had guilt it washed that away, so I didn’t need to punish myself. And because someone else was in charge I didn’t go through the cycle of guilt for causing myself pain either.

Often with people who cut, you try not to, but then you slip up. Afterwards, you feel guilty about doing it and that guilt builds up until it actually causes you to cut again to get away from it. It’s a vicious cycle, which is one reason that cutters find it so hard to stop.

I’ve never found that masochists were more prone to cutting than others, and I think it’s because cutting isn’t about the pain. Self-harm, like many other connected disorders, is about control. If you can’t control the world around you, then you will control yourself. There’s a reason why people who self-harm often have eating disorders as well.

But what I have found, is that masochists are uniquely placed to find an alternative to hurting themselves, and that’s through BDSM. Oddly enough, for me anyway, my need to control things doesn’t extend to my D/s relationships. I can let go of control then, to someone I choose and trust. By doing that I allow them to make rules for me, which help with issues I struggle with.

It worked on two levels. The first was that having a rule about hurting myself meant that I worked a lot harder not to, because I don’t like breaking rules. I had an outside incentive to stop those habits. But it also worked on another level because I could still get the pain without hurting myself and causing all the negative feelings of shame and guilt around it.

So, when I was in a stable relationship, it was almost never a problem. The rule was there to help me, but it was rarely something that had to be addressed. The downside, of course, is that people who use BDSM to fulfill this need crash even harder when their relationships get rocky or end. And even when people are really busy and there’s not enough time for play, you can start edging back towards those old patterns of behavior.

I no longer consider myself a self-harmer, but in a way it’s like any addiction. It requires constant work on your part to keep things going smoothly, and sometimes you slip.

I think subs/bottoms/brats/littles who use this technique are 100% more likely to slip when they haven’t had a physical scene in a while, and I can tell you that the anxiety that starts to build when you haven’t played can be very difficult to control.

Because not only do you have this need that is being ignored, which can have you feeling neglected or lost, but on top of that you also start having thoughts and urges about taking care of things yourself. But of course, if you cut yourself because you haven’t played in a while, then you have a ton of extra guilt. Not only did you hurt yourself, but maybe you broke a rule doing it, and you also took power out of your Dom’s hands too.

It’s hard to remember that when you belong to someone else, it’s their job to punish you, not yours to punish yourself. And this is a time when communication is going to be essential. If you are one of these people who use BDSM to control self-harm urges, then you can’t just be cut off from BDSM and still avoid self-harm. It doesn’t work; at least not for long.

So, in my opinion, yes, using BDSM in place of self-harm can work. It can be helpful and healthy, but it does require constant maintenance and open communication. Your Dominant needs to know that you are at risk for self-harm and needs to understand how to deal with it. You need to feel like you can talk to them when you’re having the urges as well.

I decided to write this article now for a reason. First, we’re going into the holiday season and that’s hard for a lot of people just in general. This year it’s likely to be even harder than usual since so many of the normal fun activities are likely going to be put off because of Covid.

Big family get-togethers are going to be a major risk, as is any crowded events. Even shopping at the malls during the holiday season is going to be dangerous. We all know how packed the stores get in December, even masks won’t help you stay safe in that kind of environment. That’s going to mean more seasonal depression than usual.

And also, a lot of submissives are currently having to deal with getting to play a lot less and spending less time with their Tops. Unless you currently live together, chances are, you’re not getting the usual playtime that you’re used to.

I feel like these two situations combined are going to start hitting people hard, if they haven’t already, as we head into fall. That’s why I thought now would be a good time to bring up the topic, because there are some things you can do to help mitigate the problem before it reaches the stage of self-harming.

Before I start, I need to say that if you slip and hurt yourself, it’s important to remember that this year has been a lot to deal with. No one is perfectly strong, especially not when faced with everything that’s been going on, so you need to be kind to yourself and remember that. Frankly, many people are falling back on unhealthy coping mechanisms right now.

There is a really fine line between encouraging someone to self-harm and encouraging them to be safe about it if they feel they have to. So, let me make it clear that if at all possible, you should find another way to cope. But pretending people don’t do it won’t magically make the problem vanish. I’m not suggesting this is an outlet anyone should use, but I want you to understand that if it’s one you do use that doesn’t make you a loser or a freak. You are trying to survive, and this is a tool you learned to use at some point.

So, first off, if it happens you need to remember that it doesn’t make you a failure. Don’t let the inner bully voice in your head tell you otherwise. Hurting yourself is a coping mechanism that worked for you in the past, so it’s natural to fall back on it when things are shaky. The important thing is to be careful. The more agitated someone is when they are doing this, the more likely they are to accidentally cause more damage than intended. So please take precautions to make sure you’re safe.

There are some techniques that can help satisfy those urges without causing harm to your body. If you feel like you’re going to slip, try guiding yourself towards one of them. They can include things like:

  1. Taking an ice-cold shower (time it for no more than 2 minutes tops.)
  2. Rubbing ice on your wrist (but time this also.)
  3. Wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it every time you think about self-harming. The biting sting can be an effective alternative to cutting.
  4. Draw on yourself with a sharpie instead of cutting. You can even draw on fake cuts if you want to. Whatever works.

I’m not going to give you a long list here because there are many lists already out there. Please search for them and see if you can find something that works. However, there are things you won’t find on those lists that are very specific to us kinky people. If you feel the urge to self-harm you can try these instead:

  1. Self-spanking—Use something light and whippy and not something you are likely to go overboard with like a heavy paddle. Rubber or leather will leave a lasting burn that can ease those cravings, and will cause marks you can see, but those marks will fade without scarring. For some people seeing the marks helps, for others it causes escalation so you need to determine for yourself whether it’s better to put them in a place you can see.

Again, you’re aiming for nothing worse than a welt that will be gone by the next day. Nothing more severe than that. It might feel silly to do this, but it’s better than cutting.

If you’re someone who needs to see the marks of self -harm in order to cycle down, then do the spanking on the front of your thighs or someplace visible. This is a more targeted version of the rubber band on the wrist and I know it works for a lot of people. If it starts to cause a guilt spiral because you’ve hurt yourself, just remember it’s only a little spanking and nothing you haven’t had before. It’s not going to leave a scar. It’s fine.

2. Talk to someone about what you’re feeling. I’m not talking about a therapist, though that’s nice if you have the ability to do that. I mean a close friend, or a Dom. Please remember to check for their triggers first. Self-harm can, at times, end up forming a chain where one person triggers another and so on. Even Dominants have triggers.

3. If you have a Dominant person in your life, but you aren’t able to be together in person right now, then tell them what’s going on and ask them to do a directed spanking over skype or the phone or whatever. That has the benefit of having it come from an external source, which often works better for subs, while also making sure you don’t go too far. You will be following their orders and they aren’t dealing with the same intense emotional issues surrounding the pain that you are.

There’s a lot more I want to get into, but I like ending with some practical advice that may help so this is a good place to stop for the day. However, given the nature of the post, I don’t want to space out the two parts with a whole week between them. Like ripping off a band-aid, we want to do this fast so the second part will be up for tomorrow. I considered posting them back-to-back today, but I actually think some people might need time to digest this one before moving on to the next, so it will be up tomorrow.

If any of this has triggered you, please look at some of the suggestions I’ve given. Or do a quick web search for “Things to do instead of self-harming.” There are literally hundreds of lists out there for you. I felt this was important to help people, so the last thing I want is for anyone to leave feeling like they need to hurt themselves.

One last reminder, you’re not weak or a failure for having this issue, many people do. The truth is there’s no way of knowing how many, since so often they are ashamed and hide it, but you’re not alone and there are things that can help. My list above focused mostly on physical, pain-causing or sensation-causing things because I think people in the scene gravitate more towards needing those, but those aren’t your only options. Any distraction to keep your mind off of it will help.

Your homework after reading this is to make a list of things that you have found helpful in the past to use in place of self-harm, or things you think might work instead. Keep it handy so that if you’re upset or depressed you don’t have to think of an option—they are right there to choose from.

Part two of this post will be shorter and will mostly cover the science around this.

And remember stay safe, stay healthy, stay home!

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