I hear two stories about pain.

I hear two stories about pain.

I hear from kinky people that it is fine to be a masochist, to enjoy pain.  I hear that it is fine to want to be spanked, and it is also fine to want to be hit hard enough to leave bruises, or to be cut with a knife.  As long as it’s done safely, so as not to cause permanent harm, (and of course as long as everyone involved consents freely) it is fine to do these things.  I also hear that there are various different reasons why people want pain.  This includes the first thing you think of when you hear the word “masochism”– some people get sexual arousal out of pain– but it also includes people who use pain to help them deal with their emotions, in various ways.  For some people, experiencing pain and fear in a controlled situation helps them deal with their emotions about the actual dangers in their lives.  And this is considered an okay part of masochism, at least by some people I listen to.

I hear all over the place– from my friends, from my friends quoting their therapists, from books, from public service announcments– that self-harm is a terrible and sad thing, a disorder, possibly an addiction.  I see lists of advice about how it is desperately important to find some alternative to actually causing pain or shedding blood– “draw on yourself, use an ice cube, punch a pillow”.  I hear that self-harm is an unhealthy way of coping, and needs to be replaced with a better one.  I hear self-harm associated with depression and with suicide.

This begs a couple of questions for me.

Under what circumstances is wanting pain wrong, a problem, “unhealthy”?

What is the difference (if any) between masochism that helps people deal with their emotions, and self-harm?

What is the difference between a good coping mechanism and a bad one?

I’ll be attempting to answer these questions later.

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