I have a history of self harm. I also have a predilection towards masochism. It would be easy to conflate these, but for me they do not overlap. Recognising this truth has been incredibly important.
As someone who must actively manage, and have help managing their mental health, the correlations with kink/sex and want/need have been prominent concepts for me for awhile. The discovery that I am masochistic in certain settings was very uncomfortable at first, in no small part because I have a history of self harm. My self harm came in a few forms, some bigger and scarier than others, but all of them were exhausting, all of them were painful and none of them were a solution. Most of us who have experienced it took such actions out of sheer desperation. Most people don’t self harm out of boredom or curiosity, not without a powerful motivator. The motivation can be external, like the abuse or criticism of a parent, or internal, from the private monologues we utter to ourselves when only we are listening.
Similar But Different
The self harm I have engaged in has never crossed into kink in any way. It was always in pursuit of catharsis, some sort of relief. Other times it allowed me to come back into my body in a way that my mental health otherwise prevented. Sometimes I just needed to feel something. Anything. There was no pleasure in that pain. Any value that the pain held for me was gone as soon as it was felt and it was replaced by crushing fear and guilt. There was no joy or freedom in the pain of self harm for me. Not once did I ever pursue it to feel good, only to try to feel vaguely better or to stop the numbness.
Spanking Can Be Good Pain
For many people, kink and mental health intersects at spanking. Spanking is used for discipline and/or “maintenance” by many BDSM practitioners and enthusiasts. For lots of folks being spanked is “good pain”, something not to be misconstrued with harm or the desire to be harmed. Harm, is, after all, not the same as hurt. Spanking can be “therapeutic” to some people (not to be interpreted as a form of therapy or in place of therapy). The idea of maintenance spankings focuses on the intimacy and positive reinforcement of aftercare. These experiences and sensations can be very valuable and an effective activity for “clearing the head” or re-.establishing roles within the dynamic.
Different Kinds of Pain
Certainly I can see parallels between my masochism and history of self harm, but only if I squint. They largely live in very different parts of me and even if the expressions looked more similar, the feelings and motivations behind them are entirely different. One was self destructive and worsened my mental state, the other is a joyous intensity that is only possible within the framework of absolute trust and safety. One was a desperate attempt at freedom with no results, the other is like a cosmic portal swinging open so I can feel and cry and express myself.
Self harm prevented me from growing, masochism let’s me just be.