Friday, January 23, 2015

When Self-Mutilation turns into Psychopathology

     When Self-Mutilation turns into Psychopathology

      Some forms of self-mutilation are forms of expression and socially acceptable forms of body modification. This includes tattoos and piercings. However, there is a point when it becomes unhealthy and problematic. The question is where should the line be drawn?

     Looking at pictures of people practicing suspension gave me an avenue of thought. Isn't that painful? However, there are benefits that people seek from suspension such as migraine relief or spiritual things such as transcendence or visions. Although this practice is not as widely understood, it has different purposes that are healthy. Yet, some people would consider this self-mutilation and turn to psychology to support this. As a psychology major, I must provide a different definition for self-mutilation that is a form of psychopathology. Anything a person does with the intent of hurting one’s self for that purpose must be considered self-harm. However, if a person is modifying their body to create a spiritual or physical change, and is aware of the consequences and not suffering from other mental illness, self-mutilation can be acceptable.

     That is a complex way to think about it, however, the topic is not easy and ever individual is different. People that want dry tattoos for the purpose of feeling pain should not be get tattoos. Pain for the sake of pain is unhealthy and indicative of other emotional instability. So when someone puts hooks into their body to suspend, it can be beneficial, but there is no easy way to know with any form of body modification. Just as there are people that want tattoos to change their appearance and suspend for health benefits, there are always people on the other side, people that do the same rituals for the purpose of pain. In order to know if something is a psychological problem one must figure out if the person has a positive intention which is not possible without knowing more about the person.

     What is acceptable varies by culture as well, so the idea of pain may also be relative. For example, in scarification people purposely cut, brand, or bur themselves to create lasting scars in different patterns. In many cultures this is a rite of passage and considered aesthetically pleasing and indicative of maturity. However, many people see it as a form of self-mutilation because they are not able to consider it from the point-of-view of a person in an n African tribe (or any other group) in which this practice is important to the culture. This is also, a form of body modification that has different meanings. When used in a culture that accepts it or used to create an aesthetic significance, it is not related to any emotional instability.

     There are so many different ways that people alter their bodies. Sometimes it causes pain, but that does not make a person ill or emotionally unstable. However, there are many illnesses such as depression which lead to people intentionally harming themselves and that is dangerous. There is not a single practice in body modification that should be looked at, however, as psychopathology, in itself.  Psychopathology should take into account body modification as a method and not a cause for illness. Since some people do use body modification in order to cause themselves pain, it needs to be recognized. However, no one should jump to the conclusion that a person is mentally ill without identifying that the intent is a maladaptive coping mechanism or a or a method of harming one’s self.

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