Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Some thoughts on Goths and self-harm

For a while now I have wanted to discuss this article, which I read online many moons ago, but have been a little nervous about doing so as it's a potentially controversial topic. However, at quarter past midnight last night, I was working away on my laptop after giving up on trying to fall asleep with a tattoo that itches like blazes and a scaffold piercing which still hasn't healed (ear cartilage piercings take forever to heal, with me anyway) and makes it difficult to lie on my right side, and managed to put into words the theory I have come up with regarding this topic.

So I'm going to post this somewhat tentatively - please remember that this is just a theory and I am not presenting it as fact! Please be nice.

Source: YouTube
The article I have linked to above discusses those all-too-widely stereotyped connections between the Goth subculture and self-harm. Whilst you and I know that 'Goths are all miserable all the time' is a ridiculous stereotype believed by an ignorant majority, and I for one would swear up and down that being involved with Goth culture DOES NOT make a person depressed, suicidal, or want to harm themselves in any way, nor does Goth encourage this or glorify it, the study covered by this article has supposedly proven that a sizeable proportion of young people with an interest in the Goth scene (note: we may of course be talking mallgoths here, I suspect this study was very generalised when it came to discerning between types of subculture, but I feel my points are still possibly valid) have at some point self-harmed - more so than young people associated with any other scene or subculture.

At first, this reads as though there should be cause for concern amongst parents of young Goths - however, the article mentions that most of these young people self-harmed BEFORE coming to identify with the subculture, and in fact goes on to suggest that Goth may actually be providing a sort of support network for unhappy youngsters and/or those with possible depression and other psychological 'issues'. So the question brought up by the article is this: Do these young people self-harm because they are Goth, or are they drawn to Goth because of their self-harm?

My sneaking suspicion is that both parts of the above question may actually be true. I see you looking shocked, there. Allow me to explain. No, I don't believe that people with an interest in Goth are likely to have self-harmed 'because they are Goth'. But my thoughts are that a proportion of those involved in Goth (not necessarily a large proportion - perhaps something like the 10% quoted in the article) may have, at some point in their lives (whether or not they self-identified as Goths at the time) self-harmed in some way or suffered from some kind of psychological disorder, e.g. anorexia nervosa.

This is partly because Goth can be seen, basically, as a cross-section of society, involving all sorts of people from all walks of life, and therefore is bound to include some who have suffered depression, eating disorders, or self-harm. And partly because, theoretically - well, I have spoken before about the 'Goth worldview', and about the fact that a minority of people appear to be naturally attracted to and interested in darker or different things than mainstream society. Speaking from personal experience, growing up with an outlook that was markedly different than that of my peers and trying to fit in with 'normal' society was something akin to trying to push a square peg into a round hole.

Some people - and I'd be willing to bet that those are those same 'Gothically-minded' people - just Don't Fit In with mainstream society and its views on how people should be. Which, unless you are a person with endless reserves of confidence and self-esteem (and there are many of this type of people in the scene too, who are probably reading this and going, "What on EARTH is she talking about?"), isn't easy, particularly during the adolescent stage when one already feels adrift and somewhat bewildered. Being the 'token weirdo' of your peer group, and not actually being able to do anything about it - when it's just the way you are - leads to bullying and ridicule on top of that constant sense of just not belonging. Put together, these are the reasons why I suspect that more than a few young Gothlings (again, whether or not they were 'Goth' at the time) have turned to unhealthy methods of coping with their emotions.

Added to this, a lot of young Goths have suffered the same trials and tribulations as many of their peers (abuse, bullying, divorce, family dysfunction or breakdown, bereavement). This kind of shit is, frankly, pretty normal in modern society, but combined with the above-mentioned 'weirdo effect' - that knowledge that, no matter how hard you try you won't fit in, because you, little peg, are just the wrong damned shape for that there hole - and I'd say you have a pretty good recipe for an unhappy teenager, at risk of self-harm, depression, eating disorders and other psychological nasties.

Speaking again from personal experience, I would suspect that what happens to confused and unhappy young people when they become part of the Goth subculture is much the same as what happened to me - a sense of massive relief that actually, you're not the only peg that isn't fitting that hole. In fact, there's a whole subculture full of people who are actively celebrating the fact that the way they see life and the world, the things they enjoy and are interested in, are for the most part quite different than the outlook of 'normal' people. And you know what? This peg may not fit in that hole, but it doesn't care. You can keep your stupid hole - this peg is happy with its own shape. This is the prevalent attitude of the Goth community and society, and if it's teaching young people to be comfortable in their own skin and with their own minds, frankly I'd say that's a damn good thing.

Perhaps some of these young people originally sought out Goth culture because they believed the stereotypes - that Goth embraces death and despair - and thought it would be a way to wallow in their feelings of sadness and alienation. Perhaps some of them later move on to other things and look back on Goth as 'just a phase', the feelings that they had of 'not fitting in' simply caused by the trials and stress that go hand-in-hand with adolescence. But - in my experience, at least - being involved with Goth culture, whether as a phase or as a permanent lifestyle, helps to relieve that sense of alienation during the teen years, and brings a sense of self-acceptance (which, as one grows up, is followed by self-esteem).

An additional note: in the comments below, Laurel says she doesn't feel that more Goths have self-harmed, but she points out, "While Goth doesn't condone such acts, it also doesn't make one out to be a terrible person because of it, either. Only in recent years, has the mainstream started to talk openly about mental illness, abuse, and suffering in general. I think it's the desire to look at things through rose colored glasses and avoid things that frighten. Whereas Goth, in contrast, is about accepting the darker things in life. I think Goths are just more comfortable in admitting that they self-harmed than non-Goths - because there's less stigma attached to it." Here is Laurel's post on the subject.

Taking my views and Laurel's into consideration, yes, I can see why there are notable links between Goth and self-harm - but I don't think that these connections are at all a cause for concern. If anything, I think that Goth culture, its tolerance, acceptance and unique worldview, is providing comfort for distressed young people at a time when they need it the most.


OpiateVampire said...

I like your theory :)
I was very depressed in middle school, self harming and all that, I used to fantasize about just falling asleep and never waking up. It was a symptom of years of bullying and abuse at home. When I found goth, I found something to live for! I had something that I loved that made me feel like it was okay to be different. In fact it made me feel kind of normal for once, knowing that there were other people out there who liked the same things and generally didn't fit in with their peers as well. And now because of goth, I have lots of friends! Weird how that all works out.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's that goths self-harm any more than anyone else, or that those who self-harm are neccesarily drawn to goth more than, say, a sport. Rather, I think it has to do with the differing views that goth and the mainstream have about it. While goth doesn't condone such acts, it also doesn't make one out to be a terrible person because of it, either. Only in recent years, has the mainstream started to talk openly about mental illness, abuse, and suffering in general. I think ti's the desire to look at things through rose colored glasses and avoid things that frighten. Whereas goth, in contrast, is about accepting the darker things in life. I think goths are just more comfortable in admitting that they self-harmed than non-goths--because there's less stigma attached to it. Sorry if my babbling makes absolutely no sense; I will post on my own blog and see if I can explain better.

Anonymous said...

I like you theory on the matter of self-harm here, even though I have never even thought of that matter before. I guess you could say I have a higher self-esteem.

ultimategothguide said...

@ OpiateVampire - I had similar difficulties at around the same age (I think - about 11-15 years old?); whilst I'm not sure if Goth culture helped me overcome self-harm or if that was something I did on my own, I was also considered 'at risk' of an eating disorder which I underwent therapy for - I feel that being involved with Goth culture helped me massively with this because of the acceptance and openness that there is within the subculture, because as you say it showed me it was OK to be different and allowed me to accept myself as I am, faults and all.

@ Laurel - GOOD point - how did I miss that? Damn, I need to work that into the post somehow!

Alice said...

For me i've been goth music since I was 8 (my parens used to listen to the sisters of mercy, siouxsie and the banshees etc.), i've only been dressing goth since I was 10.
From the age of 3 I have had many traumatic expirences, which have caused me to have many mental breakdowns and then finally been diagnosed with bipolar in August this year. I've been through eating disorders, self harm, and other things,so for me goth and self harm are seperate, I didn't do it because I was goth, or become goth because I did it. I was sort of brought up goth, and just had some unlucky moments that have affected me in that way.

ultimategothguide said...

@ Alice - would you, then, agree with Laurel's view that Goths just tend to be more open about discussing such things, and that there is no solid connection between Goth and self-harm? Or my point that because Goth involves such a large number and variety of people, there are bound to be some within the subculture that self-harm, and would have done so whether they were affiliated with Goth or not?

Sorry, I don't mean to bombard you with questions! Just curious as to your opinion.

Alice said...

I think it's both points, there is a large number of people and variety, but as a culture we are more open to about discussing it (speaking from experince, my goth friends talk about it more then my non-goth friends).

(I don't mind the questions. I'm actully surprised that I commented i usually avoid this subject)

⚏ Arlecchino Fluorescente ⚝ said...

Like others, I would say that I had pre-existing issues, and the openness and allowing-you-to-be-yourself of the Gothic subculture was helpful to me.

I remember proclaiming at school that Goths weren't miserable and didn't want to kill themselves or eat puppies (in fact most members of my friend group were Vegan), but simultaneously I was hurting myself and periodically attempting suicide.

But when I was getting dressed-up to go out, that was a rare moment of happiness. The style didn't evoke the depression, that was already there. I think my negative outlook on life came from us not being able to live in my mother's homeland because of the dangers, the traditional school bullying I experienced in England, things that happened in my teens, etcetera. My parents were in a biker gang so I'd seen plenty of alternative style already, and I was roughly eleven when I became Goth with a friend. She didn't stick with it for long, but I did until a year or so ago. I'm quite ill now, in my twenties, and I lack the energy for bouffant outfits. But I still love the style just as much.

So yeah. I think the issues are usually pre-existing and the Goth subculture makes people feel a lot better, because the people within it are usually understanding and had similar experiences, and you can decorate yourself to match however you feel.

I don't think you NEED to have issues though, I've known plenty of bright, bubbly Goths whose only terrible experience was their rabbit dying when they were five (not to downplay such an experience, but you get what I mean).

I don't think there's any solid link. I was diagnosed as mentally ill last year, which is a whole other story, but every other person in the NHS centre for attempted suicides and depression etcetera, just looked like normal people you'd walk past on the street.


Anonymous said...

when i was 13/14 i got pretty seriously depressed. i was suicidal. if i wasn't so deathly afraid of blood[one time i cuy my pinkie on a cat food can and nearly passed out :/] i would be cutting. that was when i started to show an intrest in goth. ultimatly my mom found some poetry i had written... i'm sorta goth in mind but not in looks

Anonymous said...

btw umm i made two very poorly planned attempts at hanging with two belts tied together. idk why i brought that up.

Anonymous said...

one final thing (fail) i did however find ways to hurt myself. whenever i was sad or angry, i would smack myself, HARD. THAWCK till the back of my hands were red. i could hurt myself equally hard with one hand as well as the other

Anonymous said...

I used to bite myself when I was angry. It wasn't because I wanted to hurt myself. It was more because I knew my parents wouldn't want my to. (most of the time when I was mad I was mad at my parents) I didn't want them to know though... So every time after I bit myself I would wear armwarmers to cover the bites. They found out anyway... Oh well. About the higher suicide rate in goths, maybe they wouldn't be killing themselves if you'd just LET THEM GET ON THE FREAKIN' BUS!!!!

Opheliac said...

I have been self-harming for about a month now, and am truely ashamed... I don't think that anyone or any thing in particular is the cause of my anxiety and stress, instead I put it as if I am digging my own grave. A few of my friends have noticed a negative change in me (ex.. Getting frustrated easily, crying all the time, not eating) and keep telling me to see a doctor a phsycologist. I heed their recommendations, and talk to my parents about my depression, only for them to say, "All you need to do is not let things get to you." From that point on, I felt confused and lonely, for I did not know how to relieve stress nor how to manage my life. My friends are slowly breaking away from me, and I just feel as if my life is only a dream-- A waste. I have always been interested with Goth, and until this year, never really took in the lifestyle. But now that I am a little older and more independent, I am really trying to take in the style. I already listen to tons of Goth bands and have developed the lifestlye, but have always been afraid of telling my parents that I want to be a full-fledged Goth. But so far, Goth has been allowing me to truely express myself. I am now not afraid to dress the way I want or live the way I want. I still think I am going through depression (worst case scenario, I might be slightly bipolar) and I still hurt myself, but knowing that there are other Gothlings out there who are not afraid to show the world who they really are inspires me to be myself, and to be (somewhat) okay with who I am.

Anonymous said...

Yes! That's totally how is was for me. I had been suffering from depression for years already and that is a lot of what drew me to the goth subculture and I do find it helps me cope. I still get depressed but at least now I don't also feel so alone on top of that. And the music is so therapeutic.

Actually when I first heard about the bullying-related suicides that have been in the news, my first thought was, normally bullying doesn't make people kill themselves - we just go goth instead. And show the bullies our fangs.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...