Self-Harm and Heroism

Sure enough, more pronounced cuts soon appeared on Dylan’s upper body. This self-hatred seemed to be triggered, not caused, by continued friction with Violet. Dylan’s difficulties were much more profound than simply not getting with a girl he liked. Rather, her rejection seemed to confirm a whole malign set of assumptions that Dylan had about himself, about the world and his place in it.

He feared abandonment and felt Violet had correctly identified what a worthless little shit he was. His initial descent into anorexia had been caused by being dumped by a girl. He’d thought, “fine, if you don’t care about me, why should I care about myself?” He had so little value for himself, that any sense of self-regard had to be borrowed from another person. Without it he was nothing. Or soon would be.

Now, he said, “it would be so easy to slip back into the eating disorder”. But he and I had made a commitment to ourselves and each other, to keep eating.

Philip, my therapist, has always said that anorexia is a strategy. It appears the best of the alternatives at hand, and is employed for a reason. Denied that, Dylan found another coping strategy, a way of centring and calming himself with the simple immediacy of pain, of expressing his unhappiness and his disdain for himself: he turned against his own skin. So self-harm allowed him to continue the struggle for recovery. It was, strangely, a sign of his determination. It was, in a way, kind of heroic.

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