Coping On The Dark Side: Self-Injury and the Gothic Subculture

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An argumentative essay that I wrote about why the gothic subculture and self-injury are unfairly affiliated.

Submitted: May 13, 2008

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Submitted: May 13, 2008

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Adolescents today are faced with an overwhelming number of problems, whether it be dealing with the opposite sex, learning pre-calc or battling social injustice. It is therefore normal for teenagers to try to associate themselves with a peer group that shares common interests.  In a world where the stress exerted on adolescents is constantly increasing, it is understandable that new coping mechanisms are developed, both positive and negative. One of these methods of survival, one that is steadily making a greater appearance, is self-injury, behaviour that has repeatedly been associated with the Gothic subculture. However, this is an unfair affiliation, a stereotypical misconception that must be dispelled. Self-injury is found in every milieu and teenage subculture and consequently, cannot be blamed on an interest in the Gothic subculture.
A large spectrum of teenage subcultures can be found in every high school. There are the omnipresent “popular” ones, sometimes called “preps”, the in crowd that governs the student body. Generally made up of the upper class of a school, they will have money, branded clothing and hold infamous parties. There are also the “geeks” or “nerds”, those who work hard, get high grades and don’t necessarily get out much. Those are the youths who seem to know the answer to every question and the ones who are usually eager to discuss new research or the latest novel. Though there are many teen subcultures, only one more will be explained as it pertains to the topic of this essay; the gothic subculture. The gothic culture is a diversified branch of the punk subculture, stemming principally from a style of music. Characteristic Goth bands include, The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Siousxie And The Banshees, London After Midnight, The Children of Bodom, Fields of the Nephilim and many more. Despite his common media affiliation to the culture, Marilyn Manson is widely disapproved of by Goths. The stigma surrounding the gothic subculture is largely unfounded, based on incidents such as the Columbine shootings, as well as the more recent shooting at Dawson College, or on the common misconceptions that all Goths are fetishists, depressed, haunters of cemeteries, bad poets or simply distastefully morbid. Though the Gothic subculture does reveal an interest in the darker side of life, Goths are generally open-minded, mature individuals, who take great pride in aesthetic clothing and image and who express themselves through all forms of art, whether through writing, visual arts, music, dance or film.
Self-injury, also known as self-harm, self-abuse or self-mutilation is defined as deliberately self-inflicted non-lethal pain. It is important to understand that it is injury inflicted to oneself without suicidal intent, no matter what action is performed. Self-harm is becoming increasingly popular, with a majority of self-harmers being teenage girls. Though the most commonly known mode of self-injury is cutting, many other forms exist; burning, substance abuse, overeating or deprivation, picking at wounds to prevent healing and many others. Self-harm has been found in milieus all over the world, and is not specific to any one cultural setting. Triggered by many things, self-injury brings on a rush of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers that appear after stress and trauma. This rush is called the “cutting high”, and is intimately linked to the addiction component of self-harm. As in any other situation where a “feel-good” sensation comes into play, the body shows an interest in re-experiencing the “buzz” and this is what leads into an addiction. Because of the endorphins, pain caused by self-harm is not felt as strongly, causing the “numbing” sensation that many cutters have mentioned in interviews. After a certain time, the endorphins pack less of a punch and pain is felt more strongly as a result. This is often what makes cutters realize their addiction to self-injury.
There are many triggers for self-injury and these initiators explain the presence of self-harm in such a variety of milieus. Stress can be found in every circle, though it may stem from different sources. For example, a death or illness in a family can engender a lot of worry on the behalf of the whole family, causing more stress for more vulnerable adolescents. Peer pressure is evidently found in many different sectors, as are depression, anger, disassociation and abuse. All of the above are commonly found causes for self-injury contrarily to popular belief that states that cutters just want attention. However, it must be remembered that young adults are known for being copycats and that adolescence is a time in which most teens experiment with different experiences and sensations, such as drugs, alcohol, sex, pleasure and, in the case of self-harm, pain. Self-injury is a release of negative energy and the root of the problem is whatever causes such an accumulation of anger.
Quite obviously, self-injury is highly stigmatized and it has frequently been associated to the gothic subculture. For many people, self-injury seems to be the signs of a mental illness or abnormality, and so, it is rarely accepted as a valid condition requiring assistance. Though self-harm can be found in any teen subculture, it does have an increased presence in the gothic teen culture. This has been related to the fact that the gothic subculture is generally constituted of rather open-minded and mature individuals who have a higher tolerance for diversity and faults. In a study conducted by the British Medical Journal, 1258 adolescent students were interviewed. Out of these students, 25 identified themselves as Goth, and approximately half of these students admitted to having self-injured before. However, nearly all of the admitted self-harmers said that they had self-harmed before associating themselves with the gothic subculture. Psychologist Robert Young, of the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow directed the study and said the following:


“Although only fairly small numbers of young people identify as belonging to the Goth subculture, rates of self-harm and attempted suicide are very high among this group. One common suggestion is [that] they may be copying subcultural icons or peers. But since our study found more reported self-harm before, rather than after, becoming a Goth, this suggests young people with a tendency to self-harm are attracted to the Goth subculture. […] Rather than posing a risk, it’s possible that by belonging to this subculture, young people are gaining valuable social and emotional support from their peers.”

This is certainly a note worthy concept, and would prove that people who are interested in the Gothic subculture might find acceptance and possibly even counsel in the group. The high level of media influence must also been taken into account when discussing self-injury. With the recent popularization of “emotional hardcore” music, more and more adolescents are beginning to take on the “emo” look, which involves dyed hair cut in front of the eyes, black nail varnish, numerous wrist bands, copious amounts of eye liner and dark skinny jeans. Most Goths are disdainful of this new genre, as its members tend to give darker and more alternative subcultures a bad rap. The stereotype of the “depressed emo kid” has become very common, and teenage writing about depression, self-injury, pain, heartbreak and death is now widely accessible on the web. It has become cool to be depressed, fashionable to have a lot of angst, and this is making real depression and issues with self-injury a banality.
In conclusion, self-injury cannot be blamed on an interest in the Gothic culture and it must be treated seriously. Though self-harm levels have been found to be higher in Goths, this has been related to the greater acceptance of diversity that is characterized in the subculture. Self-injury is an important issue for the current generation of adolescents and it is only through the assistance of parents, relatives, teachers and friends that the problem can decrease. If depression and self-harm are not dealt with early on, the addiction can become overwhelming and it is much harder to stop once a cycle has started. Therefore, to help teenagers overcome the difficulties of adolescence, we must stop judging them and start appreciating who they really are, beyond cultural separations.


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