Is Self-Harm Fanfiction Helpful or Harmful?
Self-harm fanfiction can be a tool for healing or a harmful trigger to self-injure. It all depends on the writer's intent and the reader's discretion.
What Is Self-Harm Fanfiction?
When I use the term "self-harm fanfiction," I don't mean "fiction written by people who are fans of self-harm." Rather, I'm referring to fan-created works of fiction that reframe popular, published works (including books, movies, shows, and more) as self-harm stories.
There are a lot of reasons why people write this sort of thing—and just as many reasons why someone would want to read it. I have not written any myself. But I know how healing it can be to take something horrible you've been through and spin a story of healing out of it. I can also imagine, however, how triggering such works could be for both readers and writers alike.
So how do you know the difference? How can we point to one story and say it's harmful, then point to another of the same ilk and call it cathartic? Where's the line between the two? It's blurry, but I'll do my best to bring my own definition of it into focus.
When Self-Harm Fanfiction Is Harmful
In short, self-harm fanfiction can be harmful when it:
- Romanticizes, eroticizes, or glorifies the act of self-harm
- Presents self-harm as a healthy, effective, or otherwise attractive coping mechanism
- Goes into gruesome detail about a character's wounds or methods of self-harm
- Misrepresents self-harm or people who self-harm through stereotypes or stigma
Of course, even some of these points are debatable. In a body horror story, for example, gruesome details are to be expected. If a story is written from the point of view of a character who self-harms, it might make sense for their narration to reflect their own negative feelings about themselves or their self-harm.
If you're thinking of writing a self-harm fanfiction (or fanfic), make sure you know the difference between character voice, your speaker's voice, and your own intent. Make sure that self-harm does not solve a character's problems—self-harm itself is a problem, and usually creates more issues than it resolves.
If you do plan to include details about wounds, tools, methods, etc., be sure you have a good reason for doing so—and be sure to include a trigger warning to protect vulnerable readers. And especially if you're writing about self-harm without any personal experience, do your research—don't just assume, for example, that self-harm always means a person is suicidal. (Spoiler alert, it doesn't.)
If you're a reader, know your limits. If you know that reading about self-harm is triggering for you, it may be better not to read self-harm fanfics at all. Instead, think about why you want to read them. If you want to read about self-harm because you want to see people recover from it, try reading real-life memoirs by people in recovery. If it's just the healing part you're interested in, try reading recovery stories by people who have struggled with other physical (or mental) maladies. Whatever you read, always check for trigger warnings.
The Healing Potential of Self-Harm Fanfiction
It's not healthy to constantly be writing or reading self-harm fanfiction if doing so only drives you deeper into your own vicious cycle of self-injury. But that doesn't mean it's wrong to write (or read) it, and in fact, sometimes it can be a force for good.
Self-harm fanfiction can be healing when it:
- Portrays self-harmers and the act itself with sensitivity and empathy
- Focuses on the healing journey of recovering from self-harm
- Models good coping mechanisms to replace self-harm with
- Models healthy ways in which others can support someone's recovery journey
- Portrays the healing journey as unique to the individual (and avoids a "quick-fix" or "cure-all" resolution)
- Avoids going into unnecessary detail about wounds, tools, methods, etc.
For some people, writing about self-harm can be a safe and productive way to revisit and reframe a real-life narrative with a fresh perspective. Writing about a character you feel close to suffering the same things you've struggled with and—importantly—healing from them can help you work through difficult emotions and motivate yourself to continue down the path of recovery. When I was just starting out as a writer, I often used writing fanfiction in the past to sort through all sorts of thoughts and feelings that felt tangled up in my head until I unraveled them on paper.
Reading such stories can be equally helpful for the same reasons. It's all about connection. Watching a character you love hurt themselves can be difficult, but watching them find ways to stop and start healing instead can be incredibly empowering.
Self-harm fanfiction is neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Whether it's helpful to you, to read or to write, depends entirely on you. Know your triggers. Know your limits. Pay attention to how a story makes you feel.
If it makes you feel understood, hopeful, or motivated in some way to take better care of yourself or someone you love, that's a good sign. If it makes you feel guilty, desperate, depressed, or hopeless, walk away from it. Talk to someone. Read or write something that has nothing to do with self-harm, something that will make you feel better, not worse. Go outside; go for a walk if you can. Listen to music that inspires you.
Never go back to a story that leaves you worse off than before you started it. Learn when you need to say "no," and practice saying it as often as you need to.
Kim Berkley (2022, May 19). Is Self-Harm Fanfiction Helpful or Harmful?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/5/is-self-harm-fanfiction-helpful-or-harmful