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English 212
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Language Brought Into the Open

Jenny Wade

After writing my first essay during which I simply addressed the subject of heterosexuality and language, I found myself developing a theme for language that balanced both subtle and blunt methods of response, claiming characteristics of poetry, music, and art where language could be both confessional and hidden within metaphor. I now want to become more specific in terms of addressing a more particular group of individuals, individuals with psychological disorders, and plan to explore how this group articulates sex and the function/impact of sex both on the disorder and upon the individual in general. Interestingly enough, it seems that individuals who have dealt with depression, addiction, eating-disorders, and other disorders (yes I?m heavily generalizing for just a moment) use a language which plays heavily upon the blunt/metaphorical method of reponse displayed in art, poetry, and music. A psychological disorder highly sensitizes the individual who searches for a more effective type of language, but I want to specifically address the two particular disorders of addiction (sexual, alcohol, and drug) and self-injury (especially cutting ) due to the immense connection I see between them and within their attitudes towards sex and language.

As stated on the Sexual Compulsives Anonymous homepage, individuals suffering from sex addictions behave quite similarly to individuals suffering from drug/alcohol addictions by allowing sexual obsession to fill a void (as also attempted with substance abuse), resulting in a temporary escape from the real world. The addiction isn?t necessarily truly about sex, but about feelings of self-worth (or self worthlessness as for some victims such as those who suffered sexual abuse) Addictions to either drugs or alcohol function in a similar fashion by allowing the patient to either avoid a problem completely or deal with the problem by lessoning the emotional overwhelming through the dependence upon a substance. Likewise, their addictions are not simply caused by a love of drugs or alcohol, but from something incredibly complex. The Secret shame (self injury information and support) offers a similar explanation of dependence upon cutting (and other forms of self-injury) in order for an individual to relieve a ?numbness?, overwhelming despair, or altogether absence of emotion. Much like an addiction, self-injury becomes habitual and for the individual, provides an illusion that he/she can handle reality. In fact, the page attributes one of the causes of self-injury to feelings of low self-worth and repression, often times sexual repression in particular. This linkage between self-abuse (whether addiction or self-injury) and sexual repression/ inability to effectively address personal sexual identity clearly exists, and I have personally had friends who have experienced both cases of addiction and self-injury due to sexual repression or overwhelming feelings towards how to deal with the broader topic of sexuality.

Although the reclusive behavior and dissociation experienced by victims of self-abuse (for the rest of this paper I will use this term to refer both to self-injurers and sufferers of addiction) is widely complex, I believe that a sex-ed curriculum can be created to help these groups not only deal with sexuality, but in doing so, learn to more effectively discuss both sex and problems/emotions in general. I am not prescribing a way to necessarily cure these disorders, but to at least improve the level of openness in sexuality and abolish their silent screams. As stated in Psychology, a common characteristic of many psychological problems remains the attempt of many victims to dissociate, or distance, themselves from what causes their pain (799). This distancing of oneself remains an attempt of the individual to try and alleviate emotional distress, but more often results in numbness, estrangement, or lack of emotional connection to the issue that ails them (C8). On one of the self-injury web pages I visited, a private page by Yggdrasil entitled Psyke.Org, a large selection of poetry written about self-injury was available. Although self-injurers often have touble talking about what they do to themselves, these poems painted vivid accounts of the real situation. Interestingly enough, a great deal of the web pages I visited contained poetry. Perhaps poetry remains identifiable with these victims of self-abuse because it is passionate, full of emotion, yet still possesses a mysterious serenity that makes the intensity of the subject matter possibly to relate to and understand without overwhelming the victim. In The Search for the Perfect Language, art is claimed to be an ?eternity? that is a constant starting place (49). Taking this to heart, I propose a sex-ed curriculum that literally starts with art as visual image, music, and poetry,constructing simple yet concise ideas. Using these forms of language to encourage self-abuse victims to slowly start to express themselves, at first about anything, but eventually about sexuality. These forms allow expansion from the abstract to the specific as individuals become more comfortable in expressing themselves.

In Speaking Sex, Anthony Grey explains the relationship between sexual desire and aggression (89). It remains unquestionable that self-abuse victims suffer from aggression, which they unfortunately direct at themselves. Anthony Grey also clearly states that in order for a sex-ed curriculum to be effective, their must be no prejudgment and instead, openness towards attitudes different from one?s own (95). Emphasizing acceptance remains extremely important in the context of self-abuse victims due to the shame often already felt by these individuals for their addictions and habits (and what perhaps motivated them to take part in these self-injuring behaviors in the first place). The hope is to encourage openness through a comfortable language, whether painting, poetry, music, or any other form, that will allow the individual to first express himself without everyone else necessarily understanding highly metaphorical ?words? (the importance of language in this first step is not to communicate with others, but to articulate to oneself the reality of sexual identity and bring these feelings out in the open rather than drawing them within). Then, perhaps the issues can be discussed between participants after a raised comfort level is reached. The self-harming activity that preoccupies the individual and the energy these activities consume, can perhaps be transformed into a different type of passion, a new addiction, an addiction to searching for oneself, for methods of personal expression, of no longer swallowing bitter, horrific feelings but instead eliminating them.


Eco, Umberto. The Search for the Perfect Language. Trans. James Fentress. Cambridge:
Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1995.

Gleitman, Henry, Alan J. Fridlund, and Daniel Reisberg. Psychology. Ed. Cathy Wick. 5th
ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1999.

Grey, Anthony. Speaking of Sex. New York: Cassell, 1993.

Martinson, Deb. Secret shame (self injury information and support). 12 July 2001. Psych
Central.29 Sept.2002.

Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. 1997 Sexual Compulsives Anonymous International Service
Organization. 30 Sept. 2002

Yggdrasil. Psyke.Org. 8 Sept. 2002. Ratatosk. 29 Sept. 2002

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