Loners in the Social World
During the early years of self-injury’s rise, in the 1990s and early 2000s, people who self-injured were often isolated from other self-injurers. The behavior was either unknown by much of the public or misunderstood. As a result, practitioners had little or no interaction with others like themselves. This chapter focuses on this period and describes the way self-injuring was affected by the social and historical context of that time.
Sociological categories exist that describe individuals who have similar kinds of relationships and associations with other deviants as self-injurers. Although these analytical types may not fit self-injurers perfectly, they shed insight into some of the underlying dynamics of self-injurers’ lives and worlds at the same time as they modify our scholarly conceptions about the social organization of deviance.
Joel Best and David Luckenbill (1982) articulated five types of deviant associations, two of which pertain to our population. Loners are defined as people who lack associations with other deviants such as themselves. They do not hang around with fellow deviants, nor do they discuss their deviance with others. This relative isolation requires loner deviants to move into their norm violations on their own, without the knowledge, social support, practical guidance, or reinforcement from others that comes with membership in a deviant subculture. Of all forms of deviants, loners are characterized as those most entrenched in the normative, mainstream culture and are likely, then, to view their deviant acts through the value system of conventionality. Selfinjurers, like other deviants such as embezzlers,1 rapists,2 physician and pharmacist drug addicts,3 paranoids,4 suicides,5 sexual asphyxiates,6 and bulimics and anorexics,7 fit primarily into this category, especially in their solid-world, face-to-face lives and associations.
Colleagues are people who do know and socialize with other deviants such as themselves and may even perform their deviant acts in the company of these others. Having other deviants as friends or acquaintances, they gain the benefits of membership in a deviant subculture, such as the diffusion of