Narrating the self-injured body

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Abstract

Illness narratives have traditionally been used as a conceptual tool for exploring experiences of chronic illness or disease. In this paper, I suggest that Frank's typology of illness narratives (chaos, restitution and quest) also offers an illuminating approach to analysing accounts of self-injury, demonstrating the diverse ways in which self-injury is practiced, experienced and narrated. Drawing on 24 narrative interviews with 12 people who had self-injured, I focus on participants' accounts of their self-injured bodies. The approach is phenomenological, and concerned with talk about the experience of living with and in a body that has been marked by self-injury. Thus, the act of self-injury is not the sole focus, and particular attention is paid to accounts of the bodily aftermath: scars, marks and wounds. Scars left by self-injury can be seen as communicative, and the analysis developed here demonstrates some of the various ways that these marks may be read. Attending to these diverse narratives can contribute to the provision of compassionate, non-judgemental care for patients who have self-injured. Further, highlighting the existence of different ways of narrating the self-injured body may offer an optimistic resource for people who have self-injured.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Humanities
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2014

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