Self-harm as an attempt at self-care

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This reflective and layered, interdisciplinary paper makes a space to think of self-harming as an attempt at self-care. Specifically, we acknowledge the self-care in turning to one’s own body to provide for oneself. Reviewing accounts in published memoirs and young people’s own personal accounts of self-harm taken from thematic analysis of a qualitative survey, we began to attune to echoes of such attempts at self-care. The wording, the images, and/or the ambience conveyed in some of the accounts, suggested to us traces of a kind of movement. Repetitive, permanent, deep, superficial, pleasing, ongoing, returning; it is an attempt at keeping oneself going even if it is by harming oneself. Sustaining self-harm, sustains one’s sense of self. Self-harming becomes a personally meaningful experience – a provision of, or an attempt at, a meaning. This imagining provides an alternative vision of how self-harm might be thought as an act of care towards the self. Self-harm seen in this way, makes attempts at healing by making attempts at meaning through a relationship with one’s body. Drawing on the significance of the early relationship with one’s own body as both a point of contact and differentiation between the self and world, we consider how the turn to the body in self-harming can be seen as a turn to a refuge through an act of self-care. We look at how qualitative details of pleasurable pain, repetition and permanence are traced in young people’s accounts of self-harm, conveying a self-caring quality by providing a feeling of aliveness, an experience of reliability and a sense of self, troubling dominant narratives of self-harming as a practice of habit, addiction and coping.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-120
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal for Qualitative Research in Psychotherapy
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • self-harm
  • body
  • relational
  • experiential meaning
  • interdisciplinary
  • narratives
  • phenomenology


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