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The prevalence and practice of self-injury: a sociological enquiry.

Mayrhofer, Andrea M.


Andrea M. Mayrhofer


Philip W. Sutton

John G. Love


The widespread practice of non-suicidal self-injury suggests that it might no longer be reasonable to frame such behaviours as individual pathologies and highlights the need to understand such acts as sociological phenomena instead. This dissertation therefore explored the core elements of self-injury such as the self, the body, and meanings ascribed to acts of injuring the self/body, in relation to forms of sociation. Focusing on intent and aetiology, this qualitative enquiry used an interpretive mode of explanation, and collected data via indepth face-to-face interviews from a characteristically diverse community sample of fifteen participants. Findings indicated that respondents' aetiologies of self-injury were located in social interactions characterised by abuse, neglect, bullying, and invalidation. Individuals who perceived themselves as worthless and unlovable objects punished themselves, or branded themselves as failures. Paradoxically, sufficient castigation averted the complete annihilation of the existential self. Findings concur with previous studies which reported that, at its deepest level, self-injury is antithetical to suicide. This study also highlighted the body's communicative role in the symbolic expression of traumatic experiences, and emphasised its physiological role in (a) emotion regulation and (b) self-injury's propensity to become addictive. From a sociological perspective, instant emotion regulation via self-injury allowed individuals to avoid social stigma; well managed social performances in turn protected social bonds. Although self-injury constitutes a maladaptive coping mechanism, its reported physiological, psychological and social gains are significant and need to be considered in intervention programmes and policy. This dissertation therefore makes two recommendations: firstly, restorative practices should be reinstituted, particularly in schools; secondly, the growing and alarming trend of copycat behaviours reported in children and young teens needs to be researched further in relation to the mediation, ideation and imitation of self-injurious behaviours.


MAYRHOFER, A.M. 2009. The prevalence and practice of self-injury: a sociological enquiry. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 2, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 2, 2017
Keywords Selfinjury; Non-suicidal self injury; Self harm; Suicide
Public URL
Award Date Apr 30, 2009


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