The Phenomenology of the Cut
Many scholarly portraits of self-injury are analytical, detached, and impersonal. They objectify and externalize an act that is, at its essence, about feelings. Yet at its core, self-injury is about the pain that drives people and the feelings of relief that they get from it. Comprehending self-injury requires a close, densely textured examination of how this act is carried out, felt, and interpreted by the people who perform it. It requires particular attention to the accompanying range of emotions. Clearly there are different sensations people experience from self-injuring, just as there are different reasons why they do it, so this cannot simply be reduced to a single formula. But the act of self-injury, its preparation, its practice, and its aftermath are experiences that are powerfully important to its practitioners.
Sociologists have written about the relationship between consciousness, the body, and nature. Their quest has been to capture what occurs phenomenally in experience by giving close, descriptive analyses of the deep, inner essence of people’s perceptions, interpretations, and understandings of their lifeworlds. This chapter takes a phenomenological approach to looking at the existential sensations of self-injury.
Many people told us that when they reflected on their acts, it felt as if they were replaying a short movie in their minds. In this chapter we use their voices to present the most immediate thoughts and sensations that they reported when they reflected about their experiences of self-injury.
People were prompted to self-injure by a variety of motivations. The greatest number used self-injury as a mechanism to help them deal with life situations that were too intense to handle other ways. Although injuring themselves did not solve their problems, it enabled them to get through difficult periods by a means that they found, at least temporarily, acceptable.