In this book, we have charted the rise and evolution of self-injury since the early 1990s to the end of the twenty-first century’s first decade. Our research makes a rare contribution to the literature on this topic because it is the first in-depth, sociological, longitudinal study of self-injurers living in their natural worlds, neither in psychiatric treatment nor in institutional settings. We add here to empirical knowledge about noninpatient groups alternative youth movements, adolescents, adults, and cyber populations, a previously untapped mass of individuals who manage their self-injury on their own, largely without recourse to clinical observation.
We gathered life histories from over 135 people who reflected on their childhood backgrounds, their often troubled adolescence, and their adult lives. In addition, we followed many of these people personally, both in the solid world and through continuing cyber communication, so we have been able to see how the people we knew evolved as they aged and as their lives and social relationships developed. These communications were supplemented by a near decade of thousands of Internet postings.
These longitudinal data give us a picture of how people manage their selfinjury and what part it plays or has played in their everyday lives. Many of the people we initially interviewed, both in the solid world and in cyberspace, have quit self-injuring and moved on to more sanguine places in their lives. Others have continued to self-injure. The world around them has undergone rapid social change, yet self-injurers’ behavior remains hidden, and the population is still elusive to pinpoint.
We have documented here, through the empirical accounts of past and present self-injurers and through our own observations, three historical periods in the evolution of self-injury, as its awareness and meaning have transformed from the ancient and ritualistic or hidden period to its phase of burgeoning awareness and finally to its development as a trendy fad, a recognized mode of expressing inner angst for people going through the challenges of adolescence and a way for troubled individuals of all ages to alleviate oth-