Torn between skinship and kinship : the phenomenology of self-mutilation

Malcolm, Charles F (1994) Torn between skinship and kinship : the phenomenology of self-mutilation. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




The aim of this study was to describe the female elf-mutilator's lived experience of cutting herself. A question which would elicit a description of the experience of this phenomenon was formulated. Five self-mutilators were interviewed. The four psychologically richest narratives were chosen for this study. Using the empirical phenomenological method. the four protocols were analysed in detail. Self-mutilation is conceptualized as a cycle wherein the mutilator experiences a diffuse bodily felt-sense that mounts to an unbearable point. She has an irresistible urge to alleviate the distress. She isolates herself and cuts herself with a sharp blade. Upon seeing the blood appear she is overcome with a deep sense of satisfaction. power, and ecstatic pleasure. The blood is perceived to carry the distressing contents out of the body. Concomitantly the self-mutilator recollects a sense of her feelings and her body as belonging to her. Her previously alienated body is felt to be a site of vitality. She also feels removed from further harm. encased in a cocoon of safety that renders her invulnerable to others. However. the cutting can never totally rid the body of distressing feelings. As a result the cycle of cutting wiII be re-enacted. The cutting cycle is conceptualized as a process whereby the self-mutilator suffers from a traumatization of the psyche such that the psychic container is fractured and rendered painfully porous. The act of cutting rids the psyche of unwanted contents such that a sense of going-on-being is restored. The cutting acts to temporarily shore up the rent fabric of the psychic envelope and thereby consolidate a sense of personal boundary. This is a temporary respite from the fracturing of the psychic container in that, once again confronted with interpersonal existence, the self-mutilator begins to feel vulnerable and defenceless. When it seems as if disintegration is again imminent, a cycle of cutting is reconstituted. The findings emergent from the interviews were dialogued with the literature on psychic containers, particularly that which addresses the role of the skin in the formation and functioning of psychic containers.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Borderline personality disorder, Self-mutilation
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > Psychology
ID Code:2006
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:25 Aug 2011 06:05
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:21
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