Non Suicidal Self-Injury As a Social Regulation Strategy: Experiences of Suffering Among Chileans and French Adolescents

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:05
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Alvaro JIMENEZ, Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, France
During the last decades, there has been a significant rise in the prevalence of self-harm among adolescents on a global scale, particularly self-cutting (‘Non suicidal self-injury’ in the DSM-5). Since the late 70s, self-injury has been understood as a method of self-help, a strategy of affective or cognitive self-regulation motivated by internal-emotional-neurological psychopathology. This perspective fails to consider self-injury as a phenomenon framed in a complex system of interactions. This paper aims to show the way in which self-injury constitutes a sociological problem, exploring the relations between symptoms and socio-cultural factors. What makes self-injury an effective resource for individuals? What is its meaning and how is it experienced by individuals? How self-injury is expressed in different social contexts? To answer these questions, this paper describes the experiences of adolescents who have hurt themselves in Santiago (Chile) and Paris (France), using ethnographic observations and semi-structured interviews (n=30) in different health services.

Results: Self-injury is a behaviour that allows self-regulation of emotions and anticipation of impulsion. Self-injury is not an impulsive act, but a process that involves a system of meanings and interactions. Self-injury emerges when the individual does not find a way to contextualize or manage an intense suffering through his social relations. It is a way to regulate an emotion that cannot be normatively managed. There is an emotional tone that prevails in the hierarchy of emotions in the two local contexts: Chilean adolescents describe ‘rabia’ [angry], while French describe ‘angoisse’ [anxiety]. Sometimes when self-injury cannot be an effective response, i.e. when it does not produce an emotional and social regulation effect, suicide attempt appears as a possible act.

Conclusion: The aggression of the body tissue is not only a practice that aims to regulate the emotional experience, but also a strategy to regulate the social experience or social situation.