Becoming a self-harmer : a discourse analysis.
Self-harm is a behaviour constructed as ostracised and abhorrent in most social discourses. While there is an abundance of available research about self-harm, a distinctive gap in the literature concerns how an individual begins to self-harm. Research has indicated that having a friend or family member who self-harms is the strongest predictor of future self-harm, yet no published studies have sought to explain this in detail. This thesis explored how self-harming participants construct their first self-harming experience – a behaviour which appears prima facie to be outside of socially accepted conventions, and suggests that this behaviour may become normalised through knowing other self-harmers. It was found that both participants had a self-harming friend prior to the onset of their self-harming behaviour, and that both participants confided in someone who subsequently began to self-harm. Participants positioned these two categories of individuals in different ways. Participants relied on a ‘victim’ discourse to establish their self-harm as meaningful in a way which limited any blame or stigma attributable to them, but which subsequently limited their agency in their narratives. The discourse of attention-seeking heavily influenced participants’ narratives, and was acknowledged as the dominant discourse self-harmers must contend with in presenting their behaviour as meaningful and rational.