Self-harm as an attempt at self-care



self-harm, relational, body, meaning, interdisciplinary


This reflective and layered, interdisciplinary paper makes a space to think of self-harming as an attempt at self-care. Specifically, we acknowledge the self-care in turning to one’s own body to provide for oneself. Reviewing accounts in published memoirs and young people’s own personal accounts of self-harm taken from thematic analysis of a qualitative survey, we began to attune to echoes of such attempts at self-care. The wording, the images, and/or the ambience conveyed in some of the accounts, suggested to us traces of a kind of movement. Repetitive, permanent, deep, superficial, pleasing, ongoing, returning; it is an attempt at keeping oneself going even if it is by harming oneself. Sustaining self-harm, sustains one’s sense of self. Self-harming becomes a personally meaningful experience – a provision of, or an attempt at, a meaning. This imagining provides an alternative vision of how self-harm might be thought as an act of care towards the self. Self-harm seen in this way, makes attempts at healing by making attempts at meaning through a relationship with one’s body. Drawing on the significance of the early relationship with one’s own body as both a point of contact and differentiation between the self and world, we consider how the turn to the body in self-harming can be seen as a turn to a refuge through an act of self-care. We look at how qualitative details of pleasurable pain, repetition and permanence are traced in young people’s accounts of self-harm, conveying a self-caring quality by providing a feeling of aliveness, an experience of reliability and a sense of self, troubling dominant narratives of self-harming as a practice of habit, addiction and coping.

Author Biographies

Zoi Simopoulou, Postdoctoral Researcher, Counselling, Psychotherapy and Applied Social Sciences, School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh

Zoi Simopoulou is an Art Therapist in practice with children and young people and a Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh with an interest in psychoanalytic and existential theories.

Amy Chandler, Senior Lecturer, School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh

Amy Chandler is a Sociologist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh. Her research uses qualitative methods to explore experiences and understandings of suicide, self-harm and drug use.



How to Cite

Zoi Simopoulou, & Amy Chandler. (2020). Self-harm as an attempt at self-care. European Journal for Qualitative Research in Psychotherapy, 10, 110-120. Retrieved from