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Straker, G. (2006). Signing with a Scar: Understanding Self-Harm. Psychoanal. Dial., 16(1):93-112.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 16(1):93-112

Signing with a Scar: Understanding Self-Harm

Gillian Straker, Ph.D.

Through experience-near descriptions of self-cutting gleaned from those who do so, the subjective experience and the conscious and unconscious meanings and functions of this phenomenon are explored. From an analysis of verbatim transcripts, it seems that, over and above the function of self-soothing, self-cutting is an attempt to put in place the elements involved in the building of self-structure. These include mirroring, the establishment of a boundary, the building of a narrative autobiographical memory, and the impregnation of verbal signifiers with signifiers of the flesh. These attempts are, however, doomed to fail as they do not occur in a truly intersubjective space. Nevertheless, they are a step along the way and represent an attempt to establish intersubjectivity as one part of the self tries to attend to another. Therein lies a modicum of hope that has implications for the treatment of this perplexing phenomenon.

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