Time frames and self-hurting: that was then, this is now

West, Elizabeth; Newton, Victoria Louise and Barton-Breck, Andy (2013). Time frames and self-hurting: that was then, this is now. Health, Risk & Society, 15(6-7) pp. 580–595.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2013.846302


In this article, we explore the different time frames through which 25 adults who have used non-suicidal self-hurting throughout their lives evaluate their experiences. Participants in the study on which this article is based were drawn from a non-clinical population recruited mainly through dedicated websites. All were interviewed in 2008 in South London. The participants all used time frames to structure their narratives about their use of self-hurting. Short time frames placed around the act of self-hurting itself let them focus on the immediate effects, including pleasure. Longer time frames enabled them to reflect on the causes of self-hurting, as a way of managing emotions and difficult social situations, and introduced consideration of the risks involved, such as escalation in use and fear of discovery. Looking back through a longer time frame, participants recognised how their use of self-hurting changed over time with some ceasing to use it and others using it less frequently. Reflecting on the use of self-hurting across their life span, some participants expressed regrets, but the majority described it as an important way of coping with intense feelings and intolerable situations, which could be seen as reasonable under the circumstances. Participant’s selection and use of time frames, whether short-, medium- or long-term, orientated towards the past, the present or the future had an important impact on how they assessed the balance between the risks and benefits of this behaviour and the shifting compromises that they made between them. Future research could focus on the use of time frames in different settings and on the likely consequences of choosing short-, medium- or long-term lens for calculating risk. In applied clinical settings it would be useful to find out whether strategies to encourage clients to see their behaviour and construct narratives bracketed by different time frames has therapeutic potential.

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