First, let me introduce myself. My name is Susan Swan; I'm a
professor of English at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. I am/was a self injurerer. This survey asks very personal questions, so please feel free to backchannel me your answers if you would rather do so; my email is: email@example.com
I am also a very heavily tattooed woman. Here's a link to my back:
http://www.vyvyn.com/melissa-back.html -- Melissa Thompson is my
artist, and she works with Vyvyn Lazonga, one of the very first
female tattoo artists along withy Gypsy Jill and Pat Fish.
Anyway, I"ve been wanting to do research on moderate to heavily tattooed and pierced women
My premise is that many heavily tattooed women were once self-injurers of some type -- that
is, they cut themselves, were addicted to drugs, gambling, spending,
or nicotine, had suicidal thoughts, or caused themselves physical pain
in other ways. My hypothesis is that these women "cure" their
self-injury tendencies by inscribing their body with beauty/pain. The
title of the book will be "From Pain to Beauty: Heavily Tattooed
Women and Inscripted Resistance" or something like that.
For a definition of self-injury followed by the survey, read on:
Copyright Colleen Thompson http://www.psyke.org/articles/en/selfinjury/
Self-injury (self-harm, self-mutilation) can be defined as the attempt to deliberately cause harm to one’s own body and the injury is usually severe enough to cause tissue damage. This is not a conscious attempt at suicide, though some people may see it that way.
It has been reported that many people who self-injure have a history of sexual or physical abuse, but that is not always the case. Some may come from broken homes, alcoholic homes, have emotionally absent parents, etc. There are many factors that could cause someone to self-injure as a way to cope.
There are three types of self-injury. The rarest and most extreme form is Major self-mutilation. This form usually results in permanent disfigurement, i.e. castration or limb amputation. Another form is Stereo typic self-mutilation which usually consists of head banging, eyeball pressing and biting. The third and most common form is Superficial self-mutilation which usually involves cutting, burning, hair-pulling, bone breaking, hitting, interference with wound healing and basically any method used to harm oneself.
Most people who self-injure tend to be perfectionists, are unable to handle intense feelings, are unable to express their emotions verbally, have dislike for themselves and their bodies, and can experience severe mood swings. They may turn to self-injury as a way to express their feelings and emotions, or as a way to punish themselves.
You may be wondering why someone would intentionally harm themselves. Self-injury can help someone relieve intense feelings such as anger, sadness, loneliness, shame, guilt and emotional pain. Many people who cut themselves, do this in an attempt to try and release all the emotions they are feeling internally. Others may feel so numb, that seeing their own blood when they cut themselves, helps them to feel alive because they usually feel so dead inside. Some people find that dealing with physical pain is easier than dealing with emotional pain. Self-injury is also used as a way to punish oneself. If they were abused, they may feel ashamed, guilty and blame themselves for the abuse, which in turn causes them to feel the need to punish themselves by inflicting pain to their bodies. Some people have such hatred for themselves and their bodies that they will carve demeaning names on their bodies as a way to remind themselves of how terrible they are. Whatever form of self-injury is used, the person is usually left with a peaceful and calm feeling afterwards. Since those feelings are only temporary, the person will probably continue to self-injure until they deal with the underlying issues and finds healthier ways to cope.
It is very difficult for people to admit to someone that they harm themselves because there is usually so much shame and guilt that goes along with it. It’s important to try and remind yourself that there is no shame in what you are doing and that it’s okay to reach out and ask for help. In order to help yourself overcome this, you need to want to stop the behavior and you need to find a therapist that you like and trust to help you deal with the underlying issues causing you to do this to yourself. Sometimes treatment may also involve the use of medications such as Xanax and Klonopin. Hypnosis and relaxation techniques can also be helpful, and in extreme cases, hospitalization might be required for a short period of time. If there are support groups in your area, you may want to think about joining them for extra support.
Many people who self-injure keep it a secret because they feel like they are crazy, insane and evil. They fear if they tell anyone, they might be locked away forever. The truth is, people who intentionally harm themselves are in fact very normal and sane people, who are in a lot of emotional pain. They self-injure as a way to cope, because they were probably never taught how to deal with intense feelings and emotions in healthy ways. Unfortunately, when people hear about this form of self-harm, they do tend to place labels on these people as being psychotic and crazy, which is why so many people do not come forward and ask for help. Until society dispels all the myths surrounding self-injury and start to educate themselves on this subject, sufferers will continue to keep quiet and this form of abuse will continue to be a secret for a long time to come.
So I'd like interview all moderate to heavily tattooed/pierced women. If this is you, then here are my questions. You can answer them in a comment, or you can backchannel me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call me or have me call you if you want to do a more personal interview (again, backchannel me or text me via my userinfo page to send me your number). Here are the questions:
1. How did you get your first tattoo/piercing? Be very specific.
1a. When people as you: "Why do you have so many tattoos/piercings?" what do
you tell them?
1c. When people ask you "But didn't it hurt?" how do you answer
them? What is your self-explanation/justification for willingly
putting yourself a painful process (of course, not as painful as many
2. Did you ever self-injure, and how? (and I don't want to limit
self-injury to the now popular topic of "cutting" with razors or
glass, though that certainly counts. I myself picked and scratched my
skin, or beat my head or wrists against the wall).
2b. If you did self-injured in the past, has this pattern of
self-destructive behavior begin to stop or change once you started tattooing/piercing
2c. Tell me about the pain of getting tattooed/pierced. How do you experience it? I.e., is it pleasurable, unpleasurable, emotional?
3. When you get stressed, do you have an urge to tattoo/pierce? Tell me
about your experience with the process of tattooing/piercing, from beginning to
end, paying close attention to how you feel as you are being tattooed/pierced
-- as you are in pain.
4. Finally, I'd like a history of your tattoos/piercings and what they
represent. If you could include pictures, that would be fantastic.
I have just NOW started interviewing people. I'll be going to Miami
in March to NTA for a major session of data collection and
photography. I'm working with the photographer from Skin and Ink
Magazine. The site is down now, but you can check it out at
http://www.skinandink.com. I'm in the "NTA 2004 booklet"; my back is listed with the caption "Susan Swan"
This is a first draft quetionairre. If you have any other questions you think would help the survey, please send them to me.
This will be a major academic project, and will almost certainly involve a tour of college campuses
presenting the work in progress.
As an academic rhetorician, I also want to see tattoos as texts -- how
do we read them, how did you intend them to be read, and how are they
actually read? Is your reading of them part of a healing/empowering
psycoanalytic process? I will be drawing on body theory here, as well
as discourse analysis of tattoos as a viable and important type of
discourse. My only data will be from women.
Thank you for your time. If for some reason you cannot do this, I
understand. If you prefer to do this in person, or on the phone, we
can schedule something like that. I can be reached at one of four
numbers: 304.633.3429 or 314.837.2763 or 618.654.7571 Of you can
email me your number and a good time to call you.
And, if you feel this interview will cause more pain than its worth,
please feel free to decline.
Thanks again, from one strong woman to others,