Author Topic: Body Modification and Self Harm  (Read 6805 times)

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Offline Taryn

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Body Modification and Self Harm
« on: December 02, 2018, 03:13:32 PM »
Hi everyone  :sign0203:

I am a Trainee Clinical Psychologist in my final year at Staffordshire University. As part of the course I am doing a research project exploring people’s experiences of body modifications (e.g. tattoos, piercings, scarification and sub-dermal implants) and self-harm.

I have seen from a quick search on here that this topic has been discussed previously, but there has not been much published research about it. The research that has been conducted has been questionnaire based so I would like to invite you to tell me about your experiences of body modifications and self-harm in your own words.

I am looking to speak to people with experience of both body modification (except ear lobe piercings) and self-harm, either current or in the past, for an interview about their experiences.

If you are aged between 18 and 45, live in the UK, and would be willing to talk about your experiences I would love to hear from you.
Unfortunately, you cannot take part if you are currently an inpatient in hospital, or are too physically or mentally unwell to take part.

Interviews can be conducted via Skype if you are unable to travel to Staffordshire University.

The study has received ethical approval from Staffordshire University.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the study. If you have a more general question that you think other people might be wondering about too, please reply to this message and I will get back to you.

Please contact me on: [email protected], or message me through the forum, for more information.

Thank you!


« Last Edit: December 02, 2018, 05:14:22 PM by Rob »

Offline Taryn

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Re: Body Modification and Self Harm
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2019, 05:41:34 PM »
Hi everyone,

I have amended some details of my study to make it easier for people to take part (& have recieved Ethical Approval for these changes from Staffordshire University).

I am looking for people aged 18-45 who have experience of both body modifications (e.g. tattoos, non-earlobe piercings, scarification or sub-dermal implants) and self-harm and are willing to talk about their experiences.

Unfortunately, you are unable to participate if you are currently an inpatient in hospital, or are too physically or mentally unwell to participate.

One of the changes is that I am now able to offer a range of ways to complete the interviews (face-to-face, by phone, by video calling (e.g. Skype) and by instant messaging (e.g. facebook messenger or WhatsApp)).

I expect interviews to take no longer than an hour to complete, although this will depend on you so may take longer if you wish to share a lot of information about your experiences. It is a one-off interview.

Another change is that I can now offer a shoppping voucher (or e-voucher) as a thank you for participating and to compensate you for your time. I can be flexible with when interviews are scheduled to take place (within reason!) to make it as convenient as possible for you to take part.

All information that is shared will be kept confidential within the research team (myself and my research supervisors - academic staff from Staffordshire University). Confidentiality may have to be breached if there is concern for your safety. All personally identifiable information (e.g. name, name of street or town where you live) will be removed or changed so you cannot be identified.

I will be writing an executive summary of the research and this will include the findings of the research. I am very willling to share it here once the research is complete and written up (end of April).

I have permission to recruit via social media, so I have set up a facebook page 'Body mod & self harm study'. Hopefully this will come up if you search for it, but in case it doesn't the link is:

If you have any questions please feel free to ask. :)
I can be contacted by email ([email protected]) or through the messages here on the forum.

Thank you!


Offline Taryn

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Re: Body Modification and Self Harm
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2019, 07:29:24 PM »
Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to say that I am no longer recruiting to this study. I was very fortunate that a lot of people contacted me to say they were interested in taking part, so I have now completed interviews with enough people.

I have analysed the information and am in the process of writing up the study.

I will be writing a summary of the study too (without jargon!), and would be happy to post a copy here :)

Thank you for all the interest in my study.


Offline Taryn

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Re: Body Modification and Self Harm
« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2019, 01:52:11 PM »
Hi everyone,

I've finished writing up my study so I've included a copy of a summary of the research below.

I will be sending a more detailed version to an academic journal. Hopefully it will be published so that other researchers can see the findings. I'm also planning to write about using instant messaging to complete interviews in more detail and send this to an academic journal too, as this is a new way of completing interviews.

Thanks for all your interest in this study.

Experiences of Body Modification in Women with Experience of Self-Harm.

This report is a summary of a research study looking at the experiences of body modification (piercings and tattoos) in UK women with experience of self-harm behaviours. The research looked at how these women made sense of the links between self-harm behaviours and body modifications. This report talks about what is already known about these topics, then how the study was done, what was found, and what this means.

What do we already know?
Earlier research has found that self-harm behaviour is linked with a range of mental health difficulties. Self-harm behaviours are linked to a higher risk of suicide. Self-harm behaviour is more common in young adults, especially women. Some people use self-harm behaviour to cope with painful feelings. Self-harm behaviour can be used as a way of telling other people about these feelings.
Self-harm behaviours are similar to body modifications (piercings and tattoos) in some ways. Both self-harm behaviours and body modifications are common in women and younger people. Both self-harm behaviours and body modifications cause damage to the body in some way.
The current advice for coping with self-harm behaviours is that people who use self-harm behaviours could try different, less harmful, ways of doing this if they do not feel that they can stop the self-harm behaviour at the moment. The advice suggests trying things like pinching, squeezing ice or drawing on the skin. Some researchers think that body modifications might be used in place of self-harm behaviours.

Why do this study?
There has not been much research looking at self-harm and body modification behaviours together. The research that has been done has found that for some people who self-harmed by cutting, they stopped this behaviour when they got body piercings. This might mean that the action of getting a piercing could replace the need to self-harm by cutting. So, getting a piercing could be a way to cope with upsetting feelings. That research did not look at why people got the piercings or how they felt about them.
This study wanted to find out how people who had experience of self-harm behaviours felt about getting body modifications. This study wanted to find out what these people thought about the links between these behaviours.

What happened?
A poster about the study was shared in groups on the social media site Facebook that offer support to people who use self-harm behaviours. A page about the study was set up on Facebook with a copy of the poster and more information about the study. Friends of the researcher shared the poster on their personal Facebook pages and on Twitter (another social media site). Mental health charities in the local area and across the UK were emailed and asked to put up a copy of the poster. A post was put on the ‘Research Topics’ board in the discussion forum on the website of the National Self-Harm Network.
Eight women from across the UK took part in the study. They were between the ages of 18 and 45 years old. They talked about their feelings about body modifications and self-harm behaviours with the researcher. They also talked about any links they thought there were between these behaviours. Most of the people that took part talked to the researcher using instant messaging services like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. One person talked to the interviewer on the telephone. Each person talked to the interviewer once.
The researcher looked for important themes that came up in each talk. These were put together with the themes from other talks to make main themes. Themes that came up in lots of the talks might mean that lots of people have similar feelings about these topics. The main themes were linked with what psychologists already know about self-harm behaviours and body modifications.

What was found?
Two main themes came out of the talks: Coping Strategies and Body Modifications as Protective.

Coping Strategies
“I was going through a lot of negative feelings and pain was something that gave me a nice feeling.” – Emma
The women talked about using self-harm behaviours as a way of coping with their feelings. Some of the women said they got body modifications for the same reason. This was sometimes after they had experienced a very upsetting event. They said the self-harm behaviour was a way of controlling and coping with the pain they felt and that it helped to take their minds off other things that were going on.
The themes showed there were some differences between body modifications and self-harm behaviours. The women said their body modifications, especially tattoos, had a meaning for them. They did not say that self-harm behaviours had a meaning. They said they usually thought about getting a body modification before they got one. They said the self-harm behaviour was more often carried out when they felt strong emotions. They did not usually plan to use self-harm behaviours.

Body Modifications as Protective
“I thought I'd self harm but instead of it being cuts and people asking why I did it. I have people complimenting the art I have instead of judging the cuts” – Becky
Most of the women said they got body modifications instead of using self-harm behaviours. Some people said getting body modifications meant that they felt they had less need to use self-harm behaviours to cope with their feelings.
Most of the women said they had the same feelings when they got a body modification as they did when they used self-harm behaviour. Some people said they got body modifications after they decided to stop using self-harm behaviours. These people said it was important that they could feel pain but not cause it themselves.
Getting body modifications might be different to using self-harm behaviours. Getting body modifications could help to lower the urges to use self-harm behaviours. Getting body modifications cannot be thought of as a replacement for self-harm behaviours as there are some differences. For example, people have to pay for body modifications but don’t have to pay when they use self-harm behaviours.
The women said other people reacted in a better way to body modifications than they did to scars from self-harm behaviours. For some of the women the meaning of the body modifications was a reminder of things that were important to them or made them feel good. This might mean getting body modifications makes people feel like they need to use self-harm behaviours less often.

What does this mean?
These findings are important for people who work with people who use self-harm behaviours. If they can see a body modification, they could use this to talk about how the person was feeling when they got it. Getting a new body modification could be a sign that someone is feeling like they want to use self-harm behaviours. They should talk about this together to see if they need more help.

Are there any problems with the study?
All the women said they had experiences of body modification and self-harm behaviours. This was not checked in any way. This might mean that different people were talking about different behaviours.
All the women said they used self-harm by cutting behaviours. Different self-harm behaviours were not talked about or were talked about less often. This might mean the findings from this study do not apply to different self-harm behaviours.
None of the people who took part in this study had more ‘extreme’ body modifications like scarification or sub-dermal implants. People who have these more ‘extreme’ body modifications might have different experiences to those who took part. This means some of the findings from this study might not apply to people with these body modifications.

What next?
More research should be carried out in this area. All the people who took part in this study were women. They might have different experiences to men. More research should look at the experiences men have.
More research should look to see if the findings from this study apply to people with different forms of body modifications. Other research should also look to see if the findings apply to people who use different types of self-harm behaviours.

How will this information be shared?
All the women who took part asked for a copy of this summary. This will be sent to them by email.
A copy of this summary will be posted on the Facebook page for the study. A copy will be posted on the National Self Harm Network website. The Facebook support groups will be contacted to check if they are happy for a copy of this summary to be posted on their page. A copy of the summary will be sent to the charities that helped to tell people about the study so they can share this summary with the people they support.
A written report about the study will be sent to an academic journal. If this is published this will mean other people working in this area will be able to see the findings.