Shame, Guilt and Identity

An Essay

in Anthropology in Action

This essay explores the differences between a practice called body modification and the behaviour known as self-injury (or self-harm, self-inflicted injury, self-mutilation, etc.), in which individuals purposefully harm themselves to get relief from strong emotion or in an attempt to gain control over themselves or their emotions. Although some consider both self-injury and body modification to be synonymous, I argue that self-injury is more like an addiction to many sufferers, making it like a mental illness or a disease. I use a narrative interview with a friend called 'Eva' to illustrate these differences from a self-harmer's point of view, and hope to show that while body modifiers are often proud of their transformations and view the process as a rite, self-harmers, in contrast, are often secretive and ashamed of their behaviour or addiction.

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