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Commodity/Body/Sign: Borderline Personality Disorder and the Signification of Self-Injurious Behavior

People diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may engage in what are called self-injurious acts. This paper situates self-injury within a larger cultural context in which body modifications are differently evaluated according to inscribed meanings. To provide a framework for ethical interactions with people diagnosed as BPD who self-injure, I draw on two concepts from theories of meaning: signification and uptake. I suggest possible significations of self-injury, but argue that clinicians have a duty to give uptake to the patient's own interpretations of her behavior. Proper giving of uptake, which involves responding to others' communications such that the communicator's integrity is preserved, is crucial to ethical practices for clinicians, and uptake is never simply neutral or objective. This analysis suggests that sense-making about a client's self-injurious acts involves an understanding not only of the client's own interpretation of her behavior and its meaning, but also of the discursive production and function of such signs in our culture. I offer five maxims to guide the therapeutic process for clinicians working with self-injurious behavior in BPD patients.

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