Burn injury and self-silencing: a study of women's narratives
Hunter, Tevya A.
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Due to medical advances in burn care, the survival rate of individuals with serious burns has significantly increased. This has lead to a great need to focus on psychological aspects of burn injury recovery, particularly how people adapt to their changed bodies. The literature indicates that burn size and severity is not directly associated with the degree of distress and that for women, dissatisfaction with their bodies increases in the year after injury. In this study, women’s experiences of their bodies were investigated by asking them about pain, social relationships, mental health, and appearance. In-depth interviews were conducted with female burn survivors in the first year after injury and the transcripts were analyzed using a narrative-discursive analytic methodology. On the surface, the women told narratives which emphasized how well they were doing, however, further analysis revealed subordinate narratives which indicated body dissatisfaction and difficulties with adjustment. In order to suppress narratives of distress, the women engaged in “self-silencing,” of which three forms are outlined. The self-silencing functioned to help the women resist the cultural devaluing associated with “disfigurement” and more personally, to maintain close relationships. As self-silencing has been linked to depression and anxiety, encouraging women to discuss their difficulties may prove to be pertinent in psychological adjustment following burn injury.