Living an unfamiliar body: the significance of the long-term influence of bodily changes on the perception of self after stroke

Med Health Care Philos. 2013 Feb;16(1):19-29. doi: 10.1007/s11019-012-9403-y.


The aim of this study is to illuminate the significance of the long-term influence of bodily changes on the perception of self after stroke by means of narrative interviews with 23 stroke survivors. A phenomenological-hermeneutic approach inspired by the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur is the methodological framework. Zahavi's understanding of the embodied self and Leder's concept of dys-appearance along with earlier research on identity guide the comprehensive understanding of the theme. The meaning of bodily changes after stroke can be understood as living with an altered perception of self. Stroke survivors perceive their bodies as fragile, unfamiliar and unreliable and tend to objectify them. The weak and discomforting body that 'cannot' demands constant, comprehensive awareness to keep itself in play. These long-term and often permanent consequences of bodily weakness may turn stroke survivors' intentionality inwards, away from external activities and projects and relationships with others. Negative judgements from others are added to lost roles and positions and threaten the vulnerable self. Stroke survivors try to regain familiarity with their body by their life-long project of testing its boundaries. Mastering important tasks helps them strengthen their self-concept. Health care workers should be aware of the embodied self and engage in long-term dialogues with stroke survivors to strengthen positive perceptions of body and self. More research is needed to understand destructive post-stroke phenomena such as fatigue and pain and to find effective methods to help stroke survivors regain wholeness of body and self.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Awareness
  • Body Image* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Narration
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Concept*
  • Stroke* / psychology
  • Survivors