Interpreting the Changed Me in the Mirror: Viewing Self after a Mastectomy

Tuesday, 31 July 2012: 11:10 AM

Wyona M. Freysteinson, PhD, MN
College of Nursing, Texas Woman's University, Houston, TX

Learning Objective 1: Describe key concepts in Ricoeur’s phenomenology and hermeneutic theory of text interpretation and compare these concepts to the experience of viewing self in the mirror.

Learning Objective 2: Consider the need for practical sensitive nursing mirror interventions pre-operatively, during initial dressing changes, and post-operatively for women who have had a mastectomy.

Purpose: The purpose of the study leading to this comparison between interpreting a mirror image and interpreting a text was to study the experience of viewing themselves in the mirror for women who have had a mastectomy.

Methods: A purposeful sample of 12 women shared their stories of viewing themselves in the mirror 3-12 months post-mastectomy in tape recorded semi-structured interviews. The data was transcribed and analyzed using Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology and methodology. A naïve reading, a structural analysis and a phenomenological interpretation uncovered a description of viewing self in the mirror.

Results: The women’s stories suggested there were four key moments in the experience of viewing self in the mirror: I am, I decide, I see, and I consent. These moments align closely with the major tenants of Ricoeur’s philosophy of the will: decision, action, and consent. The participant’s words suggested one sees in the mirror in three different ways: with the eyes, the mind’s eye and one sees/interprets one’s own meaning. The concepts of explanation, understanding, distanciation and appropriation were aspects of seeing/interpreting the meaning of what is seen in the mirror. These concepts are also key concepts in Ricoeur’s philosophy of interpreting a text.

Conclusion: This study acts as a paradigm case in which Ricoeur’s philosophy of textual interpretation extended to the human condition. Globally, knowledge of this experience may be of interest to nurses who work with patients where a mirror is required to view recent bodily trauma and/or surgery. Sensitive nursing mirror interventions are considered including pre and post-operative dialogue and education; and empowering women with the knowledge that it is alright to view self in the mirror alone, or with the support of a nurse, physician and/or loved one. Nursing practice, education and research needs concerning the use of the mirror are explored.