The Functions of Deliberate Self-harm in College Students
Klonsky, Elisha David, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Oltmanns, Tom, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Turkheimer, Eric, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Deliberate self - harm is defined as intentionally injuring oneself without suicidal intent. Numerous theories about why people self - harm have been proposed. Self - harm has been characterized as a means of punishing oneself, influencing others, replacing suicidal impulses, controlling sexual urges, regulating affect, ending dissociative episodes, and asserting one's autonomy. There have been relatively few attempts to evaluate these hypotheses empirically. For the present study, a semi - structured interview was developed to assess the functions of self - harm. The interview was administered to 39 college students who had cut themselves intentionally an average of 17 times. Items on the interview pertained to consequences (both positive and negative) of self - harm, feelings that precede, accompany, and follow self - harm episodes, and reasons for selfharming. Analyses yielded converging evidence that self - harm is an efficient means of alleviating acute negative affect. Results also indicated that self - harm fulfills additional functions (i.e., self - punishment, interpersonal influence, and sensation - seeking) for many participants, although usually in a secondary capacity. Findings are consistent with the small but growing body of empirical literature on the topic. Future research directions, possible mechanisms of affect - regulation, and treatment implications are discussed.
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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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