The role of trauma symptoms in nonsuicidal self-injury

Trauma Violence Abuse. 2014 Jan;15(1):41-56. doi: 10.1177/1524838013496332. Epub 2013 Jul 22.


Reports of traumatic events by individuals who engage in nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) are common; yet, evidence for the relation between traumatic events and NSSI is inconclusive. This review explores the thesis that trauma symptoms, rather than the experience of a traumatic event per se, underlie this relation, specifically suggesting that trauma symptoms might serve as a mediator. The literature indicates that self-injury plays an important functional role in coping with trauma symptoms such that self-injury can provide an escape from intrusive thoughts and aversive emotional states, as well as end dissociation and periods of numbness through the generation of feelings. Additionally, trauma symptoms have been shown to mediate the relation between the occurrence of traumatic events and NSSI. Taken together, trauma symptoms may play an important role in the development and maintenance of NSSI. The review concludes with treatment implications and future directions for research.

Keywords: child abuse; self abuse/mutilation; sexual assault; violence exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*