The roles of emotion dysregulation and dissociation in the association between sexual abuse and self-injury among juvenile justice-involved youth

J Trauma Dissociation. 2015;16(3):272-85. doi: 10.1080/15299732.2015.989647.


To date, scholars have established associations among nonsuicidal self-injury and sexual abuse, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and dissociation. However, leading theoretical models of the mechanisms underlying the association between trauma and negative outcomes suggest a more parsimonious explanation in that deficits in emotion regulation may underlie these various risk factors for self-injury. This study examined whether sexual abuse was differentially associated with nonsuicidal self-injury over and above other forms of traumatic experiences and whether the association between sexual abuse and self-injury was statistically mediated by emotion dysregulation and dissociation. Participants included 525 youth (392 boys, 133 girls) recruited from the U.S. juvenile justice system who completed measures of self-reported trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress symptoms, dissociation, and emotion dysregulation. Results of a hierarchical regression demonstrated that sexual abuse predicted posttraumatic stress symptoms and self-injury over and above other forms of traumatic experiences. Results of bootstrapped mediation analyses indicated that emotion dysregulation and dissociation in combination were implicated in self-injury among youth. The results suggest that youth in the juvenile justice system who experience sexual abuse may be at risk for higher rates of posttraumatic stress symptoms and that self-injury may be particularly salient for youth who experience sexual abuse. Furthermore, the results shed light on the role that dissociation and emotion dysregulation play in the relation between sexual abuse and self-injury, suggesting that a larger framework of self-regulation may have both empirical and clinical utility in helping to understand the underlying processes at play in these associations.

Keywords: delinquency; dissociation; emotion dysregulation; self-injury; sexual abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology*
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • United States