Predicting engagement in nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) over the course of 12 months: the roles of borderline personality disorder pathology and emotional consequences of NSSI

J Affect Disord. 2020 Dec 1;277:631-639. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.08.049. Epub 2020 Aug 26.


Background: Despite theories that negative reinforcement in the form of relief from negative emotions maintains nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), no studies have examined the extent to which specific emotional consequences of NSSI predict the maintenance of NSSI over time or explain the greater risk for NSSI found among individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) pathology. This study examined whether specific emotional consequences of NSSI relate to the continuance of NSSI behavior over a 12-month period and explain the relation of baseline BPD pathology to future NSSI.

Methods: Participants with a history of recent repeated NSSI (N = 84) completed baseline measures of BPD pathology, NSSI, and the emotional antecedents and consequences of NSSI, including self-conscious emotions, undifferentiated negative affect, anger, emptiness, sadness, and anxiety; follow-up data on NSSI were collected every three months for one year.

Results: Of the emotional consequences of NSSI examined here, only self-conscious emotions significantly predicted the presence and frequency of NSSI during the 12-month follow-up period. Likewise, whereas BPD pathology was not directly associated with later NSSI, both overall BPD pathology and the specific BPD feature of identity problems were indirectly related to the presence of 12-month NSSI through the greater frequency of post-NSSI self-conscious emotions.

Limitations: Emotional consequences of NSSI were assessed using a retrospective self-report measure. Only frequency, and not intensity, of emotions before and after NSSI were assessed.

Conclusions: Results suggest a distinct role of post-NSSI self-conscious emotions in the maintenance of NSSI among individuals with and without BPD pathology.

Keywords: Borderline personality; Deliberate self-harm; Emotion; Nonsuicidal self-injury; Prospective; Shame.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Borderline Personality Disorder*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Self Report
  • Self-Injurious Behavior*

Grant support