Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Explanatory Style as a Mediator between Childhood Emotional Abuse and Nonsuicidal Self-Injury

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Explanatory Style as a Mediator between Childhood Emotional Abuse and Nonsuicidal Self-Injury

Article excerpt

For this study the researchers recruited a random sample of college men and women (N = 390) and examined whether a pessimistic explanatory style mediated the relationship between childhood emotional abuse and frequency of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) in the past year. The study found that pessimistic explanatory style was positively associated with NSSI and that pessimistic style functioned as a partial mediator of the childhood emotional abuse-NSS1 relation. Clinical implications for mental health counselors are discussed.


Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) has been defined as the direct, deliberate, self-inflicted damaging of a superficial or moderate amount of bodily tissue that is performed without the intent to die (Favazza, 1998). Following Favazza's classification system (1998), NSSI is differentiated front self-injurious behaviors that are sanctioned by social norms (e.g., body piercings or cultural rites) and from self-injurious behaviors that damage a major, rather than a superficial or moderate, amount of tissue. Common methods of NSSI are cutting, burning, hitting self, biting self, and severe scratching (Claes, Houben, Vandereycken, Bijttebier, & Muehlenkamp, 2010; Gratz & Chapman, 2007; Lloyd-Richardson, Perrine, Dierker, & Kelley, 2007).

Recent studies have reported high NSSI prevalence rates, particularly among adolescents and young adults. For example, Lloyd-Richardson et al. (2007) found that 46% of high school students had performed NSSI in the previous year. Similarly, Aizenman and Jensen (2007) reported that 41% of college students engaged in NSSI at some point in their lives. In clinical settings the rates are even higher: 82% of adolescent psychiatric inpatients were found to have performed at least one incident of NSSI in the previous year (Nock & Prinstein, 2004).

Despite the prevalence of NSSI, many mental health professionals are believed to be ill-equipped to provide care for self-injuring clients (Allen, 1995; Walsh, 2007; White, McCormick, & Kelly, 2003). One problem may be a general uncertainty about the causes of NSSI. In recent years numerous studies have investigated the prevalence, methods, functions, and psychological correlates of NSSI (Aizenman & Jensen, 2007; Claes, Klonsky, Muehlenkamp, Kuppens, & Vandereycken, 2010; Klonsky, 2007; Nock & Prinstein, 2004). However, there has been scant attention to its etiology. For example, although it is commonly understood that NSSI is associated with a history of childhood abuse (Glassman, Weierich, Hooley, Deliberto, & Nock, 2007; Gratz & Chapman, 2007), there is little understanding of the pathways through which previous abusive experiences may be related to later NSSI (Yates, Tracy, & Luthar, 2008).

Furthermore, although the emotional characteristics of self-injurers have been studied (e.g., Gratz & Chapman, 2007), less is known about their beliefs, their cognitive characteristics. More information about their cognitions, as well as NSSI etiology, might inform treatment planning. This study sought to address these limitations. It tested a theory-driven mediation model of NSSI that featured pessimistic explanatory style as a cognitive mediator between childhood emotional abuse and frequency of NSSI in the previous year. Model design was guided by the literature on these variables.

The first pathway of the proposed model concerned the relationship between childhood emotional abuse and NSSI. Emotional abuse refers to hostile behaviors, verbal or nonverbal but excluding physical contact, directed by an adult toward a child that endanger the child's psychological or physical well-being (Keashly & Harvey, 2005; McGee & Wolfe, 1991). Within North American culture, examples of such childhood emotional abuse are humiliation, derogation, and intimidation (Nicholas & Bieber, 1997). Both qualitative and quantitative studies have supported a relationship between childhood emotional abuse and NSSI (Glassman et al. …

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