A multidimensional analysis of self-mutilation in college students

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Ray, Emily Hall, 1974-

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This study explored whether female college students who endorse a history of self-mutilation and those who do not can be reliably differentiated across the following constructs derived from object relations theory: representations of parental care and overprotection, separation-individuation conflicts, emotional body investment, affect regulation, and perceived stress. While these variables have been implicated in the selfmutilation literature, there have been few attempts to empirically assess them. Moreover, there has been very little research investigating self-mutilation in non-clinical, college age youths, despite the reported risk and prevalence of this behavior within the college population. The operational definition of self-mutilation utilized in this study was borrowed from Favazza (1996) and refers to deliberate, non-suicidal infliction of harm to the body. Self-mutilation was assessed using the Deliberate Self-Harm Inventory (DSHI; Gratz, 2001), from which a group of 85 self-mutilators and a group of 176 non-mutilators were identified. A mixed methods approach was utilized and included the collection of quantitative data via a secure, online questionnaire, as well as a qualitative interview component with a small number of self-mutilators designed to offer a more complete, phenomenological understanding of this experience. Logistic regression analyses indicated the following variables were significant predictors of self-mutilation: Mother Care, Father Overprotection, Separation Anxiety, Body Care, and Body Protection. Self-mutilators were more likely to experience their fathers as encouraging of autonomy and to experience separation anxiety compared to non-mutilators. Self-mutilators were also less likely to perceive maternal care as warm and affectionate and less likely to care for and protect their bodies compared to nonmutilators. Qualitative interviews uncovered salient themes related to self-mutilation in this sample. The overall results suggest that object relations may be a useful perspective from which to conceptualize self-mutilation and offer important implications for future research and clinical practice.