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Self-Injury as Experiential Avoidance Open Access


Other title
Experiential Avoidance
Non-suicidal self-injury
Deliberate self-harm
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hall, Sandra J.
Supervisor and department
Whelton, William (Educational Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Klonsky, E. David (Psychology, University of British Columbia)
Dashora, Pushpanjali (Human Ecology)
Rinaldi, Christina (Educational Psychology)
Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
Cui, Ying (Educational Psychology)
Department of Educational Psychology
Counselling Psychology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Self-injury as defined in this study is the deliberate infliction of harm to ones’ body (often cutting or burning) without suicidal intent. The increase in self-injurious behaviour in North American society is puzzling to understand and difficult to treat. In several explanatory models, self-injury is conceptualized as a method for coping with overwhelming negative emotions. The Experiential Avoidance Model (EAM; Chapman, Gratz, & Brown, 2006) has been hypothesized to be a unifying theoretical framework offering a basis for future research. The EAM proposes that self-injury is a method used to avoid uncomfortable and unmanageable affect, which is then reinforced by escape conditioning and negative reinforcement. This study tested the EAM as well as the underlying vulnerabilities that contribute to experiential avoidance in a sample of 132 self-injurers recruited from the general population. A vulnerability that was hypothesized to contribute to experiential avoidance was insecure attachment through its impact on the other EAM components such as affect intensity, emotion valence, and affect regulation abilities. A control group consisting of 117 participants that did not have a history of self-injury or current mental health concerns were used in this study as a point of comparison on all measures. The results highlight that self-injury serves multiple functions, although emotion regulation is its predominant function. The data provided an acceptable fit to path models that tested the EAM as well as an expanded model of EAM that included anxious/ambivalent attachment. The results highlight complex models that include multiple direct and indirect relations between the variables involved in the frequency of self-injury. Experiential avoidance had a direct effect on the frequency of self-injury. Other results indicate that avoidant attachment plays a role in self-injury as do aversive emotions, specifically guilt. Treatment of self-injury needs to address several areas of deficits, particularly those related to emotion dysregulation. The implications of the findings are discussed in relation to the existing literature, treatment, and areas for future research.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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