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Emotionally Unstable Personality Traits as Predictors for Traditional and Digital Forms of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury
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The area of research that was investigated for this study is self-harm, which is also known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). NSSI can be defined as self-injury with no intention of dying. Examples of NSSI are the cutting of one’s skin or banging one’s head against the wall to the point of bruising. Digital self-harm (DSH) can be defined as cyberbullying directed at oneself. DSH is an area within NSSI and self-harm that has not been extensively studied. However, its consequences have already been fatal; in 2013, a 14-year-old suicide in the United Kingdom was linked to DSH. In this case, DSH manifested itself by masking as cyberbullying, when instead it was the individual themselves who was behind the malicious comments. Research shows that there are several risk factors for NSSI, one of which includes borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is a type of personality disorder that consists of impulsive and volatile mood. A high percentage of individuals diagnosed with BPD have been found to engage in NSSI. The current study conducted an anonymous Internet survey that measured the following variables: engagement in NSSI, engagement in DSH, what types of NSSI/DSH were engaged in, personality traits, and interpersonal/intrapersonal functions for engaging in NSSI or DSH. The study revealed that among freshmen at a large, Midwestern university (N = 112), individuals who engaged in NSSI were significantly more likely to engage in DSH. The sample included 61 (55%) of students who self-reported engaging in NSSI and 17 (15%) of students who reported engaging in DSH. However, the study did not find that all BPD personality traits correlated with individuals who engaged in DSH. Personality facets and functioning were similar among DSH and NSSI. Differences were found in levels of reinforcement function between individuals who engaged in DSH and NSSI. These results suggested a relationship between DSH behavior and BPD features, as well as the use of maladaptive strategies for self-regulating emotion. The authors conclude that future research should investigate different types of DSH and encourages clinical practitioners to include online behavior questionnaires in their evaluations of at-risk adolescents.