Shame-related functions of and motivations for self-injurious behavior

Michelle Schoenleber, Howard Berenbaum, Robert Motl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on the self-injury and self-conscious emotion literatures, this study examined the functions of and motivations for self-injury in 67 women, 25 of whom had a history of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI). Specifically, the present study tested whether women with a history of NSSI engaged in such behavior in order to reduce shame, in particular, and whether shame-related constructs represent important motivational factors for NSSI. To do so, participants completed (a) self-reports of NSSI functions and relevant personality dimensions (e.g., shame-proneness; shame aversion); and (b) a pain-inducing laboratory task with assessments of state emotions pre- and post-task. Elevations in aversion to general negative affect were associated with presence (vs. absence) of an NSSI history. However, consistent with a role for shame in NSSI, among women with an NSSI history, endorsement of shame regulation functions was positively associated with the frequency of NSSI. Moreover, elevations in shame-proneness were associated with more frequent NSSI, even after taking relevant, broader personality dimensions (e.g., proneness to general negative affect) into account. Finally, following the laboratory task, women with and without an NSSI history experienced reductions in state shame. Future directions for and clinical implications of the present research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-211
Number of pages8
JournalPersonality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Emotion regulation
  • Pain perception
  • Self-injury
  • Shame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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