Childhood trauma, dissociation and self-harming behaviour: A pilot study
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AbstractOBJECTIVE: Childhood trauma is known to be an important antecedent in those who engage in deliberate self-harm (DSH). We aimed to explore the mediating mechanisms between childhood trauma and subsequent DSH in a sample of women detained in a high secure setting.
METHOD: From a previous incidence study into DSH, we subdivided a group of 50 women as follows: non-harmers (N = 13), infrequent harmers (N = 22) and frequent harmers (N = 15). These three groups were then compared on several measures believed to be associated with DSH.
RESULTS: The frequency of DSH was related to low self-esteem, increased dissociation, anger (both inwardly and outwardly directed), impulsivity, and a history of sexual and physical abuse. When these variables were entered into a path analytic model exploring the relationship between childhood trauma and subsequent DSH, two paths emerged: one major path which linked childhood sexual abuse to DSH via increased dissociation and another, more minor association, linking childhood sexual abuse via reduced self-esteem.
CONCLUSION: This study shows a strong association between high levels of dissociation and an increased frequency of self-harming behaviour. This association is theoretically plausible and has therapeutic implications.