Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 474–483 | Cite as

The Influence of Romantic Attachment and Intimate Partner Violence on Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Young Adults

  • Christine LevesqueEmail author
  • Marie-France Lafontaine
  • Jean-François Bureau
  • Paula Cloutier
  • Cathy Dandurand
Empirical Research


Several theoretical models for non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) have been proposed. Despite an abundance of theoretical speculation, few empirical studies have examined the impact of intimate relationship functioning on NSSI. The present study examines the influence of romantic attachment and received intimate partner violence (physical, psychological and sexual) on recent reports of NSSI behaviors and thoughts. The sample was composed of 537 (79.9% female) primarily Caucasian university students between the ages of 18 and 25 years and currently involved in a romantic relationship. The results reveal that anxiety over abandonment was a significant predictor of NSSI thoughts and behaviors in women and a significant predictor of NSSI thoughts in men. Moreover, the experience of intimate partner violence emerged as a significant predictor of NSSI behaviors in both men and women. Continued empirical investigations into the influence of intimate relationship functioning on NSSI will facilitate the development of psychological interventions for young adults dealing with self-harm.


Couple Intimate partner violence Romantic attachment Non-suicidal self-injury Young adults 


  1. Alonso-Arbiol, I., Balluerka, N., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). A Spanish version on the experience in close relationships (ECR) adult attachment questionnaire. Personal Relationships, 14, 45–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartholomew, K. (1997). Adult attachment processes: Individual and couple perspectives. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 70, 249–263.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Berscheid, E., & Reis, H. T. (1998). Attraction and close relationships. In S. Fiske (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 193–281). New York: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  4. Bloom, T., & Djik, L. V. (2007). The role of attachment in couple relationships described as social systems. Journal of Family Therapy, 29, 69–87.Google Scholar
  5. Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Brain, K. L., Haines, J., & Williams, C. L. (1998). The psychophysiology of self-mutilation: Evidence of tension reduction. Archives of Suicide Research, 4, 227–242.Google Scholar
  7. Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46–76). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  8. Briere, J., & Gil, E. (1998). Self-mutilation in clinical and general population samples: Prevalence, correlates, and functions. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 64, 609–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cloutier, P. F., & Nixon, M. K. (2003). The Ottawa self-injury inventory: A preliminary evaluation. Abstracts to the 12th International Congress European Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 12(Suppl 1): I/94.Google Scholar
  10. Coker, A. L., Davis, K. E., Arias, I., Desai, S., Sanderson, M., Brandt, H. M., et al. (2002). Physical and mental health effects of intimate partner violence for men and women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 23, 260–268.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Collins, W. A. (2003). More than myth: The developmental significance of romantic relationships during adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1994). Cognitive representations of attachment: The content and function of working models. In K. Bartholomew & D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships (pp. 53–90). London: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  13. Cooper, M. L., Shaver, P. R., & Collins, N. L. (1998). Attachment styles, emotion regulation, and adjustment in adolescence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1380–1397.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Cozzarelli, C., Hoekstra, S. J., & Bylsma, W. H. (2000). General versus specific mental modes of attachment: Are they associated with different outcomes? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 605–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Favazza, A. R. (1998). The coming of self-mutilation. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 186, 259–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Favazza, A. R., DeRosear, L., & Conterio, K. (1989). Self-mutilation and eating disorders. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 19, 352–361.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Feeney, J. A., Noller, R., & Hanrahan, M. (1994). Assessing adult attachment. In M. B. Sperling & W. H. Berman (Eds.), Attachment in adults: Clinical and developmental perspectives (pp. 128–152). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fung, S. C. (2008). A case-control study of attachment style in deliberate self-harm patients: A systemic perspective. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68, pp. 4383.Google Scholar
  19. Grandin, E., & Lupri, E. (1997). Intimate violence in Canada and the United States: A cross national Comparison. Journal of Family Violence, 12, 417–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gratz, K. L. (2001). Measurement of deliberate self-harm: Preliminary data on the deliberate self-harm inventory. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 23, 253–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gratz, K. L. (2006). Risk factors for deliberate self-harm among female college students: The role and interaction of childhood maltreatment, emotional inexpressivity, and affect intensity/reactivity. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76, 238–250.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Gratz, K. L., Conrad, S. D., & Roemer, L. (2002). Risk factors for deliberate self-harm among college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72, 128–140.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love, conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511–524.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Heath, N. L., Schaub, K., Holly, S., & Nixon, M. K. (2009). Self-injury today: Review of population and clinical studies in adolescents. In M. K. Nixon & N. L. Heath (Eds.), Self-injury in Youth: The Essential Guide to Assessment and Intervention (pp. 9–27). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Hindy, C. G., & Schwarz, J. C. (1994). Anxious romantic attachment in adult relationships. In M. B. Sperling & W. H. Berman (Eds.), Attachment in adults: Clinical and developmental perspectives (pp. 179–203). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  26. Jose, A., & O’Leary, K. D. (2009). Prevalence of partner aggression in representative and clinical samples. In K. D. O’Leary & E. M. Woodin (Eds.), Psychological and physical aggression in couples: Causes and interventions (pp. 15–35). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kenny, M. (1985). Parental attachment questionnaire. Unpublished measure, Boston College.Google Scholar
  28. Kimball, J. S., & Diddams, M. (2007). Affect regulation as a mediator of attachment and deliberate self-harm. Journal of College Counseling, 10, 44–53.Google Scholar
  29. Klonsky, E. D. (2007). The functions of deliberate self-injury: A review of the evidence. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 226–239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Klonsky, E. D., Oltmanns, T. F., & Turkheimer, E. (2003). Deliberate self-harm in a nonclinical population: Prevalence and psychological correlates. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 1501–1508.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Lafontaine, M.-F., & Lussier, Y. (2003). Structure bidimensionnelle de l’attachement amoureux : anxiété face à l’abandon et évitement de l’intimité. Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 35, 56–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Linehan, M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  33. Marchetto, M. J. (2006). Repetitive skin-cutting: Parental bonding, personality and gender. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 79, 445–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Marshall, L. L. (1992). Development of the severity of violence against women scale. Journal of Family Violence, 7, 103–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mukulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  36. Nixon, M. K., Cloutier, P. F., & Aggarwal, S. (2002). Affect regulation and addictive aspects of repetitive self-injury in hospitalized adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 1333–1341.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Nixon, M. K., & Heath, N. L. (2009). Self-injury in youth: The essential guide to assessment and intervention. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. Nock, M. K. (2009). Understanding non-suicidal self-injury. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. O’Leary, K. D., & Woodin, E. M. (2009). Psychological and physical aggression in couples: Causes and interventions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Picardi, A., Bitetti, D., Puddu, P., & Pasquini, P. (2000). Development and validation of an Italian version of the questionnaire “experiences in close relationships”, a new self-report measure of adult attachment. Rivista di Psichiatria, 35, 114–120.Google Scholar
  41. Pistole, M. C. (1994). Adult attachment styles: Some thoughts on closeness-distance struggles. Family Process, 33, 147–159.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Rayner, G. A., & Warner, S. (2003). Self-harming behavior: From lay perceptions to clinical practice. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 16, 305–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sansone, R. A., Chu, J., & Wiedernan, M. W. (2007). Self-inflicted bodily harm among victims of intimate-partner violence. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 14, 352–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sansone, R. A., Wiederman, M. W., & Sansone, L. A. (1998). The Self-Harm Inventory (SHI): Development of a scale for identifying self-destructive behaviors and borderline personality disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 54, 973–983.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Schaffer, C. E. (1993). The role of adult attachment in the experience and regulation of affect. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University, New Haven.Google Scholar
  46. Statistics Canada. (2005). Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile 2005. Ottawa: Canadien Centre for Justice Statistics.Google Scholar
  47. Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., Boney-McCoy, S., & Sugarman, D. B. (1996). The revised conflict tactics scales (CTS2): Development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 283–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Suyemoto, K. L. (1998). The functions of self-mutilation. Clinical Psychology Review, 18, 531–554.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Whitlock, J., Eckenrode, J., & Silverman, D. (2006). Self-injurious behaviors in a college population. Pediatrics, 117, 1939–1948.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Yates, T. M. (2004). The developmental psychopathology of self-injurious behavior: Compensatory regulation in posttraumatic adaptation. Clinical Psychology Review, 24, 35–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine Levesque
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marie-France Lafontaine
    • 1
  • Jean-François Bureau
    • 1
  • Paula Cloutier
    • 2
  • Cathy Dandurand
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of OttawaOttawa, OntarioCanada
  2. 2.Mental Health, Children’s Hospital of Eastern OntarioOntarioCanada

Personalised recommendations