The avoidance of upsetting emotions and difficulty regulating one’s behaviour have been identified as key differences between girls who self-harm and those who did not.
The findings are based on the Adolescent Development of Emotions and Personality Traits study, an ongoing longitudinal project tracking the health and wellbeing of girls from Long Island, New York.
A sample of 462 girls between the ages of 13 and 15 years who had never experienced self-harm at the start of the study completed measures of psychological vulnerabilities, including personality traits and psychological symptoms. Mental health was also assessed in parents of participants. Girls were asked about self-injury during interviews conducted multiple times over the three-year follow up period.
Over the course of the study, 42 girls reported that they started to self-harm. Girls who began to self-harm were found to have significantly lower baseline levels of conscientiousness and higher levels of avoidance. They were also twice as likely to have a parent who had a substance abuse problem at some point in life.
A psychological profile combining these factors achieved a good accuracy in distinguishing girls who initiated self-harm during the following three years from those who did not.