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Clin Psychol Rev. 2004 Mar;24(1):35-74.

The developmental psychopathology of self-injurious behavior: compensatory regulation in posttraumatic adaptation.

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  • 1Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


This article utilizes a developmental psychopathology framework to explicate one pathway, originating in childhood traumatic experience, toward the development of self-injurious behavior (SIB). The descriptive psychopathology of SIB is summarized first, followed by an overview of theoretical interpretations of SIB within psychoanalytic, neo-analytic, behavioral, and biological paradigms. Building on these empirical and theoretical foundations, a developmental psychopathology framework is used to model the development of SIB in the aftermath of childhood traumatic experience, particularly maltreatment. In this model, maltreatment undermines positive adaptation at motivational, attitudinal, instrumental, emotional, and/or relational levels of competence. In turn, vulnerabilities in the child's adaptive resources necessitate the application of alternative regulatory and relational strategies, such as self-injury, to the negotiation of contemporaneous and prospective developmental issues. The article concludes with a discussion of the empirical and clinical implications of a developmental understanding of SIB as a compensatory regulatory strategy in posttraumatic adaptation.

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