Self-injury is a deviant behavior often understood as the intentional infliction of harm onto one’s own body that exists absent of suicidal. This study uses a qualitative methodology to examine the etiology and perpetuation of self-injury using the terminology of relevant social-psychological theories to determine which processes best describe a causal pathway leading to self-injury and its perpetuation after the onset of the behavior. Data obtained from 16 semi-structured interviews with former and current self-injurers indicate that the processes described in general strain theory, social learning theory, and social control theory are all important for understanding the etiology and perpetuation of self-injury. Analytic induction was utilized as the method of analysis in order to parse out only the elements universal to pathways to self-injury evident in all of the examined cases. All participants used self-injury as coping response for mitigating negative affect stemming from strain, thus, implicating general strain theory as important for understanding the onset of self-injury. Participants were categorized into two subtypes of self-injurers based upon the temporal dimension of the social learning process. Future research should attempt to use quantitative methodologies to provide generalizability for the results of this study and examine how changes in risk and protective factors over the life-course modify one’s propensity to engage in self-injury.


Self-Injury, Self-Harm, General Strain Theory, Social Learning Theory, Analytic Induction

Author Bio(s)

Thomas W. Wojciechowski is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida pursuing a PhD in sociology. His main research foci include mental health, criminology, and prevention science. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: wojci1tw@ufl.edu.


I wish to thank my parents, the faculty at the University of Florida, and most of all lovely fiance Corinn for all of their support. Oh and I cannot forget my faithful pug dog Sadie, you're a good little pupper and deserve a treat for being by my side all through this process. Without the aide of all of you this publication would not have been possible.

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