People Who Self-harm May Be Compensating for Their Difficulty Interpreting Bodily Signals of Emotion

Posted on June 6, 2019

A set of three studies regarding non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) have discovered that the inability to accurately interpret one's emotions and feelings can lead to self-harm among troubled individuals. More than 300 young adults have participated in this research conducted by psychologists from Swansea university. The studies consisted of interviews, self-reports and interoceptive tasks.

The resulting findings reveal that subjects who had engaged in self-harming actions previously are less able to interpret interoceptive signals, despite having greater awareness for bodily sensations than others. This finding may be used to explain feelings of numbness and detachment in individuals who self-harm. The low interoceptive accuracy could cause individuals to engage in behaviors involving the physical self to supplement their emotional experience. Therefore, NSSI may serve as a solution to ambiguous emotional experiences, enabling those who are troubled to achieve coherence about their sensations.

This contributes to existing research in how better interoceptive abilities are associated with greater emotional competence, such as being able to regulate one’s feelings as well as to identify others’ emotional expressions. On the other hand, poor interoception skills are found to be related to a range of mental disorders.

The set of studies related to NSSI will be useful in developing new methods for individuals who self-harm. An idea has been put forth to emphasize more on compassionate self-focus, while other teams of psychologists are seeking ways to enhance interoceptive accuracy. Additionally, these potential interventions may help with anxiety and other mental conditions as well.


Category(s):Depression, Self-Harm

Source material from The British Psychological Society Research Digest


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