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Christina Morley, Alison Papadakis, Ph.D., Beth Kotchick, Ph.D., Rachel Grover, Ph.D.

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Response to Relational Aggression:  An Exploration of the Role of Coping

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Modern adolescents seem to be facing new challenges and finding unique ways to cope. One such challenge that affects many adolescents is relational aggression, or aggressive behaviors that target status, reputation and interpersonal relationships (Crick & Grotpeter, 1996; Paquette & Underwood, 1999; Wolke et al., 2000). Given the heightened importance of peer relationships during this developmental period, it is not surprising that social conflict is perceived by teenagers to be a very stressful life event (Field & Prinz, 1997). How individuals cope with these events can have a significant impact on their development (Roecker Phelps, 2001; Reijntjes et al., 2006; Woods et al., 2000). Therefore, it is important to examine which coping strategies they use, the relative success or failure of these methods, and their associated outcomes.

Non-suicidal self-injurious behavior (NSSI), a maladaptive coping mechanism observed with greater prevalence in the general population in recent years, has been linked to relational aggression victimization (Baker et al., 2008; Brown, 2006; Hilt et al., 2008; Klonsky, 2007; Lloyd-Richardson et al., 2007). Victims and bully-victims, individuals who are both victims and perpetrators, have been found to be more likely to report engaging in NSSI than bullies and bystanders (Baker et al., 2008; Livingston & Beck, 1997). This relationship, however, has not been well established. This study sought to examine further the relation between relational aggression and NSSI and explore the role played by coping. A correlational between-participants design with a cross-sectional methodology was employed. One-hundred and forty-three middle school students attending Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of Baltimore participated in this study as part of a Diocesan wide examination of bullying and relational aggression. Students completed the Functional Assessment of Self-Mutilation (Lloyd et al., 1997), the Social Experience Questionnaire (SEQ-S; Crick & Grotpeter, 1996), the Children’s Social Behavior Scale – Self-Report (CSBS-S; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995), and the Children’s Coping Strategies Checklist - Revision 1 (Ayers et al., 1996). It was anticipated that being a frequent victim of relational aggression would be related to more frequent engagement in NSSI. In addition, a stronger relation was predicted between relational aggression victimization and NSSI for students who also reported engaging in relational aggression perpetration. The coping styles of self-injurers were also examined, with self-injurers predicted to employ more distraction and avoidance strategies and less active coping than their non-self-injuring peers. Results from the examination of these relations will be presented.

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