The interpersonal processes of non-suicidal self-injury: A systematic review and meta-synthesis

Kelly-Marie Peel-Wainwright, Samantha Hartley, A. Boland, Eleanor Rocca, Susanne Langer, Peter Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Understanding the processes underlying non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is important given the negative consequences of this experience. Qualitative research has the potential to provide an in-depth exploration of this. There has been limited research regarding the interpersonal processes associated with NSSI, therefore, a meta-synthesis was conducted to investigate this.
Methods: A search of PsycINFO, Medline, Web of Science and CINAHL electronic databases from date of inception to November 2020 was conducted. In total, 30 papers were included in the final review. A meta-ethnographic approach was utilised to synthesise the data.
Results: Two overarching themes were found. Within ‘Powerful relational dynamics’, NSSI was cited as a response to participants becoming stuck in aversive or disempowering relational positions with others. Within the ‘Taking matters into their own hands’ subtheme, NSSI was reported as a way for participants to get essential yet unavailable interpersonal and emotional needs met.
Limitations: Several included papers did not comment on the researcher-participant relationship, which may have affected qualitative results. A small number of potentially eligible papers were unavailable for synthesising.
Conclusion: Findings provide a more nuanced investigation of the interpersonal processes underlying NSSI. Consistent with relevant theories, NSSI appears to be a way of mitigating difficult interpersonal experiences or meeting essential interpersonal needs. NSSI may be engaged in as an alternative to other, less damaging ways to cope. An argument is made for a more empathetic understanding of NSSI and the use of relational interventions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology & Psychotherapy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 May 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'The interpersonal processes of non-suicidal self-injury: A systematic review and meta-synthesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this