Emotion Differentiation as a Protective Factor Against Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in Borderline Personality Disorder

Landon F. Zaki, Karin G. Coifman, Eshkol Rafaeli, Kathy R. Berenson, Geraldine Downey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Evidence that nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) serves a maladaptive emotion regulation function in borderline personality disorder (BPD) has drawn attention to processes that may increase risk for NSSI by exacerbating negative emotion, such as rumination. However, more adaptive forms of emotion processing, including differentiating broad emotional experiences into nuanced emotion categories, might serve as a protective factor against NSSI. Using an experience-sampling diary, the present study tested whether differentiation of negative emotion was associated with lower frequency of NSSI acts and urges in 38 individuals with BPD who reported histories of NSSI. Participants completed a dispositional measure of rumination and a 21-day experience-sampling diary, which yielded an index of negative emotion differentiation and frequency of NSSI acts and urges. A significant rumination by negative emotion differentiation interaction revealed that rumination predicted higher rates of NSSI acts and urges in participants with difficulty differentiating their negative emotions. The results extend research on emotion differentiation into the clinical literature and provide empirical support for clinical theories that suggest emotion identification and labeling underlie strategies for adaptive self-regulation and decreased NSSI risk in BPD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-540
Number of pages12
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Emotion differentiation
  • Experience-sampling
  • Nonsuicidal self-injury
  • Rumination


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