The to accomplish the goal. From a goal-regulation perspective,

motivation to control events in our lives is very strong, and without this
sense of control we would be unable to engage in goal-directed activities aimed
at giving us a sense of personal well-being. Although most people are not
regularly plagued by thoughts of death, social psychological theories state
that the knowledge of our inevitable death creates a paralyzing anxiety, unless
we can mitigate it. Without these buffers against this anxiety the knowledge of
our unavoidable death would seriously impede our goal-directed behavior (Greenberg,
Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986; p. 726). To purpose of this research is to
shed light on the maladaptive methods people use to reduce anxieties related to
unattainable goals, mortality, and self-destruction.

failure when pursuing important goals can hinder palliative efforts in the face
of death, and leave the goal in a state of conflict. When the ability to
control the outcome of an important goal is no longer possible, we are torn
between seeking a way to overcome the goal by rethinking and employing a novel
approach, or give in to the idea that we may not be able to accomplish the
goal. From a goal-regulation perspective, disengaging from a conflicted goal
should reduce anxiety and increase investment in other goals (Carver & Scheier,
1998). When the goal is continued life, however, disengagement would involve
death and results in a conflicted emotional state. Anxiety aroused by the
knowledge of death has two solutions: (1) find a method of controlling the
anxiety, or (2) die. Attempting to silence these anxieties by devoting one’s
life to an important cultural or personal goal is based in the belief that one
has the ability to actually accomplish the goal.

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present study addresses the hypothesis that self-injury serves as a method to
reduce anxiety associated with the knowledge of inevitable death, and increases
approach motivation toward continued living. Expanding on this, I expect urges
to self-harm will be increased in those who have lower levels of life satisfaction
and self-esteem.

Goal Withdrawal

(1984) showed that people experienced a sense of well-being when they were
engaged in striving toward valued goals. However, when a goal cannot be
completed it may be beneficial to disengage direct efforts toward more appropriate
goals (Carver & Scheier, 1998). A discrepancy occurs when an alternative
important goal does not exist, and disengagement cannot fully occur (Carver
& Scheier, 1998).

management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) states
that the knowledge of death is at the core of our drive to continue living. From
this perspective living is a goal, and goal disengagement involves withdrawing
from life itself (Hayes, Ward, McGregor, 2016). Despite biological drives to
continue living, if an individual no longer wishes to live, there is no
conflict with thoughts of dying.  Hayes
et al. (2016) found that mortality salience (awareness of one’s own mortality)
decreased the desire for life among those with low life satisfaction who
experienced goal recall failure. In their study, thoughts of death only reduced
the desire for life when participants had low life satisfaction and palliative
goal approach was blocked by a failure manipulation.

from the goal of continued living may include cases of suicide however this
does not necessarily include actively attempting to end one’s life. People who intentionally
harm themselves without the intent to die (self-harm; Klonsky, 2007) may
already be using a maladaptive method of avoiding this anxiety, as Qin et al.
(2009) and Klonsky and Olino (2008) found that the goal of self-harm is to
replace suicidal impulses.

psychology perspectives of mortality suggest that the awareness of death
creates anxiety and motivates an individual to engage in activities which will
reduce such anxiety (Jonas et al., 2014; Pyszczynski et al., 2010).
Goal-regulation perspectives (e.g., McGregor et al., 2007) state that death
involves a motivational conflict between the desire (i.e., goal) of continued
living and knowledge that regardless of circumstances, the goal will inevitably
fail. Following this logic, living is itself a goal and knowledge of death is a
constant source of frustration for this goal. When a goal is frustrated, people
are apprehensive about continuing to pursue the goal, or resign that the goal
may never be attained (Carver & Scheier, 1998), and may resort to
self-destructive tendencies in an effort to control this frustration and
anxiety (Klonsky, 2007; Klonsky & Muehlenkamp, 2007), and engage in
approach-related behavior.


relief of negative affect appears to be the most prevalent function of self-harm,
a form of self-destructive behavior often characterized as the intentional
cutting or burning of one’s own skin without the intent to die (Klonsky &
Muehlenkamp, 2007). The authors also note that some people characterize
self-injury as a method of resisting urges to attempt suicide. This
antisuicidal function may be related to affect-regulation in that self-harm may
alleviate the intense negative emotions which often precede suicide. From this
perspective, self-harm may be thought of as a means of expressing suicidal
thoughts without risking death, and serves as a replacement or compromise with
the desire to commit suicide (Suyemoto, 1998).

who engage in self-harm are sometimes considered conditional goal setters, in
which they believe that they can only attain the goal of happiness through a
single means (Coughlan, Tata, & MacLeod, 2017; Street, 2002), and are
therefore reluctant to disengage from desired goals (Wrosch et al., 2003).
Conditional goal setting has been associated with depression in a range of
groups, including children and adults (Street et al., 2004; Street et al.,
2007). Difficulties with goal attainment may result from difficulties in
thinking of ways to achieve the goals, and a general sense that the goals are
unlikely to be achieved (Vincent, 2004). MacLeod, Pankhania, Lee, and Mitchell
(1997) showed that individuals who recently self-harmed had reduced
anticipation about future positive experience (i.e., hopelessness), rather than
an increase in anticipation of negative events.


et al. (1992) argue that depression stems from consistently pursuing important
life-goals that are unachievable and should therefore be abandoned in favour of
alternative goals that serve the same functions as the original goal. Recent
evidence suggests that depression reflects a malfunction of reward-approach
mechanisms (e.g., Admon & Pizzagalli, 2015; Proudfit, Bress, Foti, Kujawa,
& Klein, 2015), which disrupts or prevents positive affective experiences which
usually accompany goal-approach.  Emotional
distress such as depression is likely to be present in the absence of
goal-directed activities (Carver & Scheier, 1998), which is also a common
antecedent of self-harm. To control negative affect brought on by this anxiety
the person is more likely to seek methods to reduce the negative affect and
refocus on the goal, including radical means such as suicide and
self-destructive behavior (Chatard, Selimbegovic, Pyszczynski, 2017).

the perspective of terror management theory and the motivational-volitional
model of suicide, I suggest that when a goal becomes frustrated and people
think of their own death, they will have increased urges to engage in self-harm
behavior to avoid anxieties about death. People who self-harm may be more
susceptible to death-related thoughts, as NSSI is strongly associated with
suicidal thoughts and behaviors (Andover & Gibb, 2010; Klonsky, May, &
Glenn, 2013), therefore when they experience frustration it serves as a method
of avoiding actual suicide (Klonsky, 2007; Klonsky & Muehlenkamp, 2007).


of the most frequent and important problems that depressed people experience is
low self-esteem. Recalling a negative memory and failures in social and
achievement contexts are likely to contribute to the individual’s inability to
maintain a positive self-image. Low self-esteem is associated with depression
and suicide (Chatard, Selimbegovic, & Konan, 2009; Orth, Robins, &
Roberts, 2008), and I expect individuals with low self-esteem to show increased
approach and desire to engage in self-destructive behavior.

present study focuses on mortality salience and threat to self-esteem,
activated via a mortality salience and goal failure recall task, and the
association of this failure with urges to self-harm. I expect people in the
mortality salience and goal failure condition to report increased urges to
engage in self-harm or other self-destructive behavior, compared to
participants in other experimental or control conditions.