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Behav Res Ther. 2004 Jan;42(1):41-56.

Beyond abuse: the association among parenting style, abdominal pain, and somatization in IBS patients.

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  • 1Behavioral Medicine Clinic, Department of Medicine, University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, SUNY, ECMC, 462, Grider Street, Buffalo, NY 14215, USA. lackner@buffalo.edu


This study assessed the relative strength of the association between abuse, negative parenting style, and somatization in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients. Drawing from preclinical stress physiology and abuse research identifying the family social climate as a frequently stronger and independent determinant of long-term health effects than abuse-specific variables, we predicted that negative parenting behaviors would more strongly correlate with somatization than abuse. Subjects were 81 consecutively evaluated patients, who at baseline underwent psychological testing, measuring perceived parental style, abuse history, somatization, and pain. Although abuse correlated with maternal and paternal rejection, abuse was not associated with somatization. Higher levels of rejection and/or hostility among fathers (not mothers) were more strongly correlated with somatization than was abuse. Further, paternal parenting behaviors were more predictive of somatization than abuse, age, and gender. The lack of an association between abuse and somatization is discussed in light of limitations of biopsychosocial IBS models, whose strong focus on "pathological stressors" (e.g., abuse, trauma) as risk factors may overlook the importance of "less extreme" parenting variables in influencing somatic complaints. The relationship between parenting and somatization is discussed in the context of broader behavioral science research linking disruptions in the quality of parenting to dramatic and long-term changes in patterns of stress reactivity and brain abnormalities seen in IBS patients.

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