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J Affect Disord. 2006 Jul;93(1-3):71-8. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Parental verbal abuse and the mediating role of self-criticism in adult internalizing disorders.

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Department of Psychology, Florida State University, United States.



Researchers (e.g., [Gibb, B.E., 2002. Childhood maltreatment and negative cognitive styles. A quantitative and qualitative review. Clinical Psychology Review, 22 (2), 223-246]; [Rose, D.T., Abramson, L.Y., 1992. Developmental predictors of depressive cognitive styles: developmental perspectives on depression. In Cicchetti, D., Toth, S.L. (Eds.), Developmental Perspectives on Depression. Rochester symposium on developmental psychopathology, vol. 4, pp. 323-349]) have proposed that when childhood abuse is verbal (rather than sexual or physical), the child is more likely to develop a negative self-schema because the negative self-cognitions are directly supplied to the child by the abuser (e.g., "you are stupid").


In a test of this theory in adult participants, and drawing on the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) (N=5877), we investigate the mediating role of current levels of self-criticism on the relationship between retrospective reports of parental verbal abuse, as well as sexual and physical abuse, and adult internalizing symptoms.


We found self-criticism, but not dependency traits, to fully mediate the relationship between childhood verbal abuse perpetrated by parents and internalizing (depression, anxiety) symptoms. On the other hand, self-criticism was only a partial mediator of the relationship between the other types of abuse and internalizing symptoms.


The NCS data is cross-sectional, which limits any firm conclusions regarding causality. While these results are suggestive that self-criticism is a mediator of the relationship between abuse and internalizing symptoms, longitudinal data are necessary to help rule out alternative explanations.


Results of this study suggest that childhood abuse experiences, and in particular verbal abuse, may confer risk for internalizing disorders in part because verbal abuse influences the development of a self-critical style.

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