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Clin Psychol Psychother. 2014 Jan-Feb;21(1):73-81. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1821. Epub 2012 Oct 15.

Recall of threat and submissiveness in childhood and psychopathology: the mediator effect of self-criticism.

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Cognitive-Behavioural Research Centre, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal.


Research has robustly shown that early negative parenting experiences are associated with psychopathology and self-criticism in adulthood. This study investigates recall of personal feelings of perceived threat and subordination in childhood and its relation to psychopathology. In addition, we explore the mediator role of self-criticism in this association. A sample of 193 subjects from the general population completed self-report questionnaires measuring the study variables. The mediator analyses suggested that the impact of submissiveness experiences in childhood on depression and anxiety is mediated by self-criticism. Our findings highlight the route through which the recall of personal feelings of perceived involuntary subordination to parents contributes to depression and anxiety in adulthood.


Although the relation between early experiences of abuse and later psychological problems is now well established, there has been less study on subtler forms of threat and subordinate behaviour in childhood. Given ours and previous findings, therapists should be aware of, and prone to explore, these early experiences. Most studies exploring early negative experiences mainly refer to attachment theory-related constructs (e.g., attachment style). We also highlight the importance of noting rank structure and rank style in the family. Self-criticism seems to be a key process in the relation between early aversive experiences of subordination and psychopathology. Given the idea that self-reassuring operates through a different affect system, helping people develop inner warmth and compassion for the self may be important to counteract feelings of self-hatred and self-attack.


Depression and Anxiety; Recall of Threat and Submissiveness Experiences in Childhood; Self-criticism

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