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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1998 May;74(5):1146-63.

Getting "stuck" in the past: temporal orientation and coping with trauma.

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School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine 92697-7085, USA.


The relations between temporal orientation and long-term psychological distress were studied cross-sectionally and longitudinally in 3 samples of traumatized individuals: adult victims of childhood incest, Vietnam War veterans, and residents of 2 southern California communities devastated by fire. Results indicated that a past temporal orientation--focusing attention on prior life experiences--was associated with elevated levels of distress long after the trauma had passed, even when controlling for the degree of rumination reported. Temporal disintegration at the time of the trauma--whereby the present moment becomes isolated from the continuity of past and future time--was associated with a high degree of past temporal orientation over time and subsequent distress. Temporal disintegration was highest among individuals who had experienced the most severe loss, had previously experienced chronic trauma, and had had their identities threatened by their traumatic experience.

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