Childhood maltreatment, limbic dysfunction, resilience and psychiatric symptoms
Objective: Resilience is a multidimensional phenomenon encompassing both internal traits and external protective factors that allow individuals to thrive in circumstances of chronic stress. Childhood experiences of physical or psychological maltreatment are chronic stressors and represent major risk factors for the development of psychiatric disorders later in life. Teaching of emotional coping strategies is an integral part of treatments for many of these disorders, such as anxiety and depression. The association between traumatic experiences and emotional regulation is thought to be mediated in part by the limbic system, and emotional regulation may be represented positively by trait resilience or negatively by feelings of guilt or shame. We sought to investigate the value of resilience in predicting psychiatric symptoms in victims of childhood maltreatment, as well as examine the association between the resilience and limbic emotional regulation. We hypothesized that trait resilience would be a protective mediator in the relationship between childhood maltreatment and psychiatric symptoms, while limbic dysfunction, guilt and shame would be negative mediators of this relationship. Method: A total of 439 adult participants completed measures of childhood exposure to psychological and physical maltreatment. The participants' current limbic health was assessed using the Limbic System Checklist, trait resilience was assessed using the Resilience Scale, emotional regulation was assessed using the Personal Feelings Questionnaire, and psychiatric symptoms were assessed using the Symptoms Questionnaire. Results: Limbic dysfunction and trait resilience predicted the severity of psychiatric symptoms above and beyond exposure to various forms of childhood maltreatment. Feelings of shame contributed significantly to the prediction of psychiatric symptoms in female participants, while feelings of guilt contributed significantly to the prediction of psychiatric symptoms in male participants. Positive associations between limbic dysfunction and feelings of guilt and shame were found in all participants, while negative association between limbic dysfunction and trait resilience was found in female participants only. Conclusions: Resilience was found to be a protective mediator in the relationship between psychological and physical childhood maltreatment and later psychiatric symptoms, and such mediation was found to be associated with limbic health and emotional regulation. Gender differences were found in the presentation of psychiatric symptoms and negative emotions. Future research should expand assessments to examine a wide range of childhood traumatic experiences and limbic structural pathologies.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University