Past studies confirm that traumatic events during childhood can gravely affect psychological development and cause adult onset psychiatric disorders, yet few have focused on the effects of specific types of childhood abuse. The observations made in a study published in Annals of General Psychiatry reveal that childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse dictate different adult interpersonal problems. Led by Hyu Jung Huh, a doctor at the College of Medicine at Seoul St. Mary's Hospital, the study “provides preliminary evidence that childhood trauma has an adverse impact on interpersonal problems in adulthood."

Evaluating Interpersonal Problems in Depressed and Anxious Adults

Hyu studied 174 individuals diagnosed with depression and 151 diagnosed with anxiety disorders. These patients were assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). After the recruitment process, participants completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). The CTQ is a 28-item self-report inventory that identifies the types of traumas experienced: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as emotional and physical neglect.

After divulging the details of past trauma, Hyu then assessed adulthood interpersonal problems using the Korean Inventory of Interpersonal Problems Circumplex Scale (KIIP-SC). Interpersonal problems refer to how you're able to interact and communicate with others during conflict. The eight dimensions of interpersonal problems include:

  • Domineering or control issues
  • Vindictive behavior and self-centeredness
  • Distancing one's self
  • Socially inhibited
  • Non-assertive
  • Overly accommodating
  • Self-sacrificing
  • Intrusive or needy

The KIIP-SC is a 40-item self-report used to indicate which of the eight interpersonal behaviors one associates most with.

Different Types of Trauma Cause Different Interpersonal Problems

The following list of associations were observed in the patients:

  • Patients with a history of physical abuse were more likely to be domineering, controlling, intrusive, and needy.
  • Patients who suffered emotional neglect were more likely to be domineering, controlling, nonassertive, overly accommodating, self-sacrificing, intrusive, and needy.
  • Patients who suffered sexual abuse were more likely to be domineering, controlling, overly accommodating, self-sacrificing, intrusive, and needy.

“Different types of childhood abuse and neglect appeared to influence specific symptom dimensions and interpersonal relationship in adulthood," concluded Hyu. Overall, Hyu found that patients with a history of physical or sexual abuse tended to grow up to be the more dominant person in their relationships. In terms of mental health, those with both emotional and physical trauma showed strong symptoms of depression, state anxiety, trait anxiety, and anxiety sensitivity.

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Date of original publication:
Updated on: March 16, 2017

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