The invisible scars of emotional abuse: a common and highly harmful form of childhood maltreatment

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Background: Childhood maltreatment (CM) is unfortunately widespread globally and has been linked with an increased risk of a variety of psychiatric disorders in adults, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These associations are well established in the literature for some maltreatment forms, such as sexual and physical abuse. However, the effects of emotional maltreatment are much less explored, even though this type figures among the most common forms of childhood maltreatment. Thus, the present study aims to investigate the impact of each type of childhood maltreatment, both individually and conjointly, on revictimization and PTSD symptom severity using a nonclinical college student sample. Methods: Five hundred and two graduate and undergraduate students participated in the study by completing questionnaires assessing lifetime traumatic experiences in general, maltreatment during childhood and PTSD symptoms. Bivariate and multivariate negative binomial regressions were applied to examine the associations among childhood maltreatment, revictimization, and PTSD symptom severity. Results: Our results showed that using bivariate models, all types of CM were significantly associated with revictimization and PTSD symptom severity. Multivariate models showed that emotional abuse was the type of maltreatment associated with the highest incidence rates of revictimization and PTSD symptom severity. Conclusions: These data provide additional evidence of the harmful effects of childhood maltreatment and its long-term consequences for individuals’ mental health. Notably, the findings highlight the importance of studying the impacts of emotional abuse, which seems to be a highly prevalent, understudied, and chronic form of maltreatment that is as toxic as other maltreatment forms.




Gama, C. M. F., Portugal, L. C. L., Gonçalves, R. M., de Souza Junior, S., Vilete, L. M. P., Mendlowicz, M. V., … Pereira, M. G. (2021). The invisible scars of emotional abuse: a common and highly harmful form of childhood maltreatment. BMC Psychiatry, 21(1).

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