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What was once essential, may become detrimental: The mediating role of depersonalization in the relationship between childhood emotional maltreatment and psychological distress in adults
ABSTRACTDepersonalization (DP) is a dissociative phenomenon, characterized by feeling “unreal” or detached from one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behavior (APA, 2013). It is considered to be a defense mechanism, employed in response to overwhelming events, whereby thoughts and emotions are suppressed in order to enhance the individual’s capacity to function in traumatic environments. DP has been found to co-occur with anxiety and depressive disorders, and childhood emotional maltreatment (EM) has been identified as an important predisposing factor. The study’s primary aim was to investigate the mediating role of DP in the relationship between childhood EM and psychological distress in young adults. Additionally, it aimed to confirm that a history of childhood EM (emotional abuse and emotional neglect) predicted current levels of DP and to explore how both a person’s attitude towards experiencing and expressing emotions (with an emphasis on the affect phobia model) and their current attachment security are related to current DP. A cross-sectional design was employed, which included young adults (N = 761) aged between 18 and 25 years. Participants completed an online survey that comprised of several self-report measures. Regression and mediation analyses were conducted. The results indicated that: (1) DP significantly mediated the relationship between childhood EM and current psychological distress; (2) that a history of EM, but no other forms of childhood abuse, significantly predicted current DP experiences; and (3) EM, attachment-related anxiety, and negative attitudes toward emotions predicted clinical cutoff levels of DP. The results are discussed in detail, including clinical implications and direction for future research.