Childhood Maltreatment and Internalized Shame in Adults with a Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

Authors

  • Alex Fowke,

    Corresponding author
    1. New Forest and Test Valley Psychological Service, Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
    • Department of Clinical Psychology, School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
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  • Susan Ross,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
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  • Katie Ashcroft

    1. Early Intervention in Psychosis Service, Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
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Alex Fowke, Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Southampton, 34 Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PB, UK.

Email: Alex.Fowke@hantspt-sw.nhs.uk

Abstract

Relatively little is understood regarding the aetiology of bipolar disorder (BD) other than for the influence of a large genetic component on the development of the disorder and the impact of stressful life events on changes in current mood. However, amongst a range of psychiatric diagnoses, research consistently demonstrates a higher frequency of reports of childhood abuse and neglect compared with individuals in the general population. In addition, those who report experiences of childhood maltreatment also report high levels of internalized shame in adulthood, although there is little research demonstrating this association amongst clinical populations. An adult sample of 35 participants with a diagnosis of BD and a control group of 35 participants with no psychiatric diagnoses completed measures of childhood abuse and neglect, and internalized shame. Participants in the BD group reported a significantly greater frequency of high levels of childhood trauma compared with participants in the control group, with the reported frequency of childhood emotional abuse and neglect being particularly high. Levels of current internalized shame were also significantly higher amongst participants in the BD group. Significant correlations were observed between current internalized shame and reports of childhood emotional abuse and neglect. Clinical implications of the study's findings are discussed, and limitations of the methodology are considered. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Key Practitioner Message

  • The frequency of reports of childhood trauma would appear to be higher amongst adults with a diagnosis of BD compared with individuals with no psychiatric diagnoses.
  • Levels of internalized shame in adulthood are also likely to be higher than those in the general population, although the current literature does not shed light on the relationship between childhood abuse and neglect, mood-related behaviour, and shame.
  • Experiences of childhood abuse and neglect, particularly childhood emotional abuse and emotional neglect, are likely to be frequently reported by clients with a diagnosis of BD. Clinicians should therefore explicitly consider these experiences in their assessment, formulation and intervention with clients with a diagnosis of BD.

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