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Keywords:

  • sexual abuse;
  • shame;
  • bulimia

Abstract

Objective

Despite consistent evidence that a reported history of sexual abuse is linked to later bulimic psychopathology, less is known about the psychological processes that underpin this relationship. This study examines the hypothesis that shame acts as a mediator in the link between reported sexual abuse and bulimic attitudes.

Method

A nonclinical sample of female undergraduates (N = 214) completed standardized measures of experiences of sexual abuse, internalized shame, and bulimic psychopathology. Regression analyses were used to test for the mediating role of shame.

Results

The findings were compatible with a model where levels of shame partially account for the relationship between any history of reported sexual abuse and bulimic psychopathology, but entirely account for the link between intrafamilial abuse and bulimic attitudes.

Conclusions

The experience of shame appears to be important in understanding the relationship between reported sexual abuse and bulimic attitudes. Where individuals report a history of sexual abuse, particularly intrafamilial abuse, it may be clinically useful to focus on shame as a psychological consequence of that experience. © 2002 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 32: 186–191, 2002.