The double-barreled burden of child abuse and current stressful circumstances on adult women: The kindling effect of early traumatic experience

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Abstract

Child sexual abuse and child physical abuse were compared to assess how these experiences might both positively predict and sensitize women to the effects of current stress exposure, assessed in terms of psychosocial resource loss (e.g., personal and interpersonal resources). Resource loss was in turn, hypothesized to increase later depressive mood and posttraumatic stress disorder severity. Participants were 176 low-income women (58% African American, 38% European American), interviewed twice over 6 months. Child sexual abuse predicted increases in resource loss, which then predicted posttraumatic stress disorder and depressive mood. Women who reported higher levels of child physical abuse were more negatively impacted by resource loss than those who reported lower child physical abuse. Results suggest that child abuse results in both greater stress exposure later and greater vulnerability to that exposure.

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