Objectives. Numerous studies have shown that personality factors may increase or decrease individuals’ vulnerability to depression, but little research has examined the role of peer relationships in the development of these factors. Accordingly, this study examined the role of recalled parenting and peer experiences in the development of self-criticism and self-reassurance. It was hypothesized that, controlling for recalled parenting behaviours, specific recalled experiences of peer relationships would be related to current levels of specific forms of self-criticism and self-reassurance.

Design. Hypotheses were tested using a retrospective design in which participants were asked to recall experiences of parenting and peer relationships during early adolescence. This age was chosen as early adolescence has been shown to be a critical time for the development of vulnerability to depression.

Methods. A total of 103 female and 97 male young adults completed measures of recalled parenting, overt and relational victimization and prosocial behaviour by peers, and current levels of self-criticism and self-reassurance.

Results. Hierarchical regression analyses showed that parents and peers independently contributed to the development of self-criticism and self-reassurance. Specifically, controlling for parental care and control, overt victimization predicted self-hating self-criticism, relational victimization predicted inadequacy self-criticism, and prosocial behaviour predicted self-reassurance. As well, prosocial behaviour buffered the effect of overt victimization on self-reassurance.

Conclusions. Findings highlight the importance of peers in the development of personality risk and resiliency factors for depression, and suggest avenues for interventions to prevent the development of depressive vulnerabilities in youth.

Practitioner points

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    The nature of a patient's personality vulnerability to depression may be better understood through a consideration of the patient's relationships with their peers as well as with parents during adolescence.
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    An understanding of adult patients’ past peer relationships may further the therapist's understanding of the client's core schemas and dysfunctional attitudes, as well as potential transference reactions during therapy.
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    Identifying and helping youth to better cope with peer victimization may help prevent the development of a vulnerable personality style in adulthood.
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    Fostering positive peer relationships in adolescence may buffer the effects of other more negative relationships with peers.