Childhood Trauma Linked to Problems Regulating Mood and PTSS

Childhood trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse by a parent, can lead to negative mood regulation in adulthood, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Trauma. Survivors of childhood trauma are also at a higher risk for having more severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome if such disorders occur after they undergo a traumatic, life-threatening experiences.

Dr. Madhur Kulkami and his colleagues at the Center for Health Care Evaluation at the Veterans Administration Palo Alto Healthcare System in California studied 142 retired police officers, all of whom had been through life-threatening experiences. The officers with the most severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) and who had the most difficulties in mood regulation, were also the ones that had experienced significant abuse during childhood. The researchers concluded that negative mood regulation did not increase PTSS symptoms in abuse survivors but rather that PTSS influenced mood regulation.

Negative mood regulation can mean extreme volatility in emotions, outbursts, inappropriate anger, "flying off the handle," easily depressed, and so forth. These symptoms can look like symptoms of borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.

Dr. Kulkami believes that survivors of childhood abuse may develop problems in mood regulation as a result of PTSS, which means negative mood regulation is not necessarily the result only of childhood abuse. The study found that the police officers who had histories of childhood abuse were not at an increased risk for being exposed to trauma as adults. Negative mood regulation, was not related to exposure to trauma in adulthood, but only linked to childhood abuse.

"Our findings potentially clarified the commonly observed relationship among childhood trauma, adult emotion dysregulation, an adult PTSS symptom severity," Dr. Kulkami said.

Some of the limitations of this study were childhood trauma was self-reported, the population in the study was narrow, and its design was cross-sectional.

This study appears in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy

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