Monday, August 19, 2019

Childhood Abuse May Impact Development of Close Social Bonds as Adults

Adults who experienced significant abuse or neglect during childhood may exhibit a preference for more “personal space” and discomfort with some types of social touching, reports a study in AJP in Advance.

“This sensory dysregulation may explain why individuals with severe childhood maltreatment often suffer from difficulties in establishing and maintaining close social bonds later in life,” wrote Ayline Maier, M.Sc., of the University of Bonn in Germany and colleagues. “Our results may have important implications for the understanding and effective treatment of childhood maltreatment and associated psychopathology.”

Maier and colleagues enrolled 92 adults who were not taking psychotropic medications and who had varying exposure to childhood maltreatment as assessed by the 25-item Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, which measures emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as well as emotional and physical neglect. The sample was divided into three groups: 33 adults with low childhood maltreatment (average score of 26), 30 adults with moderate maltreatment (average score of 36), and 29 with high maltreatment (average score of 63).

All participants completed an interpersonal distance assessment, whereby they slowly moved toward an unfamiliar person until they felt uncomfortable, and a social touch assessment, in which they received either slow or fast hand movements on their shins while undergoing MRI testing.

The data showed that adults in the high-maltreatment group reported a significantly greater amount of ideal personal space between them and another person than those with low maltreatment (about 35.5 inches versus 31.5 inches apart). The adults with high childhood maltreatment also reported more discomfort with fast shin touches compared with adults with low maltreatment. This increased discomfort correlated with greater activity in the sensory regions of the frontal cortex, suggesting that the brain is preparing a flight-or-fight decision in response to the touch, Maier and colleagues wrote.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches do not directly address sensory-related discomfort that many of these individuals experience, the researchers noted. However, previous research has shown the effectiveness of massage for patients who have been sexually abused or have PTSD. The researchers concluded that the use of body-based interventions “could help individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment to facilitate their participation in social interactions by learning to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of social touch in a safe environment.”

To read more about this topic, see the Psychiatric News article “Prospective Study Delves Deeper Into Mental Health Effects of Childhood Trauma.”

(image: iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs)


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