Understanding Negative Outcomes Following Traumatic Exposure: The Roles of Neuroticism and Social Support

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Abstract

The established literature indicates that an overwhelming majority of adults will experience at least 1 traumatic stressor during their lifetime. Such stressors have been consistently linked to a range of adverse subsequent conditions and span the mood, anxiety, and personality diagnostic categories. Yet, understanding why some individuals experience traumatic reactions and adverse outcomes and others facing significant stressors do not succumb to such problems remains a challenge. In this study, trauma-exposed participants (natural disaster, n = 51; sexual assault, n = 35) completed measures of neuroticism and social support as well as measures of adverse mental health outcomes known to be associated with traumatic exposure. Results indicate that the personality characteristic of neuroticism is generally significantly correlated with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and general distress. Social support was found to have no impact alone but a differential impact on these outcomes (sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful) depending on the survivor's level of neuroticism. In considering social support options following traumatic exposure, providers are therefore encouraged to carefully consider the survivor's neurotic demeanor.

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