Maladaptive Trauma Appraisals Mediate the Relation Between Attachment Anxiety and PTSD Symptom Severity

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Objective: In a large sample of community-dwelling older adults with histories of exposure to a broad range of traumatic events, we examined the extent to which appraisals of traumatic events mediate the relations between insecure attachment styles and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity. Method: Participants completed an assessment of adult attachment, in addition to measures of PTSD symptom severity, event centrality, event severity, and ratings of the A1 PTSD diagnostic criterion for the potentially traumatic life event that bothered them most at the time of the study. Results: Consistent with theoretical proposals and empirical studies indicating that individual differences in adult attachment systematically influence how individuals evaluate distressing events, individuals with higher attachment anxiety perceived their traumatic life events to be more central to their identity and more severe. Greater event centrality and event severity were each in turn related to higher PTSD symptom severity. In contrast, the relation between attachment avoidance and PTSD symptoms was not mediated by appraisals of event centrality or event severity. Furthermore, neither attachment anxiety nor attachment avoidance was related to participants’ ratings of the A1 PTSD diagnostic criterion. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that attachment anxiety contributes to greater PTSD symptom severity through heightened perceptions of traumatic events as central to identity and severe.

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