Associations Between Emotional Abuse and Neglect and Dimensions of Alexithymia: The Moderating Role of Sex

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Abstract

Objective: Child maltreatment, specifically emotional maltreatment (i.e., an act, such as belittling, blaming, or rejection, that is potentially harmful to a child’s emotional development), has emerged as an important correlate of alexithymia. However, the evidence is mixed with regard to how emotional abuse and neglect might relate to dimensions of alexithymia (i.e., externally oriented thinking, difficulty describing feelings, and difficulty identifying feelings). Furthermore, research is needed to identify individual factors that might influence these associations. The current study examined the links between emotional abuse and neglect and externally oriented thinking, difficulty describing feelings, and difficulty identifying feelings and evaluated whether sex moderated these associations. Method: Participants included 500 emerging adults (49.6% male) who completed an online battery of questionnaires assessing history of child maltreatment and dimensions of alexithymia. Results: Regression analyses revealed that emotional abuse was associated with difficulty describing feelings and externally oriented thinking, but not difficulty identifying feelings. Emotional neglect was associated with difficulty identifying feelings, but not difficulty describing feelings or externally oriented thinking. There were no sex differences associated with difficulty describing feelings or externally oriented thinking. However, sex moderated the associations between emotional abuse and neglect and difficulty identifying feelings such that emotional abuse and neglect were both more strongly associated with difficulty identifying feelings for females. Conclusion: These results suggest that, in the aftermath of emotional maltreatment, sex may play an important role in the development of difficulty identifying feelings.

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