Research Explores the Role of Emotion Regulation in Trauma Responses and Self-Compassion

Arielle Scoglio is a Population Health PhD student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

In short, what is the study about?

Women who experience interpersonal violence are at high risk for many negative outcomes, including: PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, social isolation, and interpersonal difficulties. The impacts of trauma can be debilitating and long-lasting. This study set out to explore self-compassion in traumatized women as it relates to emotion dysregulation, PTSD symptoms, and resilience. We predicted that higher levels of self-compassion would predict lower levels of PTSD severity and emotion dysregulation. We also predicted that women with higher levels of self-compassion would be more resilient than their counterparts with low levels of self-compassion. Our hypotheses were supported and we also found that emotion dysregulation had a mediating effect in the relationship between PTSD severity and self-compassion. This means that PTSD severity influences self-compassion through a pathway of emotion regulation in trauma responses.

Some symptoms of PTSD, particularly those common in survivors of interpersonal violence (as was the case in our sample), include strong negative beliefs about the self. These may be very resistant to change and likely interfere with the practice of self-compassion (aspects such as self-kindness or accepting personal failings as part of a common humanity). In addition, avoidance symptoms may be incompatible with the mindful part of self-compassion. Similarly, problems with emotion regulation may lead to difficulty practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion is based upon certain aspects of healthy emotion regulation skills (such as awareness and labeling of feelings) and so the influence of PSTD symptoms on self-compassion are likely particularly linked to the impact of emotion dysregulation. When interpersonal trauma occurs early in life, it may disrupt the development of health emotion regulation skills and leave individuals more vulnerable to chronic PTSD. We found that resilience had an indirect effect on self-compassion through its relationship with emotion dysregulation.

How are these findings important in practice?

Clinically, these findings could be helpful in the treatment of women with histories of interpersonal violence. The relationship between PTSD and self-compassion is likely a complex one, and our findings suggest that emotion dysregulation may serve as the link between the two constructs. Because of the relationships found between emotion regulation, self-compassion and resilience, self-compassion and healthy emotion regulation can be conceptualized as components of resilience. Clinicians working with survivors of interpersonal violence may be able to foster resilience in their clients by teaching self-compassion and emotion regulation skills. Bolstering capacity in these areas may also reduce PTSD symptoms and improve functioning in clients.

What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/ application of the findings?

We hope that future research will examine these same phenomenon using a longitudinal study design, so that we can comment on the causality of these relationships, rather than only being able to assess variance in these cross-sectional relationships. It would also be interesting to learn about the role of attachment and other developmental disruptions that may be at play, since these are so related to emotion regulation and PTSD in adulthood for interpersonal trauma survivors.

What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?

The important take-aways for this study are largely hopeful. Those with severe PTSD related to interpersonal violence may have emotion regulation problems and difficulty practicing self-compassion. The converse here is that healthy emotion regulation and self-compassion practices are part of resilience and these skills can be taught to survivors who may be suffering after experiencing interpersonal violence.

Link to the Primary Paper

Scoglio, A. A., Rudat, D. A., Garvert, D., Jarmolowski, M., Jackson, C., & Herman, J. L. (2018). Self-compassion and responses to trauma: The role of emotion regulation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(13), 2016-2036. doi: 10.1177/0886260515622296


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Latest update: August 1, 2018
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