- Press Release Distribution

Childhood maltreatment predicts adult emotional difficulties

( Have you ever wanted to convey a feeling but just couldn’t find the right words? Millions of people struggle with a personality trait known as alexithymia, which means “no words for feelings.” Individuals with alexithymia have difficulty identifying and describing their emotions. This trait can harm their social and intimate relationships. They are likely to miss social cues and thus fail to recognize or understand the feelings of others. Past research has suggested that a history of child maltreatment could play a role in developing adult alexithymia.

A new meta-analysis published this month in Psychological Bulletin, led by Stanford University researchers, is the first study to synthesize empirical evidence in global literature on links between adult alexithymia and all forms of child maltreatment.

“We can say now with more confidence that these phenomena – child maltreatment and alexithymia – are related to each other to a great extent,” said senior co-author Anat Talmon, who supervised the study as a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University and currently serves as an assistant professor with the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The researchers examined 78 published sources that reported details of potential child maltreatment and levels of alexithymia in adulthood. In total, 36,141 participants were included in the study conducted by the Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory with collaborators at the Hebrew University and Adam Mickiewicz University.

“One in four children worldwide is maltreated, but it often goes unrecognized,” said Julia Ditzer, lead author of the study, a graduate researcher at Stanford University, and a PhD student in psychology at the Technical University of Dresden.

Types of child maltreatment Three child maltreatment types – emotional neglect, emotional abuse, and physical neglect – were particularly strong predictors of alexithymia. Emotional neglect and physical neglect commonly occur together. Two other types – sexual abuse and physical abuse – were related to alexithymia but were less strongly predictive.

Emotional neglect occurs when caregivers fail to provide for a child’s emotional needs, including security and comfort. Emotional abuse happens when caregivers ridicule, belittle, or blame children, making them responsible for household or caregiver problems. Physical neglect involves caregivers who fail to provide adequate food, clothing, or a safe environment.

“When someone is sexually or physically abused, he or she often knows, to a certain extent, that something is wrong,” said Talmon. Emotional neglect and emotional abuse, however, are often more difficult to identify by the victim or other family members or neighbors. Victims may be less likely to seek help. “Emotional neglect and emotional abuse are extremely devastating experiences for a child,” said Talmon. “No one is fulfilling your emotional needs, but you lack the ability to identify and recognize your emotions on your own, which increases the likelihood of developing alexithymia.”

About 10% of the general population have clinically relevant levels of alexithymia. For women, it’s about 7%. For men, it’s almost double that, about 13%. High levels of alexithymia are associated with psychological disorders, including autism, depression, and schizophrenia. According to James Gross, who is the Ernest R. Hilgard Professor of Psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences, “It is increasingly clear that both alexithymia and child maltreatment are transdiagnostic risk factors, meaning that their presence puts a person at higher risk for developing a wide range of mental disorders. However, what is not yet clear is how these two risk factors are related to one another, and why they often co-occur.”

To understand the links between alexithymia and child maltreatment, it is helpful to consider the crucial role played by caregivers. Caregivers are typically the most important model for children in their emotional development. Yet caregivers are also the most common perpetrators of child maltreatment. Maltreated children grow up with fewer examples of positive coping strategies under stress and less opportunity to express emotions appropriately.

In response to negative events, some maltreated children can behave aggressively or violently, while others shut down with a flat emotional affect or dissociation. Past research has shown that childhood dissociation – detachment from feeling – is strongly related to emotional abuse or the unavailability of caregivers.

“These children might say, ‘I don’t care. I’m just surviving,’ ” said Talmon. “They don’t know what they want because they don’t know what their inside voice is, and what their true will is.”

But some forms of maltreatment can be subtle. Well-meaning caregivers could be chronically ill, clinically depressed, or unable to support children emotionally for other reasons. “No one living in that environment might see what’s happening as maltreatment,” said Talmon.

Alexithymia therapy could help Improved therapeutic interventions for adults with alexithymia are needed, the authors note. People in treatment for depression or PTSD might score high on alexithymia, making it more difficult for them to be introspective and successful in therapy.

Therapists assess patients’ difficulty in expressing and identifying emotions. Treatment for adults with alexithymia often involves helping them develop an ability to be in touch with their emotions, understand them, and explain them in an embodied way. “Before you can work on regulating your feeling, you first need to understand and recognize your feeling,” said Talmon.

Family members and friends should try to understand that people with alexithymia often do not identify and express their feelings as readily as others do or understand the feelings of others. “They are not trying to be difficult,” said Ditzer. “They just really struggle with this.”

Additional Stanford co-authors are Eileen Wong and Rhea Modi, research assistants at the Trauma Research group led by Talmon. Maciej Behnke, of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland is also a co-author. Gross is also a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, the Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI), and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.



New analysis shows COVID variant and severity of illness influence cardiac dysfunction, a key indicator of long COVID

New analysis shows COVID variant and severity of illness influence cardiac dysfunction, a key indicator of long COVID
Patients infected with beta and delta COVID-19 variants, and those who required hospital stays for COVID-19 infection, were more likely to experience heart issues associated with long COVID, according to a recent Houston Methodist study published in the European Heart Journal – Cardiovascular Imaging. Patients recovering from the omicron variant were least likely to have microvascular involvement. “This new data expands our understanding of myocardial flow reserve as an important prognostic marker in general and specifically in COVID-19,” said Mouaz Al-Mallah, M.D., corresponding author of the study and director of cardiovascular ...

Renowned sociologist and Black Voices Quintet set to dazzle at HDR UK’s Black Internship Programme Opening Ceremony 2023

Renowned sociologist and Black Voices Quintet set to dazzle at HDR UK’s Black Internship Programme Opening Ceremony 2023
Contact: Clare Leahy 07748016062 Event registration for press: Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) is launching its Health Data Science Black Internship Programme for the third year running at its Opening Ceremony on Wednesday 21 June from 12-5pm at the Curzon Building in Birmingham City University. The programme, run in partnership with the UK Health Data Research Alliance and 10,000 Black Interns is helping to tackle the underrepresentation of Black people within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ...

Sleep societies announce 2023 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Award recipient

Sleep societies announce 2023 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Award recipient
DARIEN, IL – Sleep researcher Dayna A. Johnson is the recipient of the 2023 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Award from the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a joint initiative of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to sleep medicine or sleep and circadian science through their work to increase the diversity, equity, and inclusion of sleep medicine providers, or to develop educational programs, research, or clinical work aimed at reducing disparities. The award presentation occurred Monday, June 5, during the plenary session of the ...

NPS professor and student develop patented self-sealing fuel line

NPS professor and student develop patented self-sealing fuel line
Patents from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) are a measure of novel inventions, but each also tells a story of a relevant idea with warfighting impact. NPS Department of Physics Associate Professor Ray Gamache and his former graduate student, NPS alumnus U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Chris Phifer, developed and recently patented a new polymer-based, self-sealing fuel line capable of withstanding a .50 caliber bullet without losing so much as a single drop. “We’re not just a physics department, we’re the applied physics department,” Gamache said. “While ...

A supervised hospital walking program may reduce nursing facility admissions for older adults

1. A supervised hospital walking program may reduce nursing facility admissions for older adults Abstract: URL goes live when the embargo lifts A randomized trial of older veterans found that hospitalized persons enrolled in a supervised walking program known as STRIDE (AssiSTed EaRly MobIlity for HospitalizeD VEterans) were less likely to be discharged to a skilled nursing facility. However, the authors noted that participation in the program was low and there was no change associated with length of hospital stay or inpatient falls. The study is ...

Unraveling the mode of action of tirzepatide

Tirzepatide is a recently approved treatment for type-2 diabetes. Treatment with tirzepatide decreases body weight while improving glucose metabolism in patients with obesity and type-2 diabetes. Although the drug is designed to activate receptors for glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), the contribution of activating the GIP receptor in the overall efficacy of tirzepatide is not fully understood. A team of researchers demonstrated for the first time that tirzepatide stimulates insulin secretion in the human pancreas via the GIP receptor. These results contrast with findings in ...

Study shows promising treatment for tinnitus

Tinnitus, the ringing, buzzing or hissing sound of silence, varies from slightly annoying in some to utterly debilitating in others. Up to 15% of adults in the United States have tinnitus, where nearly 40% of sufferers have the condition chronically and actively seek relief. A recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute suggests relief may be possible. Susan Shore, Ph.D., Professor Emerita in Michigan Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology and U-M’s Departments of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, led research on how the brain processes bi-sensory ...

BORIS gene mutation and expression: Link to breast cancer progression

BORIS gene mutation and expression: Link to breast cancer progression
“The current study analyzed the correlation between BORIS mutations and the expression of the protein in breast cancer cases.” BUFFALO, NY- June 5, 2023 – A new research paper was published in Oncotarget's Volume 14 on May 26, 2023, entitled, “Association of mutation and expression of the brother of the regulator of imprinted sites (BORIS) gene with breast cancer progression.” The brother of the regulator of imprinted sites (BORIS), 11 zinc-finger transcription factors, ...

Healthy vascular fat during menopause may stave off dementia later in life

Healthy vascular fat during menopause may stave off dementia later in life
The research, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, is further evidence that the menopause transition is a particularly important time for women and their doctors to pay attention to heart health, in turn protecting their brain health. “It is shocking to know that two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women,” said Meiyuzhen (Chimey) Qi, first author and Ph.D. candidate in epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “The most common modifiable risk factor for dementia is cardiovascular disease, and, interestingly, a woman’s ...

Germline genetic testing after cancer diagnosis – this study is being released to coincide with presentation at the 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting

About The Study: Among patients diagnosed with cancer in California and Georgia between 2013 and 2019, only 6.8% underwent germline genetic testing. Compared with non-Hispanic white patients, rates of testing were lower among Asian, Black, and Hispanic patients.  Authors: Allison W. Kurian, M.D., M.Sc., of Stanford University in Stanford, California, is the corresponding author. To access the embargoed study: Visit our For The Media website at this link (doi:10.1001/jama.2023.9526) Editor’s Note: Please see the article for additional information, ...


Study finds senescent immune cells promote lung tumor growth

Study examines benefits and obstacles of library data storytelling

Cost of living crisis set to cut UK lives short and significantly widen wealth-health gap

Flawed body of research indicates true ‘long COVID’ risk likely exaggerated

Wealthier kids in UK may have experienced steepest fall in mental health during pandemic

Stem cell therapy can safely slow progression of relapsing-remitting MS

NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe passes system integration review

National Science Foundation taps Worcester Polytechnic Institute fire protection expertise and resources for the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Doctor and pharmacist revamp standard processes for ordering and documenting mifepristone use

Screening for adverse childhood experience can improve trauma-informed care, though time constraints and limited referral resources present challenges

Understanding parents’ care expectations for a child with gastroenteritis could prevent after-hours care requests

Learning collaborative promotes mifepristone education and utilization training in federally qualified health centers

Men who trust their doctors, receive adequate time and general information about prostate cancer screening are more likely to have productive discussions

Study identifies patient and clinician-level characteristics associated with sexual history screening administration

Researchers identify important strategies for diabetes care and quality improvements in the primary care setting

Attentiveness to resting leg cramps may afford greater insight into advancing age and declining health

Staffing challenges and general time constraints may harm primary care teams’ ability to implement quality improvement efforts

Primary care investigators, clinicians, patients and community members reflect on NAPCRG’s 50 years of leadership and service

September/October Annals of Family Medicine 2023 tip sheet

Combination radiation with immunotherapy shows promise against “cold” breast cancer tumors

A new AI model has been developed to improve accuracy of breast cancer tumor removal

Finding the balance: Opioids and pain control after surgery

UC Irvine scientists reveal what fuels wildfires in Sierra Nevada Mountains

US Department of Energy Office of Science awards $115M for High Rigidity Spectrometer project at FRIB

Algorithm would predict disease relapses

Exercise-mimicking drug sheds weight, boosts muscle activity in mice

Did life exist on Mars? Other planets? With AI's help, we may know soon

Wind energy projects in North America are more likely to be opposed by white, wealthy communities

Naming and shaming can be effective to get countries to act on climate

Scientists develop method of identifying life on other worlds

[] Childhood maltreatment predicts adult emotional difficulties