Negative Social Support Increases Trauma Symptoms in Survivors

Traumatic experiences are difficult to overcome. Individuals who have survived traumas are highly sensitive to the reaction of others when discussing their past experiences. People who have survived childhood sexual abuse may avoid revealing their secret for fear of negative responses from their friends and family. Likewise, abuse survivors may carry shame and self-blame that inhibits them from discussing the traumatic events. Even individuals who experience traumas such as violent crime and natural disaster may be hampered from sharing their feelings related to the events because of symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD). The social cognitive processing (SCP) model of coping suggests that individuals can benefit from talking to others about their emotions related to the trauma. However, when their feelings are easily dismissed or they are met with negativity, their psychological state can deteriorate.

To test this theory further, Bradley E. Belsher of Palo Alto University in California recently led a study that examined how social constraints and social acceptance influenced the PTSD symptoms in 39 adult trauma survivors. He found that the participants that exhibited high levels of social constraint were less likely to discuss their feelings and had more severe symptoms than those who felt supported socially. These negative conditions led to more self-blame and negative perceptions of the surrounding world, which further exacerbated their symptom severity. Belsher also noticed that the stress response was higher in the participants with negative social perceptions and high levels of social constraint. This lack of trust and increased trauma-related stress can impede recovery and create a poorer course of illness.

These findings support other research that emphasizes the importance of social support for those recovering from traumatic events. Belsher believes that interventions designed to provide accepting and open platforms could be highly effective for trauma survivors. Other approaches designed to transform a client’s beliefs could also help a survivor overcome negative perceptions that perpetuate symptoms of depression and PTSD symptoms. Belsher added, “These findings underscore the significant influence of negative social support on recovery following trauma and the importance of cognitive processing, which often takes place through interpersonal mechanisms.”

Belsher, B. E., Ruzek, J. I., Bongar, B., Cordova, M. J. (2012). Social constraints, posttraumatic cognitions, and posttraumatic stress disorder in treatment-seeking trauma survivors: Evidence for a social-cognitive processing model. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 4.4: 386-391.

Related articles:
Healing from Trauma: Moving Out From the Shadow of Trauma
From Victim to Survivor to Thriver

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  • Tate


    July 18th, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    It is never a good feeling when someone dismisses your feelings and your emotions.
    It is kind of like they are saying that they don’t believe you when you say that you are hurting without actually saying that outright.
    It is that little passive aggression and dismissal that makes you feel so horrible, unsupported.

  • brandon


    July 18th, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    There are simply some people who choose to thrive upon the negative. feed them negative thoughts and words, and well, some people like that. That’s the role that they choose to play and they will continue to be negative themselves. Believe it or not, that’s how they feel the most comfortable.

  • Jack


    July 19th, 2012 at 5:46 PM

    Those of us who have had trauma in our lives, we need positive thoughts.
    No more of the bad stuff.
    No more of the negativity.
    No more doing what you can to bring us down.
    Don’t you think that we do enough of that for ourselves?
    I have had to become even more dedicated to only allowing certain people into my life, and that has to be those who can see the bright side instead of always reminding me of the doom and gloom.
    Because if those are the people that I allow to continue to permeate my life, then the events that I still have nightmares about will be in control of me instead of the other way around.

  • Taylor


    July 19th, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    I have always believed that if you cannot lend a helping hand then at least do not get in the way of others.negative responses from you could jeopardise the recovery process in a victim so please be careful when you respond to a survivor of abuse, treat them nice and do not be mean.

  • christinah


    July 31st, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    There are those people who will make you feel like, you are not as human as they are. They might intepret your illness in the wrong manner because , when you are stressed you dont feel like living , life is worthless

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