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.
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