Relationship Between Trauma Exposure, PTSD, and Negative Mood

Exposure to trauma is known to cause extreme stress. For some individuals, the trauma impacts them significantly enough to cause posttraumatic stress (PTSD). Childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse are common factors that put someone at increased risk for PTSD and other mental health problems. Mood regulation can also be negatively impacted by traumatic experience, and children who have been victimized often struggle with negative mood regulation (NMR). Adults who experience traumatic events are more vulnerable to both PTSD and NMR as well. Police officers are especially susceptible because they are exposed to traumatic situations numerous times throughout their careers. Understanding how NMR, PTSD, adult trauma exposure and childhood trauma interact with one another and predict one another can help clinicians better treat clients who suffer with these issues.

Madhur Kulkarni, of the Center for Healthcare Evaluation at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California, recently looked at this relationship in a sample of over 140 retired police department officers. The study revealed that the officers with the highest levels of PTSD and NMR were those that had experienced significant abuse during their childhoods. However, the findings did not show that NMR increased PTSD in abuse survivors, but instead indicated that PTSD influenced NMR in those participants. Therefore, Kulkarni believes that the findings demonstrate abuse survivors may have challenges regulating their moods as a result of the PTSD, not due to the abuse alone. Kulkarni also found that the officers with a history of childhood abuse did not have increased risk for exposure to adult trauma.

Of interest was also the discovery that NMR was only related to childhood victimization and not exposure to trauma in adulthood. This finding suggests that trauma suffered during childhood impairs a person’s ability to manage their emotional reactions, and this effect is not as evident when the traumatic exposure occurs during adulthood. Kulkarni noted that the sample of officers all had adult trauma exposure but believes that these findings still provide evidence of a unique link. Kulkarni added, “In summary, our findings potentially clarify the commonly observed relationship among childhood trauma, adult emotion dysregulation, and adult PTSD symptom severity.”

Kulkarni, M., Pole, N., & Timko, C. (2012). Childhood victimization, negative mood regulation, and adult PTSD severity. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027746

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  • Guy


    March 29th, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Again we see this entanglement of different symptoms and manifestations of the ways that past abuses play out in ones life. I see this as further evidence that treatment for any ailment or makady, be it physical or mental, must be approached holistically rather than one by one. If you look at the whole person and the whole body it is very difficult to separate one element from another. This makes it critical for different providers to work together and create a plan that is going to address the whole being and not just their individual niche. The patients have to come to see themselves in this way too, and know that what they do for one part of the body and the mind is only very naturally going to affect the others. I know that this is a mindset and a way of thinking that most of us currently lack, but the time is now upon us to begin thinking in this manner and to create a better sense of good health and wellness within.

  • Nan


    March 30th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    You always have to go back to the original source of the pain to pinpoint what has caused these symptoms to arise.

  • Shania


    March 31st, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    I have a friend who was abused as a child and even today she feels jittery at times when she observes something that connects her to those dreadful memories..It’s like the childhood abuse has taken shelter in her mind and certain things can trigger a small relapse..Can she get help?

  • Georgia


    April 1st, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Oh gosh, it is always the same, one bad thing always breeds another, they feed off of each other until you are not sure where one ends and the next horror begins. There are things that are too awful to get past, so the mind tries to protect you but you know that via PTSD and other mental disorders the bad stuff is always out there lurking, looking to sneak into your awakened psyche once again.

  • I Be Here For You

    I Be Here For You

    March 11th, 2015 at 12:38 AM

    Let’s talk about it!

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