Childhood emotional invalidation and adult psychological distress: the mediating role of emotional inhibition

Child Abuse Negl. 2003 Feb;27(2):199-213. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(02)00536-7.


Objective: To evaluate a model in which chronic emotional inhibition mediates the relationship between a history of childhood emotional invalidation or abuse and adult psychological distress.

Method: One hundred and twenty-seven participants completed a series of self-report questionnaires, and a subset of this group (n=88) completed an additional measure of current avoidant coping in response to a laboratory stressor. Structural equation modeling was used to evaluate and compare a full and partial mediational model.

Results: Findings strongly supported a model in which a history of childhood emotional invalidation (i.e., psychological abuse and parental punishment, minimization, and distress in response to negative emotion) was associated with chronic emotional inhibition in adulthood (i.e., ambivalence over emotional expression, thought suppression, and avoidant stress responses). In turn, emotional inhibition significantly predicted psychological distress, including depression and anxiety symptoms.

Conclusion: This study found support for a model in which the relation between recollected negative emotion socialization in childhood and adult psychological distress was fully mediated by a style of inhibiting emotional experience and expression. Although it is likely that childhood emotional inhibition is functional (e.g., reduces parental distress and rejection), results suggest that chronic emotional inhibition may have long-term negative consequences for the inhibitor.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*