Background: This study examined a theoretically based mediation model including participants' perceptions of early relationships with their mother, self-criticism, dependency, and current depressive symptoms. We expect that (a) early relationships characterized by low levels of care and high levels of overprotection will be positively associated with both current depressive state and self-criticism and dependency; (b) high levels of self-criticism and dependency will be positively associated with depressive symptoms; and (c) self-criticism and dependency will play a mediating role in the association between participants' perceptions of early relationships characterized by low levels of care and high levels of overprotection and their current depressive symptoms.
Methods: A nonclinical community sample of 200 Portuguese adults participated in the study. Perceptions of early relationships were measured using the mother scales of the Parental Bonding Instrument (Parker et al. [1979: Br J Med Psychol 52:1-10]), levels of self-criticism and dependency were measured using the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire (Blatt et al. [1976: J Abn Psy 6:383-389]), and depressive symptoms were measured using the Center for the Epidemiological Studies of Depression Scale (Radloff [1977: Appl Psychol Meas 1:385-401].
Results: Structural equation modeling showed that the link between participants' perceptions of early caretaking relationships with their mothers and their current depressive symptoms is mediated by high levels of self-criticism--a personality trait associated with vulnerability to depression--but not Dependency. However, an ancillary analysis indicated that the link between participants' perceptions of early maternal overprotective relationships and their current depressive symptoms is mediated by high levels of Neediness.
Conclusions: Findings underscore the role of perceived early relationships in psychological vulnerability to depression among highly self-critical and among highly needy individuals and highlight the negative role played by perceived mothers' early dysfunctional practices, characterized by low levels of caring and high levels of overprotection, for the self-critical vulnerability to depression and by perceived mothers' high levels of overprotection, for the neediness vulnerability to depression. These potential causal mechanisms warrant longitudinal evaluation. Theoretical and clinical implications of the findings are discussed.