Do adverse childhood experiences predict adult interpersonal difficulties? The role of emotion dysregulation

Child Abuse Negl. 2018 Jun;80:123-133. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.03.006. Epub 2018 Apr 5.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are risk factors for interpersonal difficulties in adulthood, however the mechanism that underlies this association is unknown. The current study investigated the association of a wide range of ACEs with interpersonal difficulties in adulthood, and tested whether emotion dysregulation mediated the relationship between ACEs and interpersonal difficulties. Patients over the age of 18 were recruited from primary care clinics (N = 4006). Participants completed self-report questionnaires that assessed ACEs, emotion dysregulation, and interpersonal difficulties. Results indicated that, after controlling for a range of demographic variables, each type of ACE significantly predicted increased interpersonal difficulties and that cumulative ACEs predicted increased interpersonal difficulties, F(8, 3137) = 39.68, p < .001, R2 = 0.09. Further, emotion dysregulation mediated the association between ACEs and interpersonal difficulties, B = 0.79, SE = 0.09, 95% CI [0.64, 0.97]. These findings emphasize the role of childhood adversity on interpersonal functioning in adulthood, and highlight emotion dysregulation as a mechanism by which this association occurs. Results have the potential to inform preventative and treatment efforts to improve adaptive outcomes among individuals with a history of childhood adversity.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; Emotion dysregulation; Interpersonal problems; Primary care.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Adverse Events / psychology*
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Affective Symptoms / etiology*
  • Alberta
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires