Emotion Regulation Difficulties Mediate Associations Between Betrayal Trauma and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress, Depression, and Anxiety

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Emotion regulation difficulties following trauma exposure have received increasing attention among researchers and clinicians. Previous work highlights the role of emotion regulation difficulties in multiple forms of psychological distress and identifies emotion regulation capacities as especially compromised among survivors of betrayal trauma: physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment perpetrated by someone to whom the victim is close, such as a parent or partner. It is unknown, however, whether links between emotion regulation difficulties and psychological symptoms differ following exposure to betrayal trauma as compared with other trauma types. In the present study, 593 male and female university undergraduates completed the Difficulties with Emotion Regulation Scale (Gratz & Roemer, 2004), the Brief Betrayal Trauma Scale (Goldberg & Freyd, 2006), the Impact of Event Scale (Horowitz, Wilner, & Alvarez, 1979), and the Trauma Symptom Checklist (Elliott & Briere, 1992). A path analytic model demonstrated that betrayal trauma indirectly impacted symptoms of intrusion (β = .11), avoidance (β = .13), depression (β = .17), and anxiety (β = .14) via emotion regulation difficulties, an effect consistent with mediation. Emotion regulation difficulties did not mediate the relationship between other trauma exposure and psychological symptoms. Results may inform treatment-matching efforts, and suggest that emotion regulation difficulties may constitute a key therapeutic target following betrayal trauma.