Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Self-Criticism, Maladaptive Perfectionism, and Depression Symptoms in a Community Sample: A Longitudinal Test of the Mediating Effects of Person-Dependent Stressful Life Events

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Self-Criticism, Maladaptive Perfectionism, and Depression Symptoms in a Community Sample: A Longitudinal Test of the Mediating Effects of Person-Dependent Stressful Life Events

Article excerpt

Both self-criticism and maladaptive dimensions of perfectionism have been associated with depression symptoms, based on cross-sectional and some longitudinal research with selective clinical and student samples. The present study evaluated a mediation model involving self-criticism, maladaptive dimensions of perfectionism, and depression-related symptoms at baseline (Time 1), and person-dependent stressful life events and depression-related symptoms 12 months later (Time 2), in a more representative noninstitutionalized sample. Participants included 723 community-based adults in an urban area. A proposed mediation model based on recent theoretical writings was evaluated, whereby the effects of self-criticism and maladaptive perfectionism on subsequent depression symptoms were hypothesized to be mediated by person-dependent stressful life events. In female respondents, the relationship between self-criticism and Time 2 depression was not mediated by person-dependent stressful life events and the relationship between socially prescribed perfectionism and Time 2 depression was fully mediated by person-dependent life events. In male respondents, self-criticism showed evidence of partial mediation while doubts about actions and socially prescribed perfectionism did not have significant main effects on Time 2 depression. Clinical and research implications of this important cognitive diathesis domain in association with person-dependent stressful life events and subsequent depression are discussed.

Keywords: self-criticism; maladaptive perfectionism; stressful life events; depression

Self-criticism is a psychological construct that is thought to denote a cognitive vulnerability to emotional distress, especially depression. Self-criticism involves constant and harsh criticism and demands on the self, and chronic concerns about disapproval and rejection from others (for reviews see Blatt 1995; Blatt & Zuroff, 2002). There are a large number of studies that are mostly supportive of the role of self-criticism in understanding expressions of depression and other negative emotions. A recent development in the self-criticism literature has been the characterization of self-criticism as a cognitive diathesis that can generate stressful life events that in turn contribute to the onset of depression symptoms (Holm-Denoma, Otamendi, & Joiner, 2008; Mongrain & Zuroff, 1994; Zuroff, 1992). The association between self-criticism and depression symptoms has been shown to be mediated by the occurrence of stressful life events (e.g., Priel & Shahar, 2000; Shahar, Joiner, Zuroff, & Blatt, 2004). This line of research is consistent with evidence from other studies that depression-prone individuals can generate negative stressors that are person-dependent and largely interpersonal by nature (Hammen, 1991; Joiner, Wingate, & Otamendi, 2005). However, almost all of this literature is based on college students or depressed patients (e.g., Bagby et al., 1992) rather than representative community-based samples, and most of this literature is cross-sectional in nature (for an exception see Shahar et al., 2004). We sought to address both of these limitations in the current study. Further, there is a paucity of research that has directly compared self-criticism and the negative or maladaptive facets of perfectionism that are also thought to be linked to emotional distress.

In a recent study that adjusted for a history of depression symptoms (Safford, Alloy, Abramson, & Crossfield, 2007), researchers found evidence for the predictive role of negative cognitive style on the subsequent occurrence of person-dependent stressful life events, especially in females. This study found that individuals with negative cognitive styles generated more persondependent negative life events compared to individuals with more positive cognitive styles. However, as the authors of this study noted, an important limitation in their research design was that they selected undergraduate students who had very negative or very positive cognitive styles. …

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