Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Emotions and Emotion Regulation in Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Importance of ''Disgust'' in Traumatic Stress and Psychopathology

Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Emotions and Emotion Regulation in Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Importance of ''Disgust'' in Traumatic Stress and Psychopathology

Article excerpt


Emotions and emotion regulation in survivors of childhood sexual abuse: the importance of "disgust" in traumatic stress and psychopathology

Eimear Coyle1,2*, Thanos Karatzias3, Andy Summers2 and Mick Power4

1Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK; 2Clinical Psychology Department, NHS Fife, Fife, UK; 3Faculty of Health, Life and Social Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK; 4Rivers Centre, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Edinburgh, UK


Background : Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has the potential to compromise socio-emotional development of the survivor resulting in increased vulnerability to difficulties regulating emotions. In turn, emotion regulation is thought to play a key part in a number of psychological disorders which CSA survivors are at increased risk of developing. A better understanding of the basic emotions experienced in this population and emotion regulation strategies will inform current treatment.

Objective : This paper examines the relationships between type of emotions experienced, emotion regulation strategies, and psychological trauma symptoms in a sample of survivors of CSA.

Method : A consecutive case series of CSA survivors (n =109) completed the Basic Emotions Scale (BES)--Weekly, General, and Coping versions; the Regulation of Emotions Questionnaire; the Post-traumatic Stress Checklist--Civilian Version (PCL-C); and the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation Outcome Measure.

Results : Significantly higher levels of disgust than other levels of emotions were reported on the weekly version of the BES. In addition, significantly higher levels of disgust and lower levels of happiness were reported on the BES--General subscale. Regression analyses revealed that sadness, fear, disgust, and external dysfunctional coping strategies predicted global post-traumatic stress disorder and re-experiencing symptomatology measured by the PCL-C. Global distress, as measured by CORE, was predicted by the emotions of sadness, disgust, and low happiness, as well as dysfunctional regulatory strategies. In addition, preliminary exploratory factor analyses supported the structure of all three versions of the BES, with disgust explaining the largest percentage of variance, followed by happiness.

Conclusions : The findings highlight the utility of profiling basic emotions in understanding the strong associations between emotional phenomena, particularly the emotion of disgust and psychopathology in CSA survivors.

Keywords: Childhood sexual abuse; emotion; PTSD

Responsible Editor: Marylene Cloitre, National Center for PTSD in Palo Alto, CA, USA.

*Correspondence to: Eimear Coyle, NHS Fife Clinical Psychology Department, Lynebank Hospital, Dunfermline KY11 4UW, UK, Email:

For the abstract or full text in other languages, please see Supplementary files under Article Tools online

Received: 8 November 2013; Revised: 18 March 2014; Accepted: 12 April 2014; Published: 3 June 2014

European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2014. © 2014 Eimear Coyle et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, for any purpose, even commercially, under the condition that appropriate credit is given, that a link to the license is provided, and that you indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Citation: European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2014, 5 : 23306 -

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) involves an interpersonal betrayal of trust, often in primary relationships, during critical developmental periods. …

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