Pathways from child sexual abuse to adult depression: The role of parental socialization of emotions and alexithymia

Renu Thomas, David Dilillo, Kate Walsh, Melissa A. Polusny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objective: Depression is common among adult survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA), but the intervening processes responsible for this outcome have not yet been fully delineated. The present study investigated the mediating role of perceived parental emotion socialization and alexithymia (difficulties identifying and describing feelings) in explaining the link between CSA and adult depressive symptoms in female veterans. Method: Cross-sectional data were collected from 110 female veterans who completed self-report questionnaires measuring demographics, sexual victimization history, perceived parental emotion socialization, and current symptoms of alexithymia and depression. Results: Linear regression analyses showed that CSA predicted greater depression, which was partly accounted for by alexithymia. Less positive socialization practices by both parents fully mediated the relationship between CSA and alexithymia. When these factors were examined together in a path model, greater CSA severity predicted perceptions of fewer positive socialization practices by mothers, which, in turn, was associated with greater alexithymia and depression. Conclusions: Perceptions of early positive emotion socialization and current alexithymia may contribute to experience of depression among sexually victimized female veterans. Interventions aimed at targeting emotion regulation skills and perceptions associated with other salient childhood experiences such as emotion socialization by parents could help reduce adult depression among CSA survivors. Furthermore, encouraging positive parenting practices for caregivers of abused children could allay subsequent affective symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-135
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology of Violence
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • adult depression
  • alexithymia
  • child sexual abuse
  • emotion socialization
  • female veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology


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