Contextual Factors Associated with Psychological Inflexibility and Distress in Adults
Cocksey, Joanne Margaret
It is widely accepted in the literature that adverse experiences in childhood, such as abuse and emotional invalidation, pose a major risk factor for the development of psychopathology later in life. What is less known, however, is what processes mediate these associations. This study investigated whether psychological inflexibility – that is, cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance - play a role in mediating these relationships. Although abuse and experiential avoidance have featured prominently in the literature, emotional invalidation and cognitive fusion have been comparatively neglected. 518 adults currently experiencing self-reported psychological distress were recruited from online mental health support forums. They completed questionnaires measuring experiences of abuse and maternal/paternal emotional invalidation in childhood and current levels of cognitive fusion, experiential avoidance and psychopathology in an online survey. Given the interpersonal nature of the childhood experiences, and the impact these may have on attachment relationships, participants were also asked to complete a measure of adult attachment. Regression and path analyses indicated that whilst childhood abuse had a direct impact on adult psychopathology, experiences of maternal and paternal emotional invalidation had indirect relationships with psychopathology via cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance. In terms of predicting current levels of psychopathology, cognitive fusion made the most significant contribution, both directly, and indirectly via experiential avoidance. No reliable predictive relationships were observed between adult attachment and any other variable. The results add novel findings to the literature regarding the role of childhood emotional invalidation and cognitive fusion in the development and/or maintenance of distress. They suggest that clinical interventions aimed at cognitive defusion may be of particular benefit to people currently experiencing psychological distress and, perhaps, those with a history of emotional invalidation. However, the cross-sectional nature of this study limits the causal conclusions that can be made and future research should consider the use of longitudinal designs to extend these findings.