Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 394–415 | Cite as

Childhood Maltreatment Exposure and Disruptions in Emotion Regulation: A Transdiagnostic Pathway to Adolescent Internalizing and Externalizing Psychopathology

  • Charlotte HeleniakEmail author
  • Jessica L. Jenness
  • Ann Vander Stoep
  • Elizabeth McCauley
  • Katie A. McLaughlin
Original Article


Child maltreatment is a robust risk factor for internalizing and externalizing psychopathology in children and adolescents. We examined the role of disruptions in emotion regulation processes as a developmental mechanism linking child maltreatment to the onset of multiple forms of psychopathology in adolescents. Specifically, we examined whether child maltreatment was associated with emotional reactivity and maladaptive cognitive and behavioral responses to distress, including rumination and impulsive behaviors, in two separate samples. We additionally investigated whether each of these components of emotion regulation were associated with internalizing and externalizing psychopathology and mediated the association between child maltreatment and psychopathology. Study 1 included a sample of 167 adolescents recruited based on exposure to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Study 2 included a sample of 439 adolescents in a community-based cohort study followed prospectively for 5 years. In both samples, child maltreatment was associated with higher levels of internalizing psychopathology, elevated emotional reactivity, and greater habitual engagement in rumination and impulsive responses to distress. In Study 2, emotional reactivity and maladaptive responses to distress mediated the association between child maltreatment and both internalizing and externalizing psychopathology. These findings provide converging evidence for the role of emotion regulation deficits as a transdiagnostic developmental pathway linking child maltreatment with multiple forms of psychopathology.


Emotion regulation Emotional reactivity Rumination Responses to distress Child maltreatment Adolescence Internalizing Externalizing 



This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health to Ann Vander Stoep and Elizabeth McCauley (MH-663711 and MH-079402) and Katie McLaughlin (MH-092526).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Charlotte Heleniak, Jessica L. Jenness, Ann Vander Stoep, Elizabeth McCauley and Katie A. McLaughlin declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (national and institutional). Informed consent was obtained from all individual subjects participating in the study.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlotte Heleniak
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jessica L. Jenness
    • 2
    • 5
  • Ann Vander Stoep
    • 3
    • 4
  • Elizabeth McCauley
    • 1
    • 3
  • Katie A. McLaughlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Washington School of MedicineSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Department of EpidemiologyUniversity of Washington School of Public Health and Community MedicineSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Department of PediatricsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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