Trauma history and linguistic self-focus moderate the course of psychological adjustment to divorce

Jessica L. Borelli, David A. Sbarra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Divorce is considered to be a significant life stressor, and yet little is known about how early life experiences predict adjustment to marital dissolution in adulthood. Using a sample of 99 recently-separated adults, we examine whether adults' selfreported history of traumatic experiences is associated with increased psychological distress and self-blame following divorce as well as linguistic indices of self-focus while discussing the divorce experience (more first person pronouns). We also evaluate whether among individuals with greater trauma histories, selffocused processing of the divorce experience prospectively predicts increase in psychological distress over 7.5 months. Participants reported on their trauma history and provided four minute speech samples regarding the divorce. At intake and 7.5 months later they reported on the psychological impact of the divorce. Results indicated that adults with greater trauma histories report more psychological distress at Time 1, more self-blame regarding the divorce, and more distress in response to discussing the divorce experience. Further, self-blame mediates the association between trauma history and the psychological impact of the divorce. Among adults with greater trauma histories, greater use of first person singular pronouns when discussing the divorce prospectively predicted increases in psychological distress. Findings are discussed in terms of their contribution to the literature on divorce and trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-698
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Social and Clinical Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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