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Breaking the cycle: Mentalizing moderates and mediates the link between childhood sexual abuse and satisfaction with adult romantic relationships

Lassri, Dana; Gewirtz-Meydan, Ateret; (2025) Breaking the cycle: Mentalizing moderates and mediates the link between childhood sexual abuse and satisfaction with adult romantic relationships. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 10.1037/tra0001692. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a significant risk factor with consistently demonstrated negative implications for satisfaction with adult romantic relationships. Yet, research on risk and protective factorsin this context is scarce, particularly among well-functioning adults. OBJECTIVE: Addressing this gap, the present study focused on the potential mediating and moderating roles of mentalizing orreflective functioning, i.e.,the capacity to understand oneself and others in terms of intentional mental states. We investigated whether impairments in mentalizing underlie the association between CSA and relationship satisfaction and whether robust mentalizing can buffer the CSA-relationship satisfaction link. METHOD: A sample of 667 individuals engaged in a meaningful romantic relationship was drawn from a larger sample obtained in an online convenience survey. A mediation and moderation model was examined using PROCESS. RESULTS: The results confirmed our integrative model - the association between CSA and satisfaction with romantic relationships was mediated by impairments in mentalizing (uncertainty about mental states) and was simultaneously moderated by robust mentalizing (certainty about mental states). These effects were shown even when controlling for age, gender, education, and psychopathological symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These findings highlight the importance of mentalizing, a key transdiagnostic factor. Reduced mentalizing is a risk factorfor harmful impact of CSA on romantic relationships, while greater mentalizing abilities can be a significant resilience factor protecting CSA survivors. This study supportsthe potential contribution of mentalization-based interventions with survivors of CSA at risk for dissatisfaction with romantic relationships.

Type: Article
Title: Breaking the cycle: Mentalizing moderates and mediates the link between childhood sexual abuse and satisfaction with adult romantic relationships
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1037/tra0001692
Publisher version: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/tra/index
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
Keywords: Child sexual abuse; mentalizing; reflective functioning; romantic relationship
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10188731
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