BACKGROUND: Certain modes of trauma disclosure have been found to be associated with more severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTS) in different trauma populations: the reluctance to disclose trauma-related thoughts and feelings, a strong urge to talk about it, and physical as well as emotional reactions during disclosure. Although social-contextual influences gain more and more interest in trauma research, no study has yet investigated these “dysfunctional disclosure tendencies” and their association with PTS from an interpersonal perspective.
OBJECTIVE: (1) To replicate previous findings on dysfunctional disclosure tendencies in patients with life-threatening injury and their significant others and (2) to study interpersonal associations between dysfunctional disclosure style and PTS at a dyadic level.
METHOD: PTS symptom severity and self-reports on dysfunctional disclosure tendencies were assessed in N=70 dyads comprising one individual with severe traumatic brain injury and a significant other ("proxy") 3 months after injury.
RESULTS: Regression analyses predicting PTS symptom severity revealed dysfunctional disclosure tendencies to have incremental validity above and beyond sex, age, and trauma severity within the individual (both patient and proxy), with moderate effect sizes. The interaction between patient's and proxy's disclosure style explained additional portions of the variance in patients' PTS symptom severity.
CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that dysfunctional disclosure tendencies are related to poorer psychological adaptation to severe traumatic brain injury. This intrapersonal association may be exacerbated by dysfunctional disclosure tendencies on the part of a significant other. Although the results require replication in other trauma samples without brain injury to further generalize the findings beyond the observed population, the study contributes to the expanding literature on the crucial role of interpersonal relationships in trauma recovery.