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Dissertation

Optimism, pessimism, and responses to stress in maltreated adolescents

21 March 2007

Abstract

Although many abused and neglected children experience significant difficulties as a result of the abuse, many maltreated children show few emotional and behavior problems. This suggests that there may be resiliency and vulnerability factors that mediate the development of emotional and behavioral problems in maltreated children. This is the first study to this researcher's knowledge to examine the connection between optimism, pessimism, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and responses to stress in maltreated adolescents being seen in an outpatient mental health center. Nineteen adolescents (M = 14 years; SD= 1.5) reported. on their responses· to traumatic experiences, the types of trauma experienced, symptoms of posttraumatic stress (i.e.; anger, anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, and dissociation) and finally on their outlook on life. As hypothesized, maltreated adolescents who reported higher levels of pessimism were more likely to also experience more severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Pessimism was also connected to less effective and more passive responses to stress, such as denial and intrusive thoughts. Optimism, on the other hand, produced less consistent results. Maltreated adolescents who reported higher levels of optimism reported fewer problems; however, the connection was significant with only certain symptoms of posttraumatic stress, including depression, anger, and dissociation. In addition, optimism was positively correlated with one of the responses to stress factors: Primary Control Coping. Optimism was negatively correlated, however, with all of the less effective and more passive responses to stress, such as avoidance, denial, and emotional numbing. Clinical and research implications of these findings are discussed


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