Repercussions of Sexual and Physical Trauma: The Impact of Lingering Negative Attitudes about Touch

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Humans are social beings, which means interpersonal relationships are important contributors to our psychological health. Our health and behavior is manifested through a dynamic cycle of interacting factors: environmental, personal,

Humans are social beings, which means interpersonal relationships are important contributors to our psychological health. Our health and behavior is manifested through a dynamic cycle of interacting factors: environmental, personal, and behavioral. Contributing to this interaction, interpersonal relationships provide benefits such as increased social support and decreased loneliness. The care and attention of relationship partners are communicated in multiple ways, one of which is interpersonal touch. Although touch can communicate positive feelings and support, it can also be used negatively in certain contexts. Unwanted or forced touch occurs when an individual experiences sexual or physical trauma. Experiencing this type of trauma often results in negative psychological consequences. Exactly how sexual or physical trauma—both of which involve unwanted touch—might influence an individual’s attitudes towards touch is important to explore. If an individual feels negatively about interpersonal touch due to previous experience of trauma, this might negatively influence the amount of current touch with a partner, and also the survivor’s psychological well-being.

In the current study, I proposed that previous occurrence of sexual or physical trauma would predict both decreased frequency of touch in a current intimate relationship and poorer individual well-being, and that these relations would be explained by negative touch attitudes. Results supported these hypotheses, suggesting that lingering negative touch attitudes following trauma could be an underlying mechanism affecting social and individual functioning. As seen in our model, these attitudes fully mediated the effects between previous sexual or physical trauma and individual well-being, as well as frequency of touch. This understanding can help provide further insight into the repercussions of trauma and the underlying mechanisms attributing to continued negative effects.