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Early-life adversities and adult attachment in depression and alexithymia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2020

Jani Kajanoja*
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland Satakunta Hospital District, Pori, Finland FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, Population Health Research Centre, University of Turku
Max Karukivi
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, Population Health Research Centre, University of Turku
Noora M. Scheinin
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, Population Health Research Centre, University of Turku
Hanna Ahrnberg
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, Population Health Research Centre, University of Turku
Linnea Karlsson
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, Population Health Research Centre, University of Turku Department of Child Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
Hasse Karlsson
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, Population Health Research Centre, University of Turku
*
Author for correspondence: Department of Psychiatry, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland Teutori, FinnBrain/Lemminkäisenkatu 3, 20014, Turun Yliopisto; E-mail: jani.kajanoja@utu.fi

Abstract

Alexithymia is a personality construct characterized by difficulties in identifying and verbalizing feelings, a restricted imagination, and an externally oriented thinking style. As alexithymia shows marked overlap with depression, its independent nature as a personality construct is still being debated. The etiology of alexithymia is unknown, although childhood emotional neglect and attachment formation are thought to play important roles. In the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study, experiences of early-life adversities (EA) and childhood maltreatment (CM) were studied in a sample of 2,604 men and women. The overlap and differences between depression and alexithymia were investigated by comparing their associations with EA types and adult attachment style. Alexithymia was specifically associated with childhood emotional neglect (odds ratio (OR) 3.8, p < .001), whereas depression was related to several types of EA. In depression co-occurring with alexithymia, there was a higher prevalence of emotional neglect (81.3% vs. 54.4%, p < .001), attachment anxiety (t = 2.38, p = .018), and attachment avoidance (t = 4.03, p < .001). Early-life adversities were markedly different in the alexithymia group compared to those suffering from depression, or healthy controls. Depression with concurrent alexithymia may represent a distinct subtype, specifically associated with childhood experiences of emotional neglect, and increased attachment insecurity compared to non-alexithymic depression.

Type
Regular Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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