Personality Disorders Present in Children Following Emotional Abuse

New data show adverse childhood experiences can cause personality changes proximal to trauma, rather than developing later in life.

Personality disorders in adults are generally thought to correlate with adverse childhood experiences, including emotional abuse.

Long-term consequences of emotional abuse have been studied and documented, but there is limited data on the proximal repercussions that may occur during childhood.

A recent study, led by David Martinez Garza, MD, of the University of Miami, examined whether personality disorders and personality changes can happen in the short-term and are detectable during early adolescence, or if they develop later in life.

The findings were presented at the 2021 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.


Investigators analyzed data collected from adolescent inpatients in suburban New York, who completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire for the results of the study.

The patients then completed the adolescent version of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), within one week of their admission.

After completion of both tests, the team compared the data to other cross-sectional studies available on adults with a history of emotional abuse.


The total sample size included 763 adolescent inpatients, with an age range of 13 – 17 years.

In the total sample size (n = 763), 60% reported emotional abuse. Investigators looked for correlations between the MMPI of their sample and a sample of adults.

Investigators found statistically significant elevations in the MMPI clinical subscales of hypochondriasis (15.3, P < .001), depression (6.6, p < .05), paranoia (13.4, P < .001), psychasthenia (19.362, P < .001), and social introversion (7.7, P < .01).

The team also found stronger associations for schizophrenia (41.114, P < .001) and psychopathic deviance (17.17, P < .001).

These findings, in comparison with adult behavioral profiles (>40 years old) of patients with childhood emotional abuse, found similar associations with the MMPI sub scales.

There was a stronger correlation found for schizophrenia (0.41, P < .001) and psychopathic deviance (0.42, P < .001) between the two groups.

The team noted that cross-sectional data described different behavioral profiles for patients depending on the type of abuse.

Emotional abuse is a broad, understandable pattern, according to investigators. However, there is a lack of data on the longitudinal history or timing of onset of the symptoms.

“It is interesting that results from adults and adolescents are virtually identical, suggesting that the consequences of emotional abuse are already present very early on following the trauma as opposed to having a delayed onset,” investigators wrote.


Investigators concluded that adult behavioral profiles linked to childhood emotional abuse are also present proximal to the trauma, rather than only occurring later in life.

“This is of particular significance when implementing treatment as it suggests early intervention would be critical,” investigators noted.

The study, “Personality Profiles of Patients With Childhood Emotional Abuse Are Present as Early as Adolescence,” was published online by the American Psychiatric Association.