“You Blame Me, Therefore I Blame Me”: The Importance of First Disclosure Partner Responses on Trauma-Related Cognitions and Distress

Jess Bonnan-White, Melanie D. Hetzel-Riggin, Bridget K. Diamond-Welch, Craig Tollini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Scopus citations


Trauma recovery processes may be understood within a socioecological model. Individual factors (such as sex of the survivor) and microsystem factors (including trauma characteristics) have been studied extensively. However, there is a paucity of research examining the effects of macrosystem factors on the impact of trauma—especially examining how the response of the first person to whom the survivor disclosed affects trauma-related cognitions and distress. Sixty-three college student participants reported a history of disclosing at least one traumatic event in an online, anonymous survey. Participants also provided information on the first person they told about the trauma, the social reactions of that person, general social reactions to trauma disclosure, the participants’ trauma-related cognitions and psychological distress (PTSD, other mental health issues), details about the traumatic event, and basic demographic information. Paired sample t tests showed that participants experienced the responses of the first person they told about their trauma as more favorable than the responses of the all of the people to whom they told about the event. Women and survivors of non-interpersonal trauma reported more supportive responses than men and survivors of interpersonal trauma. Hierarchical linear regressions showed that interpersonal trauma and victim blame on the part of the first person the survivor told were associated with more negative trauma-related cognitions. Interpersonal trauma, emotional support, and victim blame were associated with a greater degree of trauma-related distress. The results suggest that participants perceived the response of the first person they told as more beneficial than the response of the rest of their exosystem. However, the reactions of the first person the survivor told differed based on the sex of the survivor and the type of trauma they experienced. Consistent with previous research, interpersonal trauma and victim blame by the first person the survivor told about the trauma were associated with more trauma-related distress and negative cognitions. Trauma-related distress was also associated with greater emotional support by the disclosure partner. The results support the use of the socioeological model to better understand the complex nature of trauma recovery and have implications for prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1260-1286
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology

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