Emotional suppression in torture survivors: Relationship to posttraumatic stress symptoms and trauma-related negative affect

Author(s): Angela NICKERSON ; Benjamin GARBER ; Ola AHMED ; Anu ASNAANI ; Jessica CHEUNG ; Stefan G HOFMANN ; Ly HUYNH ; Belinda LIDDELL ; Brett T LITZ ; Rosanna PAJAK ; Richard A. BRYANT

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.05.048

Abstract

While clinical reports suggest that torture survivors may try to suppress their emotions during torture, little is known about the use of emotional suppression following torture. In this study, 82 refugees and asylum-seekers (including 33 torture survivors) completed self-report measures of trait suppression, PTSD symptoms and baseline negative affect before being exposed to images depicting scenes of interpersonal trauma. The use of suppression while viewing the images was indexed and negative affect was measured both immediately after viewing the images and following a five minute rest period. Findings indicated that torture survivors did not show higher rates of trait suppression or state emotional suppression during the experimental session compared to non-torture survivors. However, torture survivors who endorsed state suppression higher levels of distress, and this relationship was especially strong for those with more severe PTSD symptoms. In contrast, there was a negative relationship between state suppression and distress for non-torture survivors with high levels of PTSD symptoms. These findings suggest that, while torture exposure does not lead to greater use of suppression, it does influence the impact of suppression on emotional responses to stimuli.