The shielding effect of not responding: Peritraumatic responses to child abuse and their links to posttraumatic symptomatology

Noga Tsur*, Carmit Katz, Anat Talmon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Extensive literature focuses on peritraumatic responses to trauma and their link to subsequent posttraumatic symptomatology. However, although posttraumatic symptomatology following child abuse (CA) has been documented, research on peritraumatic responses to CA is sparse. Objective: The current study utilizes a new typology of peritraumatic responses to CA and tests whether automatic and behavioral peritraumatic responses to CA differ in their long-term implications for posttraumatic symptomatology, i.e., posttraumatic stress (PTS symptoms), deficiency in self-organization (DSO symptoms; complex posttraumatic symptoms), and dissociation. Participants, settings and methods: One-hundred and eighty adult CA survivors reported on CA, peritraumatic responses, PTS symptoms, DSO symptoms, and dissociation. Results: The tendency to freeze and dissociate, and utilize extensive behavioral methods to survive the abuse were implicated in higher posttraumatic symptomatology (F(2,178) > 4.26, p < 0.01). The absence of automatic and behavioral responses were found to be implicated in the lowest levels of posttraumatic symptomatology (p < 0.01) and to buffer the effect of CA severity on PTS and DSO posttraumatic symptoms (0.047 > effect>0.029, p < 0.001). Conclusions: The findings uncovered a novel response pattern, reflected in a tendency to eradicate responses to CA, which was the most protective in regard to its link to later posttraumatic symptomatology. Contrarily, the most scarring peritraumatic responses to CA that arose from the findings were the tendency to freeze and dissociate and utilize various excessive behavioral methods to endure the abuse. These findings imply that CA generates several possible responses, some of which, although allowing for survival in childhood, have adverse effects in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105224
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Child abuse
  • Complex trauma
  • Dissociation
  • Peritraumatic response
  • Posttraumatic stress


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