Background Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has been shown to be a risk factor for personality disorder (PD). However, no previous studies have examined whether associations exist between sexual abuse and abnormal personality as measured both categorically and dimensionally. Such enquiry would more fully illuminate the impact of CSA on adult personality.
Method Using a large nationally representative sample, we set out to examine associations between CSA and categorically defined PD. We also examined associations between CSA and the five dimensions of personality (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism). A total of 1520 young adults were interviewed to determine the prevalence of sexual abuse occurring before age 16 years. A dimensional measure of personality was completed by 1469 participants, and 1145 had an informant-based PD assessment.
Results PD was independently associated with repeated CSA [fully adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.9, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-3.4]. Repeated sexual abuse was also associated with higher neuroticism and lower agreeableness (p values for both <0.001). Adjusting for the effects of potential confounders and mediators, including earlier symptoms of anxiety and depression, had little impact on the strength of associations.
Conclusions We conclude that repeated CSA is independently associated with categorically defined PD, and also with higher neuroticism and lower agreeableness. Our findings suggest that if a dimensional classification of PDs is adopted in future classification systems, there might be meaningful continuity with previous aetiological research conducted using the current categorical system.
- Child abuse
- personality disorder