Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name





child maltreatment, ego development, narrative coherence, posttraumatic stress symptoms, psychological distress, traum


Julie Hakim-Larson




Narrative identity, an integrative story of the self and developed from cumulative life experiences, guides self-perception, behaviours, and understanding of the world (McAdams, 2001; Pals, 2006). Once established, new experiences typically fit within this narrative identity. However, some experiences, such as child maltreatment, are so disruptive that they are not easily integrated into one’s life story and coherently narrated, manifesting in psychological problems (Pals, 2006; Vanderveren et al., 2017; Waters & Fivush, 2015). While the literature on the coherence of trauma narratives is inconsistent (e.g., Brewin, 2014; Rubin et al., 2016), studies on child maltreatment, which focused on child sexual abuse, found that these narratives were less coherent than non-trauma narratives (e.g., Miragoli et al., 2017; Mossige et al., 2005). Building from this literature, the purpose of the current study was three-fold. The first goal was to examine if child maltreatment (trauma) narratives were less coherent than positive event (non-trauma) narratives for the same person. The second goal was to investigate if ego development, the framework that people use to make sense of their experiences, and posttraumatic stress symptoms moderated the relation between child maltreatment and coherence of maltreatment narratives. Finally, the third goal was to examine if coherence of maltreatment narratives mediated the relations between child maltreatment and psychological distress and life satisfaction. For the current study, 204 adults who experienced child maltreatment (i.e., sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse and neglect before the age of 19 years) were recruited from Canada. Participants completed questionnaires on their child maltreatment experiences, memory disorganization, psychological functioning, personality, and social supports. They also wrote a detailed description of their child maltreatment experience and its impact, which was coded for narrative coherence (Reese et al., 2011). Results of the present study revealed that child maltreatment narratives were more coherent than non-trauma, positive event narratives, not less as hypothesized. In fact, child maltreatment was not associated with coherence of maltreatment narratives at all; and as such, the proposed moderation and mediation models were not a good fit to the data. Nonetheless, several significant associations were found that were consistent with the maltreatment literature. Ego development predicted greater coherence of maltreatment narratives, child maltreatment predicted greater psychological distress, and coherence of maltreatment narratives predicted lower psychological distress. The present study contributed to the literature by contrasting the coherence level of child maltreatment versus non-trauma narratives and considering the potential reasons to why child maltreatment narratives were found to be more coherent than non-trauma narratives in the current sample. The study confirmed previous findings on the association between child maltreatment and narrative coherence with psychological distress. In addition, the present study suggested the importance of the role of narrative processing in trauma treatment.