Retrospective parental rejection is associated with aggressive behavior as well as cognitive distortions in forensic psychiatric outpatients [2018]

Objective: Parental rejection in childhood is associated with the increased risk of aggression in adulthood and is thought to contribute to the development of inaccurate beliefs regarding own or others’ behavior (i.e., cognitive distortion) as well. Different forms of aggression are thought to be linked to different types of cognitive distortions. This, however, is unclear in adults. Additionally, it is unknown if parental rejection predicts the presence of aggression and cognitive distortions in adults displaying severe aggression.

Method: One hundred twenty-three adult forensic psychiatric outpatients with aggression regulation problems were recruited. Least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (Lasso) regression analysis and path analyses were conducted to investigate distinct patterns of cognitive distortions, as measured by use of the How I Think Questionnaire, and the role of perceived parental rejection, as measured by use of the Parental Rejection and Acceptance Questionnaire.

Results: Cognitive distortions related to opposition-defiance (e.g., disrespecting rules) and to physical aggression were most strongly associated with the disposition to act aggressively. Furthermore, a direct association was found between parental rejection and this current disposition. This association was partially mediated by cognitive distortions related to opposition-defiance.

Conclusion: The current study supports the notion that parental rejection has profound consequences on adult behavior. Acknowledgment of the impact of cognitive distortions on current aggression might be of importance for treatment. A stronger focus on altering distinct cognitive distortions may be more successful in reducing aggression.

Smeijers, Danique Brazil, Inti A. Bulten, Erik B. H. Verkes, Robbert-Jan

Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 2018