Daily Associations Between Trauma-Related Mental Contamination and Use of Specific Coping Strategies: Results of a Daily Monitoring Study

Jordyn M. Tipsword, Matthew W. Southward, Anita M. Adams, C. Alex Brake, Christal L. Badour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Mental contamination (MC)—a sense of dirtiness experienced without contacting an identifiable pollutant—is a distressing and enduring experience among many survivors of sexual trauma. MC has been linked to more frequent use of avoidant coping behaviors (e.g., washing behavior, substance use, binge eating) and approach coping. However, it is unclear if specific approach and avoidant coping strategies are more consistently related to perseverative experiences of trauma-related MC, if the use of certain strategies predicts changes in MC, and if fluctuations in MC predict the use of certain strategies. The present study evaluated contemporaneous and prospective relationships between sexual trauma-related MC and use of 11 specific coping strategies among 41 women with a history of sexual trauma using an experience sampling design. Women completed twice-daily assessments of coping strategy use and MC for 14 days. Between-persons, women reporting more intense MC on average reported more frequent use of distraction, denial, giving up, self-blame, thought suppression, washing behavior, emotional processing, and emotional expression than those experiencing less intense MC. Within-person increases in MC were associated with more frequent concurrent use of all coping strategies except seeking support. Lastly, within-person increases in MC predicted more frequent use of giving up, substance use, and seeking support at the next assessment and within-person increases in substance use predicted less severe MC at the next assessment. Future work should aim to identify factors influencing the selection and/or quality of use of these specific coping strategies among individuals experiencing MC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5699-5720
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article: This work was supported by the University of Kentucky Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women. This project was also supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through grant number UL1TR001998 at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or of the Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • PTSD symptoms
  • approach coping
  • avoidance coping
  • mental contamination
  • sexual trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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