International Journal of Cognitive Therapy

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 242–259 | Cite as

Effects of Psychological Distress and Exposure to Terror-Related Stress on the Self in Emerging Adulthood

  • Moran SchillerEmail author
  • Michael Pinus
  • Constance C. Hammen
  • Golan ShaharEmail author


We compared vulnerability and scarring models linking self-concept and psychological distress in young adulthood. Whereas the vulnerability model posits self-concept pathology leading to psychological distress, the prediction of the scarring model is inverse. We also examined the moderating role of exposure to missile attacks. Israeli young adults (N = 124), who had participated in a previous study (Schiller et al. Self and Identity 15(3)302–326, 2016), were followed up with again 15 months after the third assessment, and subsequent to a dramatic exposure to missiles. Baseline psychological distress and exposure to terror-related stress predicted impairment in six self-concept dimensions: self-criticism, self-concept clarity, generalized self-efficacy, inadequate self, hated self and reassured self. On the other hand only two variables: self-esteem and exposure to terror-related stress predicted elevated levels of psychological distress. Findings attest to the viability of self-concept scarring by psychopathology and traumatic stress during young adulthood.


Young adulthood Scarring hypothesis Self-concept Psychological distress Terror 


Funding Information

This study was partially supported by the Sol Leshin Program for BGU-UCLA Academic Cooperation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.


  1. Abela, J. R. Z. (2002). Depressive mood reactions to failure in the achievement domain: a test of the integration of the hopelessness and self-esteem theories of depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 26(4), 531–552. Scholar
  2. Abela, J. R. Z., Webb, C. A., Wagner, C., Ho, M. H. R., & Adams, P. (2006). The role of self-criticism, dependency, and hassles in the course of depressive illness: a multiwave longitudinal study. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(3), 328–338. Scholar
  3. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment [ACHA-NCHA]. (2000). American College Health Association—National College Health Assessment: reference group executive summary spring. Baltimore: American College Health Association.Google Scholar
  4. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment [ACHA-NCHA]. (2006). American College Health Association National College health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) spring 2005 through reference group data report (abridged). Journal of American College Health, 55(1), 5–16. Scholar
  5. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment [ACHA-NCHA]. (2009). American College Health Association—National College Health Assessment Spring 2008 reference group data report (Abridged). Journal of American College Health, 57(5), 477–488. Scholar
  6. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: a theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469–480. Scholar
  7. Arnett, J. J. (2011). Emerging adulthood(s): the cultural psychology of a new life stage. In L. A. Jensen (Ed.), Bridging cultural and developmental approaches to psychology: new syntheses in theory, research and policy (pp. 255–275). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Azaiza, F., Shoham, M., Bar-Hamburger, R., & Abu-Asbeh, K. (2009). Psychoactive substance use among Arab adolescent school dropouts in Israel: a phenomenon and its implications. Health & Social Care in the Community, 17(1), 27–35. Scholar
  9. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  10. Bareket-Bojmel, L., & Shahar, G. (2011). Emotional and interpersonal consequences of self-disclosure in a lived, online interaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30(7), 732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bauer, J. J., & McAdams, D. P. (2004). Personal growth in adults’ stories of life transitions. Journal of Personality, 72(3), 573–602. Scholar
  12. Bentler, P. M. (1990). Comparative fit indexes in structural models. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 238–246. Scholar
  13. Bentler, P. M., & Mooijaart, A. (1989). Choice of structural model via parsimony: a rationale based on precision. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 315–317. Scholar
  14. Blanco, C., Okuda, M., Wright, C., Hasin, D. S., Grant, B. F., Liu, S. M., & Olfson, M. (2008). Mental health of college students and their non–college-attending peers: results from the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 65(12), 1429–1437.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Blatt, S. J., D’Afflitti, J. P., & Quinlan, D. M. (1976). Experiences of depression in normal young adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85(4), 383–389. Scholar
  16. Bleich, A., Gelkopf, M., Melamed, Y., & Solomon, Z. (2006). Mental health and resiliency following 44 months of terrorism: a survey of an Israeli national representative sample. BMC Medicine, 4(1), 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bleich, A., Gelkopf, M., & Solomon, Z. (2003). Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and coping behaviors among a nationally representative sample in Israel. JAMA, 290, 612–620. Scholar
  18. Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2000). Effects of a brief motivational intervention with college student drinkers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 728.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32(7), 513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Buchanan, J. L. (2012). Prevention of depression in the college student population: a review of the literature. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 26(1), 21–42. Scholar
  21. Campbell, J. D. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(3), 538.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Campbell, J. D., Trapnell, P. D., Heine, S. J., Katz, I. M., Lavallee, L. F., & Lehman, D. R. (1996). Self-concept clarity: measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 141–156. Scholar
  23. Carey, K. B., Scott-Sheldon, L. A., Carey, M. P., & DeMartini, K. S. (2007). Individual-level interventions to reduce college student drinking: A meta-analytic review. Addictive Behaviors, 32(11), 2469–2494. Scholar
  24. Caspi, A., Roberts, B. W., & Shiner, R. L. (2005). Personality development: stability and change. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 453–484.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Comer, J. S., & Kendall, P. C. (2007). Terrorism: the psychological impact on youth. Clinical Psychology, 14, 178–212. Scholar
  26. Coyne, J. C. (1994). Self-reported psychological distress: analog or Ersatz depression? Psychological Bulletin, 116(1), 29–45. Scholar
  27. Cranford, J. A., Eisenberg, D., & Serras, A. M. (2009). Substance use behaviors, mental health problems, and use of mental health services in a probability sample of college students. Addictive Behaviors, 34(2), 134–145. Scholar
  28. Davila, J., Steinberg, S. J., Kachadourian, L., Cobb, R., & Fincham, F. (2004). Romantic involvement and depressive symptoms in early and late adolescence: the role of a preoccupied relational style. Personal Relationships, 11(2), 161–178. Scholar
  29. Derogatis, L. R., & Melisaratos, N. (1983). The Brief Symptom Inventory: an introductory report. Psychological Medicine, 13(3), 595–605. Scholar
  30. Derogatis, L. R., & Spencer, P. M. (1982). The Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI): administration, scoring, and procedure, manual 1. Baltimore, MD: Clinical Psychometric research.Google Scholar
  31. Dubas, J. S., & Petersen, A. C. (1996). Geographical distance from parents and adjustment during adolescence and young adulthood. New Directions for Child Development, 71, 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 9(1).Google Scholar
  33. Fernandez, M. E., Mutran, E. J., & Reitzes, D. C. (1998). Moderating the effects of stress on depressive symptoms. Research on Aging, 20(2), 163–182. Scholar
  34. Galea, S., Ahern, J., Resnick, H., Kilpatrick, D., Bucuvalas, M., Gold, J., & Vlahov, D. (2002). Psychological sequelae of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. New England Journal of Medicine, 346(13), 982-987.Google Scholar
  35. Gilbar, O., & Ben-Zur, H. (2002). Adult Israeli community norms for the brief symptom inventory (BSI). International Journal of Stress Management, 9(1), 1–10. Scholar
  36. Gilbert, P., Clarke, M., Hempel, S., Miles, J. N. V., & Irons, C. (2004). Criticizing and reassuring oneself: an exploration of forms, styles and reasons in female students. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43(1), 31–50. Scholar
  37. Gilboa-Schechtman, E., & Shahar, G. (2006). The sooner, the better: temporal patterns in brief treatment of depression and their role in long-term outcome. Psychotherapy Research, 16(03), 374–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hobfoll, S. E., Canetti-Nisim, D., & Johnson, R. J. (2006). Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and defensive coping among Jews and Arabs in Israel. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(2), 207.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hobfoll, S. E., Palmieri, P. A., Johnson, R. J., Canetti-Nisim, D., Hall, B. J., & Galea, S. (2009). Trajectories of resilience, resistance, and psychological distress during ongoing terrorism: the case of Jews and Arabs in Israel. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77(1), 138.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1998). fit indices in covariance structure modeling: sensitivity to underparameterized model misspecification. Psychological Methods, 3, 424–453. Scholar
  41. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6, 1–55. Scholar
  42. Hunt, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2010). Mental health problems and help-seeking behavior among college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(1), 3–10. Scholar
  43. Kernis, M. H., & Waschull, S. B. (1995). The interactive roles of stability and level of self-esteem: research and theory. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 27, 93–141.Google Scholar
  44. Kernis, M. H., Whisenhunt, C. R., Waschull, S. B., Greenier, K. D., Berry, A. J., Herlocker, C. E., & Anderson, C. A. (1998). Multiple facets of self-esteem and their relations to depressive symptoms. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(6), 657–668. Scholar
  45. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Dernier, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(7), 768–768. Scholar
  46. Kessler, R. C., Foster, C. L., Saunders, W. B., & Stang, P. E. (1995). Social consequences of psychiatric disorders, I: educational attainment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(7), 1026–1032.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kirschenbaum, A. (2006). Terror, adaptation and preparedness: a trilogy for survival. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 3(1).Google Scholar
  48. La Greca, A. M. (2007). Understanding the psychological impact of terrorism on youth: moving beyond posttraumatic stress disorder. Clinical Psychology, 14, 219–223. Scholar
  49. Laufer, A., & Solomon, Z. (2006). Posttraumatic symptoms and posttraumatic growth among Israeli youth exposed to terror incidents. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(4), 429–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lerman, S. F., Shahar, G., & Rudich, Z. (2012). Self-criticism interacts with the affective component of pain to predict depressive symptoms in female patients. European Journal of Pain, 16(1), 115–122.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lewinsohn, P. M., Steinmetz, J. L., Larson, D. W., & Franklin, J. (1981). Depression-related cognitions: antecedent or consequence? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 90(3), 213.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Manczak, E. M., Zapata-Gietl, C., & McAdams, D. P. (2014). Regulatory focus in the life story: prevention and promotion as expressed in three layers of personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(1), 169–181. Scholar
  53. Masten, A. S., & Narayan, A. J. (2012). Child development in the context of disaster, war, and terrorism: Pathways of risk and resilience. Annual Review of Psychology, 63.Google Scholar
  54. Metalsky, G. I., Joiner, T. E., Hardin, T. S., & Abramson, L. Y. (1993). Depressive reactions to failure in a naturalistic setting: a test of the hopelessness and self-esteem theories of depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102(1), 101–109. Scholar
  55. Marsh, H. W., & Hocevar, D. (1985). Application of confirmatory factor analysis to the study of self- concept: first- and higher order factor models and their invariance across groups. Psychological Bulletin, 97, 562–582. Scholar
  56. Orth, U., & Robins, R. W. (2013). Understanding the link between low self-esteem and depression. Current Direcrions in Psychological Science, 22, 455–460. Scholar
  57. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Meier, L. L. (2009a). Disentangling the effects of low self-esteem and stressful events on depression: findings from three longitudinal studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(2), 307–321. Scholar
  58. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2008). Low self-esteem prospectively predicts depression in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 695–708. Scholar
  59. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., Trzesniewski, K. H., Maes, J., & Schmitt, M. (2009b). Low self-esteem is a risk factor for depressive symptoms from young adulthood to old age. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(3), 472–478. Scholar
  60. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., Widaman, K. F., & Conger, R. D. (2014). Is low self-esteem a risk factor for depression? Findings from a longitudinal study of Mexican-origin youth. Developmental Psychology, 50(2), 622–633. Scholar
  61. Pals, J. L. (1999). Identity consolidation in early adulthood: relations with ego-resiliency, the context of marriage, and personality change. Journal of Personality, 67(2), 295–329. Scholar
  62. Pettit, J. W., Lewinsohn, P. M., & Joiner, T. E. (2006). Propagation of major depressive disorder: relationship between first episode symptoms and recurrence. Psychiatry Research, 141(3), 271–278. Scholar
  63. Pine, D. S., Costello, J., & Masten, A. (2005). Trauma, proximity, and developmental psychopathology: the effects of war and terrorism on children. Neuropsychopharmacology, 30(10), 1781.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. R Core Team (2019). R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing [Computer software]. Retrieved from
  65. Ralph, J. A., & Mineka, S. (1998). Attributional style and self-esteem: the prediction of emotional psychological distress following a midterm exam. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(2), 203–215. Scholar
  66. Rindfuss, R. R. (1991). The young adult years: diversity, structural change, and fertility. Demography, 28(493), 512.Google Scholar
  67. Roberts, J. E. (2006). Self-esteem from a clinical perspective. Self-esteem issues and answers: a sourcebook of current perspectives, 298-305.Google Scholar
  68. Roberts, J. E., & Monroe, S. M. (1994). A multidimensional model of self-esteem in depression. Clinical Psychology Review, 14(3), 161–181. Scholar
  69. Rohde, P., Lewinsohn, P. M., Klein, D. N., Seeley, J. R., & Gau, J. M. (2013). Key characteristics of major depressive disorder occurring in childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, and adulthood. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(1), 41–53. Scholar
  70. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton University Press.
  71. Rosseel, Y. (2012). lavaan: An R Package for Structural Equation Modeling. Journal of Statistical Software, 48(1), 1–36.
  72. Rudich, Z., Lerman, S. F., Gurevich, B., Weksler, N., & Shahar, G. (2008). Patients’ self-criticism is a stronger predictor of physician’s evaluation of prognosis than pain diagnosis or severity in chronic pain patients. The Journal of Pain, 9(3), 210–216.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Santor, D. A., Bagby, R. M., & Joffe, R. T. (1997). Evaluating stability and change in personality and depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1354–1362.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schiff, M., Benbenishty, R., McKay, M., DeVoe, E., Liu, X., & Hasin, D. (2006). Exposure to terrorism and Israeli youths’ psychological distress and alcohol use: An exploratory study. American Journal on Addictions, 15(3), 220–226.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schiller, M., Hammen, C. C., & Shahar, G. (2016). Links among the self, stress, and psychological psychological distress during emerging adulthood: comparing three theoretical Models. Self and Identity, 15(3), 302–326. Scholar
  76. Schiller, M., & Shahar, G. (2013). Self-esteem instability moderates psychopathological scarring: support for a malleable self hypothesis. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 6(1), 17–23. Scholar
  77. Schwartz, A. J. (2006). Are college students more disturbed today? Stability in the acuity and qualitative character of psychopathology of college counseling center clients: 1992-1993 through 2001-2002. Journal of American College Health, 54(6), 327–337. Scholar
  78. Schwarzer, R. (1993). Measurement of perceived self-efficacy. Psychometric scales for cross-cultural research. Berlin: Germany.Google Scholar
  79. Schwarzer, R., & Jerusalem, M. (1995). Generalized self-efficacy scale–Revised–english version (Gse-R).
  80. Shahar, G. (2001). Personality, shame, and the breakdown of social bonds: the voice of quantitative depression research. Psychiatry, 64, 228–239. Scholar
  81. Shahar, G. (2015). Erosion: the psychopathology of self-criticism. USA: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Shahar, G., Blatt, S. J., Zuroff, D. C., Kuperminc, G. P., & Leadbeater, B. J. (2004). Reciprocal relations between depressive symptoms and self-criticism (but not dependency) among early adolescent girls (but not boys). Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28, 87–103. Scholar
  83. Shahar, G., & Davidson, L. (2003). Depressive symptoms erode self-esteem in severe mental illness: a three-wave, cross-lagged study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(5), 890–900. Scholar
  84. Shahar, G., & Henrich, C. C. (2010). Do depressive symptoms erode self-esteem in early adolescence? Self and Identity, 9(4), 403–415. Scholar
  85. Shahar, G., Noyman, G., Schnidel-Allon, I., & Gilboa-Schechtman, E. (2013). Do PTSD symptoms and trauma-related cognitions about the self constitute a vicious cycle? Evidence for both cognitive vulnerability and scarring models. Psychiatry Research, 205(1), 79–84.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Shahar, G., Scotti, M. A., Rudd, M. D., & Joiner, T. E. (2008). Hypomanic symptoms predict an increase in narcissistic and histrionic personality disorder features in suicidal young adults. Depression and Anxiety, 25(10), 892–898.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Shulman, S., Blatt, S. J., & Walsh, S. (2006). The extended journey and transition to adulthood: the case of Israeli backpackers. Journal of Youth Studies, 9(2), 231–246. Scholar
  88. Slone, M., & Shechner, T. (2009). Psychiatric consequences for Israeli adolescents of protracted political violence: 1998–2004. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(3), 280–289. Scholar
  89. Slone, M., & Shoshani, A. (2014). Psychiatric effects of protracted conflict and political life events exposure among adolescents in Israel: 1998–2011. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 27(3), 353–360. Scholar
  90. Soffer, N., Gilboa-Schechtman, E., & Shahar, G. (2008). The relationship of childhood emotional abuse and neglect to depressive vulnerability and low self-efficacy. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 1(2), 151–162. Scholar
  91. Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 213–240. Scholar
  92. Steiger, J. H., & Lind, J. C. (1980). Statistically-based tests for the number of common factors. Paper presented at the annual spring meeting of the psychometric society, Iowa city.Google Scholar
  93. Stranger, C. (2005). The designed self. The psychoanalysis of contemporary identities.Google Scholar
  94. Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (2000). Millennials rising: the next great generation. New York, NY: Vintage Original.Google Scholar
  95. Svanum, S., & Zody, Z. B. (2001). Psychopathology and college grades. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48(1), 72–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wachtel, P. L. (1997). Psychoanalysis, behavior therapy, and the relational world. DC, American Psychological Association: Washington.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Weinberg, D., Shahar, G., Noyman, G., Davidson, L., McGlashan, T. H., & Fennig, S. (2012). Role of the self in schizophrenia: a multidimensional examination of short-term outcomes. Psychiatry: Interpersonal & Biological Processes, 75(3), 285-297.Google Scholar
  98. Wise, J. B. (2007). Testing a theory that explains how self-efficacy beliefs are formed: predicting self-efficacy appraisals across recreation activities. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(7), 841–848. Scholar
  99. Woodman, D. (2015). Youth and generation. London: Sage Publications Ltd..Google Scholar
  100. Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education they’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267–301. Scholar
  101. Zivin, K., Eisenberg, D., Gollust, S. E., & Golberstein, E. (2009). Persistence of mental health problems and needs in a college student population. Journal of Affective Disorders, 117(3), 180–185. Scholar
  102. Zuroff, D. C., Sadikaj, G., Kelly, A. C., & Leybman, M. J. (2016). Conceptualizing and measuring self-criticism as both a personality trait and a personality state. Journal of Personality Assessment, 98(1), 14–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ben-Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Stress, Self, & Health (STREALTH) LabBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael
  3. 3.University of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations