Background: Childhood maltreatment is theorized to undermine the development
of mentalizing and to disrupt the consolidation of healthy narcissism and the integration of
personality at the level of affect and interpersonal regulation. Consistent with this,
mentalizing can be expected to mediate the relationship between childhood maltreatment and
vulnerable and grandiose narcissism as well as borderline personality traits, but this has not
been examined in adolescents.
Objective: The aim of this study was to examine associations between childhood
maltreatment and adolescent personality disorder traits and test the mediating role of
mentalizing in a sample of 263 adolescents and young adults aged 12 to 21.
Methods: Participants recruited from schools and a tertiary institution completed the
Childhood Experiences of Care and Abuse Questionnaire (CECA-Q), the Borderline
Personality Features Scale for Children (BPFS-C), the Pathological Narcissism Inventory
(PNI) and the Reflective Function Questionnaire for Youth (RFQ-Y).
Results: Adolescents with histories of sexual and physical abuse reported significantly more
borderline personality features, as well as vulnerable and grandiose narcissism. They also
reported signficantly more mentalizing difficulties including confusion regarding mental
states and excessive certainty regarding mental states of others. Confusion regarding mental
states partially mediated the relation between emotional abuse and borderline personality
traits, as well as vulnerable and grandiose narcissism. Excessive certainty regarding the
mental states of others mediated the relationship between childhood experiences of role
reversal and grandiose narcissism.
Conclusion: The findings are consistent with a mentalization model of adolescent
personality difficulties and show that the relation between childhood maltreatment and
personality disorder traits in adolescents may be in part understood in terms of the impact of
such experiences on different dimensions of mentalizing.