Scleroderma: the relationship of psychosocial stress and levels of compassion, to psychological injury, age of onset and severity of disease symptoms

  • Karen Kearney

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Scleroderma has been studied extensively with much known about onset and progression, and the relationship with psychological aspects such as coping, depression and anxiety. However, there is limited knowledge about how the development and progression of scleroderma is related to personal stress experienced at an early age (psychological injury) and the emotional regulation strategies such as self-compassion used to help in coping. This may be important information for the treatment of scleroderma and related illnesses. This thesis addressed this relationship over more than ten specific studies that examined how different forms of scleroderma (diffuse and limited sclerosis), different symptoms (such as Raynaud’s phenomenon - the first sign of scleroderma onset) and age of onset were linked to psychosocial experiences; particularly examining stresses experienced, and levels of self-compassion or kindness to oneself (self-kindness). The major contribution of this series of studies was the finding that greater self-compassion may be a determining factor in predicting lower hyper-arousal and a later onset of disease. This study demonstrates the importance of providing individuals (children) with adequate experiences of nurturing and feelings of safety and the development of effective emotion regulation strategies such as self-compassion to reduce negative arousal. Providing children with positive nurturing experiences and the capacity to engage in self-compassion maybe a protective factor for reducing arousal and delaying the onset of disease. Three major different samples were recruited to enable attention specifically and first, to individuals with scleroderma, and then, following the scleroderma studies and to enable comparisons, second, to individuals from a general community sample (‘normal population’), and third and finally, to individuals with breast cancer.
Date of Award13 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorR E Hicks (Supervisor), Peta Stapleton (Supervisor) & Dee Bartrum (Supervisor)

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