Motives of mentalization among older adults exposed in adulthood to potentially traumatic life events: A qualitative exploration

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Patients suffering from an early trauma have also been described as suffering from impairment in mentalization, reflected in difficulties in understanding and in interpreting their own behavior, and that of others. However, the relationship between an adult onset of trauma and impairment in mentalization was not enquired enough. This study was designed to qualitatively examine whether traumatic events in adulthood and late adulthood may also be reflected in impairment in mentalization. The present qualitative study depicts the nature of this impairment in older adults exposed to traumatic events during their adulthood, in order to follow and address their erroneous attributions to the traumatic event presented in their narratives. Community dwelling participants (N = 16; M = 74.87, SD = 8.62, age range = 65–90) completed a short demographic questionnaire and a semistructured interview, in which they retrieved memories of a major traumatic event they had experienced. The findings show 4 main categories of impairment in mentalization that can be allocated to familiar modes of impaired mentalization presented in the literature. The findings illuminate types of modes used by older adults, and demonstrate that impaired mentalization not only evolves in early life, but during adulthood as well. This conclusion has important theoretical and practical implications. It shows that mentalization abilities may even become destabilized in mature and functioning persons, whose traumas occurred during adulthood. Therefore, clinicians working with adults with late onset trauma may benefit from considering communications reflecting various modes of impairment in mentalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-281
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Psychological Association.


  • Mentalization
  • Older adults
  • PTSD
  • Qualitative study


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