Belongingness Can Protect Against Impact of Trauma, Study Suggests

A new study explores feelings of belongingness as a protective factor for childhood trauma and adult mental health outcomes.


A new study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, investigates the effects of belongingness on adult mental health, outcomes of childhood trauma, and risky alcohol use. The results of the study suggest a feeling of belonging in childhood may serve as a protective factor for difficulties with mental health and adverse outcomes of childhood trauma later in life.

“Overall, the negative total association of childhood trauma with adult mental health and risky alcohol use was partially mediated by a sense of belonging, indicating that a sense of belonging may buffer the impact of childhood trauma on later mental health outcomes and therefore potentially decrease later risky alcohol use in adulthood,” writes lead author Chelsey Torgerson, a researcher at the School of Family Studies and Human Services.

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Research suggests rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues are exhibited at higher rates in children that have been exposed to traumatic events. Childhood trauma has been associated with psychosis and psychotic symptomology and is linked to an increased chance of substance use in adulthood.

Belongingness, which can refer to, “inclusion in social groups, close personal relationships, or having a purpose in one’s roles in a family or community,” has been associated with improved confidence and well-being. A sense of belongingness plays a large role in resiliency research, which explores “invisible factors” that may improve an individual’s ability to thrive through stressful life events, such as childhood trauma. A reduced sense of belongingness, on the other hand, has been associated with hopelessness, suicidality, and problematic alcohol use.

In the current study, Torgerson and colleagues explore the role that a sense of belonging may play on how a child is affected by trauma. They also investigate if belongingness in childhood may influence mental health outcomes in adulthood.

“Because a sense of belonging is a malleable factor that has been associated with improved mental, physical and physiological health, its potential to mediate the negative impact of childhood trauma on mental health and problem substance use in adulthood would have important implications for prevention,” they write.

More than two-thirds of children report experiencing a traumatic event before the age of 16. If feelings of belongingness in childhood serve as a protective factor for adverse outcomes of trauma, it may inform future research and prevention work and lead to new interventions.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 654 adults aged 24-40. All participants endorsed experiencing at least one traumatic event during their childhood. Participants in the study completed measures assessing childhood trauma (using the 17-item Traumatic Events Screening Inventory for Adults; TESI-A), sense of belonging (using 7 items from the relationship dimension of the Assessment of Quality of Life; AQoL), adult mental health (using the 8 items of the AQoL from the mental health dimension), adult risky alcohol use (using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test; AUDIT), and outlook on life, such as if they believe in a supportive future or remember joyful events from the past. Correlations of responses and meditating factors were explored.

As expected by the researchers, a sense of belonging in childhood was associated with positive mental health in adulthood, an association that was notably stronger for males than females. The study found that childhood trauma was negatively related to belonging and mental health, meaning those with higher childhood trauma scores had lower scores in mental health and belonging. Participants that endorsed higher feelings of belongingness reported lower scores for mental health issues and trauma outcomes as adults.

The authors acknowledge the need for further research in the area of timing, type, and dosage of childhood trauma, and the effects these may have on mental health and negative symptomology. However, the current study highlights the long-term role a sense of belonging may have on an individual’s life.

The findings of the study, although cross-sectional, support further research investigating protective factors, such as belongingness, on childhood trauma. Efforts to increase feelings of belongingness during childhood, although enhanced over the past decade, are far from universal. The current study encourages an improved integration of belongingness in settings such as schools and family therapy.

“Our findings provide strong support for the inclusion of a sense of belonging in systemic assessment and treatment protocols to improve mental health and subsequently decrease problem alcohol use for both sexes,” Torgerson and colleagues conclude.

“The association of belonging with both mental health and risky alcohol use outcomes in this study suggests that a sense of belonging needs to become a routine focus of assessment and intervention for adverse mental health and substance use outcomes.”



Torgerson, C. N., Love, H. A., & Vennum, A. (2018). The buffering effect of belonging on the negative association of childhood trauma with adult mental health and risky alcohol use. Journal of substance abuse treatment88, 44-50. (Link)

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Jessica Janze
MIA Research News Team: Jessica Janze is a doctoral student in the Counseling and School Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and has worked primarily with children impacted by psychological trauma. Jessica’s research interests include the impact of mindfulness in early education, emotional regulation, and the role contemplative practices play in mental health.


  1. People with “at least one traumatic event during their childhood” have nothing in common with those of us with high ACE / low resiliency scores. Most people have had at least one traumatic event during childhood, even if just a parental divorce in an otherwise good family. It’s like comparing the health outcomes of people who’ve had a routine tonsillectomy against those who’ve spent months in ICU recovering from a major accident or illness with multiple surgeries or procedures.

    I don’t doubt in the slightest that having a sense of belonging and purpose makes the viscicitudes of life easier to cope with. But it would be awesome to see more research focused specifically on those with high aces (four or more). I suspect a much larger percentage of those folks are struggling regardless of their sense of purpose or belonging.

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  2. I have no doubt that a feeling of belongingness is beneficial, however you’re missing the big picture in regards to child abuse. The big picture is that the primary actual function of both branches of our “mental health” industry, historically and today, is profiteering off of covering up and silencing child abuse survivors, and rape survivors in general. When the psychologists were in charge, we had the Freudian Cover up.

    The child abuse covering up and profiteering of the psychiatric DSM believers of today is infinitely more evil. Because the doctors are drugging, and turning millions and millions of child abuse survivors, into the “seriously mentally ill,” with the psychiatric drugs.

    Today over 90% of those labeled as “borderline” are misdiagnosed child abuse survivors. Over 80% of those stigmatized as “depressed,” “anxious,” “bipolar,” or “schizophrenic” are misdiagnosed child abuse survivors.

    Why all this misdiagnosis of child abuse survivors by the DSM believers? Because the DSM is set up as a child abuse covering up system. Child abuse is NOT a billable DSM disorder. Thus NO “mental health professional” may EVER bill ANY insurance company for EVER helping ANY child abuse survivor EVER, unless they first misdiagnose the child abuse survivors with one of the billable, but “invalid,” DSM disorders.

    As all here know, but many of the “mental health professionals” don’t know, the ADHD drugs and antidepressants create the “bipolar” symptoms. And the antipsychotics/neuroleptics create both the negative and positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via NIDS and anticholinergic toxidrome.

    I’m quite certain that if we could get the “mental health professionals” to stop attacking, drugging and turning child abuse survivors and their family members into the “seriously mentally ill,” while also destroying their reputations and families. And if instead, we started to arrest and convict the pedophiles/rapists. This would bring about a better and safer world for all people, thus also decrease alcohol consumption.

    In other words, because the “mental health professionals” are running a multibillion dollar, iatrogenic illness creating, stigmatizing, scientifically “invalid,” primarily child abuse covering up, system – which, of course, is also functioning to aid, abet, and empower the pedophiles and child traffickers. The “mental health professionals” are a big part of creating our society’s problems, not a part of fixing our societal problems.

    We should get our “mental health professionals” out of the business of aiding, abetting, and empowering the child abusers and child traffickers, by stigmatizing, tranquilizing, torturing, and murdering our child abuse survivors on a massive societal scale.

    “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” I’m disgusted by how our “mental health professionals” maltreat our society’s “weakest members.” But this does mean I cannot feel a sense of belongingness with either the child abuse profiteering “mental health professionals” or the mainstream paternalistic religious institutions they brainwashed, are in bed with, and for whom they have been covering up “zipper troubles,” for over a century.

    It’s shameful that our hypocritical, atheistic, material world “bio-bio-bio” believing only, Holy Spirit blaspheming “mental health professionals” have destroyed the Christian religions with your “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions” child rape covering up system. And if you do not quickly get out of the child rape covering up business, you’ll destroy all of humanity.

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    • Thank you for this. In my case, the one time social services did act on abuse allegations (against my brother, not my dad), my parents were clear with them about two things: first, if they (social services) pursued charges against my father, he’d lose his government clearance and our family’s livelihood (a rather perverse and twisted version of “think of the children”); and second, my parents would get a lawyer and sue. Now everyone everywhere with any sense can figure out that the upper middle class rarely lose their kids for long in these cases. It’s almost always the lower classes who can’t afford representation that lose their children. And just the threat of a lawsuit from an upper middle class professional civil servant with good standing in the church was enough in 1985 to prevent any serious investigation into our home. The sheer number of times social services investigated allegations of abuse in our home (with physical injuries to prove it) and called it “parent-child conflict” would turn any rational and feeling person’s stomach.

      In my case, they managed to cover up both childhood abuse, current spousal abuse (in 2001-2), and a physical illness as well. It’s truly appalling and is why Oldhead and others call Psychiatry nothing more than society’s police force. They are the Gestappo putting down the “mental defectives”. If you target and drug abuse survivors beyond the point of even being able to think clearly, you won’t risk any lawsuits that might uncover the negligent actions of the state.

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      • I agree, kindredspirit. I think I scared the school social worker and my children’s school, when they attempted to attack my child – because he’d healed from child abuse to the point he surprised the school social worker by going from remedial reading, after the abuse, to getting 100% on his state standardized tests in 7th grade – because I mentioned that my father was a banker.

        Thus, if they took my child from my family because he’d healed from child abuse, was intelligent, and well behaved. We’d have the money to sue, for such an appalling and satanic injustice.

        I was quickly apologized to, by the school principal, told the school system was “not equipped to deal the the intelligent children,” so I’d need to find a private school for him for high school. The school science teacher, the only teacher intelligent enough to understand high intelligence is a genetic trait, became a wonderful advocate for both my children, thankfully.

        Yes, the child abuse covering up social workers are satanists, but satanists who are afraid of those of us with the means to sue them for their child rape covering up, child drugging and stealing, crimes against humanity. All the “mental health professionals” need to get out of the the child rape covering up business, including those committing such crimes for the churches.

        A little about the child rape covering up, and pedophile advocacy, lunacy fest my childhood religion has embarked upon in recent years. As documented by a justifiably disgusted synod offices insider. I’d be one of the many “widows” mentioned in the Preface, but also check out the chapter on evil.

        Some of the paternalistic religions lost their minds long ago. Since they’ve apparently been in bed with the child rape covering up “mental health professionals,” and their multibillion dollar, iatrogenic illness creating, primarily child rape covering up, industry for over a century, as best I can find from my research. It’s shameful.

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        • To be clear, I’m equally glad to have not been raised in foster care or institutions. I don’t know what the answers are but I’m not an advocate for taking children except in the most severe cases. The money the state spends on kids in care could and should be redirected toward programs that keep children in their homes.

          The system we have now removes children from abusive homes and puts them in sometimes even worse abusive foster homes run by people who either just want the income or are not prepared to deal with the issues abused children have and therefore make their problems worse. The number of kids I’ve heard sexually abused in foster care is sickening though and it’s hard to believe the current system hasn’t been completely overhauled given the number of kids from care that go on to prison as teens and adults.

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          • Yes, kindredspirit, the current CPS system is completely corrupt, from top to bottom. And CPS is not just removing children from abusive homes, but it also removes children from loving homes, when they think they can get away with doing so. CPS is actually financially set up to function as a “legalized kidnapping” system. This former senator and her husband were actually “suicided” because she was speaking out against that system.


            Absolutely, the current system needs to be “completely overhauled.” I know from personal experience that CPS won’t look into real cases of child abuse, with medical evidence in hand, when the abuse occurred outside the home, so they wouldn’t have the right to steal the children from the home. And after I scared a school, which had a child molester on their school board, into closing its doors forever. The system is completely corrupt.

            And what’s kind of sad is when CPS doesn’t investigate real cases of child abuse, they end up leaving children with parents who are child molesters. And in the case of the child rapists my family had the misfortune of dealing with, two of their three children ended up being arrested prior to the age of 21. That’s double the national average. I’m appalled by the child molesters, but feel sorry for their children. And one of those children was adopted by that family, after their negligence caused the death of their first born child. When parents’ negligence results in the death of a child, the system should not let those negligent parents adopt a replacement child.

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  3. Sit in any group for dual diagnosis. First they start with that ‘psycho-education’ those lies about broken brains and serotonin to push drugs but then when it process time and everyone starts sharing the thing everyone has in common is trauma.

    “As expected by the researchers, a sense of belonging in childhood was associated with positive mental health in adulthood, an association that was notably stronger for males than females.”

    And alcohol use, in humans and the animal kingdom females prefer aggressive extroverts and alcohol is real good at bringing that out. Maybe we don’t butt heads like rams but shy and quite (a condition often related to trauma) is a liability in males and even the massive NWO agenda to eliminate gender roles won’t change that.

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  4. Interesting word ‘belongingness’. I wonder how it might relate to attachment, be it secure, insecure, or (whatever’s the) middle one? Seems to me secure attachment followed up with attentive, responsive, and empathic familial relationships, just might be the ultimate ‘belongingness? Maybe I’m shadow boxing with semantics here, but I just see belongingness originating and continuing with good, secure attachment, followed by a reasonably empathic and responsive parental or caretaker environment.

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    • Agreed. However, it’s a pretty obvious truth (and already covered in the concept of the resiliency score) that having a secure family member or protective attachment figure mediates some of the damage of ACEs. So I guess the only value I see in the study is replication, nothing truly groundbreaking.

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  5. Everyone “belongs.” Exclusivity and elitism are indicators of social dysfunction which create the illusion of “you don’t belong.” Purely a projection with which one needn’t identify. Every single person has a place and purpose in the world.

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  6. Psychiatry does conspire with parents and community to cover up parental negligence. My mom was negligent when Mrs. Moore’s car ran over me and I was brain injured in 1966.

    When I did bad behavior in 1981, there was a conspiracy formed against me, which broke all of my meaningful ties to the community. This was very deliberate; and I call it gas-lighting. My friends became my political antagonists; but it took me decades to realize what had happened.

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