New research shows that confronting difficult situations during childhood is linked to the development of "dark" personality traits, which in turn is linked to increased suicidality.
“Every 40 seconds, somebody, somewhere in the world, dies by suicide, and for every completed suicide there are roughly 20 attempts,” according to Federation University Australia researcher Jacob Dye.
'Dark Triad' personality traits include psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism, and are associated with individuals who harm others (physical, emotional, or societal).
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"Some of these traits may also be harmful to the individuals who possess them," Dye explained. "These traits have features such as difficulty managing emotion, high neuroticism, introversion, disinhibition, antagonistic interpersonal styles, reckless behavior, substance abuse, aggression, and antisocial behavior."
The authors randomly selected 1,064 people to participate in their research. Most of the participants came from North America, Australia, or the United Kingdom. They completed assessments of suicide risk, childhood adversity, subclinical psychopathy, vulnerable narcissism, and borderline personality disorder.
The researchers found evidence that two of the vulnerable dark triad traits were associated with an increased risk of both vulnerable narcissis and borderline personality traits in childhood.
Dye told PsyPost that childhood trauma is an important and preventable predictor of poor adult outcomes. "Our research shows that childhood trauma also increases the likelihood of suicide in adulthood, as well as the risk of developing personality traits that are linked with undesirable outcomes for both the individual and those around them.
"Our study finds that childhood trauma contributes to an increased suicide risk due to the development of vulnerable aspects of these personality traits. Individuals are at a higher risk of suicide when individuals possess these personality traits."
Age was also associated with all risky dark triad behaviors and suicide risk, according to the researchers.
"This decreases the severity of these personality traits with age," Dye explained. "This may be the result of a variety of factors, such as a survivorship bias (the data only represents individuals who have survived), effective interventions in adulthood, and/or a developmental process that decreases the severity of these traits."
Like all research, this research has its limitations. Dye highlighted a specific area that future research should focus on.
"Does the impact of experiencing childhood adversity vary depending on when the adversity is experienced?" he concluded. "I believe that this is one of the most important issues in terms of facilitating individual and social strategies to lessen the impact of childhood adversity."
The researchers believe that awareness of the relationship between childhood adversity, personality, and suicide risk might aid therapists in their investigations and treatment of individuals with suicidal tendencies.
"These are unfortunately underfunded and underresourced in many countries," Dye said. "This is an area where government investment could have a significant impact, both for children who are experiencing adversity and for the future."
Kate Wilson, George Van Doorn, and Jacob Dye co-authored the research "Vulnerable dark traits mediate the association between childhood adversity and suicidal ideation."