The relationship between child abuse and adult attachment styles

Thumbnail Image
Unger, Jo Ann M.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
All forms of child abuse are associated with a variety of short- and long-term negative effects. In particular, adult victims of child abuse have been known to experience more insecure forms of attachment to significant others in adulthood (McCarthy & Taylor, 1999; Muller, Lemieux, & Sicoli, 2001). It was hypothesized that particular forms of child abuse would be associated with particular forms of insecure attachment in adulthood and that adult attachment style would act as a mediator between child abuse history and negative outcomes. Five hundred fifty-two female and 294 male university student completed questionnaires on their child abuse history, adult attachment style, self-esteem, current psychological symptoms and a number of demographic variables. Regression analyses, ANCOVA’s and bootstrapping mediation analyses were completed. Physical abuse was associated with attachment avoidance and psychological maltreatment was associated with attachment anxiety. Some support was also found for associations between neglect and physical abuse with attachment anxiety. Sexual abuse was not associated with either attachment avoidance or attachment anxiety. Social support, as a control variable, was also found to be an important predictor of attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety. While it was hypothesized that there would be differences between high and low severity sexual and physical abuse on adult attachment anxiety, no statistically significant differences were found. Both attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety were found to partially mediate the relationships between child abuse and psychological symptoms and child abuse and self-esteem. These findings provide more detailed information regarding the importance of adult attachment in the area of child abuse and implications for the support and treatment of child abuse victims. One’s child abuse history can provide important information regarding one’s attachment tendencies in adulthood impacting important adult relationships including the therapy relationship.
child abuse, adult attachment