Adult attachment anxiety and avoidance as mediators of the relationship between child sexual abuse and complete mental health in adulthood

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MacDonald, Chantal L.
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Research has shown that adult attachment mediates the relationship between child sexual abuse and mental health functioning in adulthood. However, there is great variability across these projects as to the operational definition of attachment. Hence, the primary goal of this project was to clarify the literature by providing a comprehensive definition of attachment which would allow for the translation of research findings into a treatment application for child sexual abuse. The second goal of this project was to update the child sexual abuse and attachment research bases by providing a complete definition of mental health outcome. That is, rather than defining mental health solely as the absence of psychopathology, it was defined both as the absence of psychopathology and the presence of psychological wellbeing. From these goals it was hypothesized that child sexual abuse would be positively related to adult psychopathology and negatively related to adult psychological wellbeing. The relationships were expected to be mediated by both adult attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. To test the hypotheses a total of 421 men and women undergraduate students were sampled and completed numerous questionnaires. The analyses revealed a significant positive relationship between child sexual abuse and adult psychopathology and this relationship was found to be completely mediated by adult attachment anxiety and partially mediated by attachment avoidance. Contrary to prediction, the inverse relationship found between child sexual abuse and psychological wellbeing was not statistically significant. Unfortunately, all supportive findings had to be nullified because the size of the relationship between child sexual abuse and psychopathology was exceptionally small and post-hoc corrections were unable to increase the size of the effect. A considerable investigation was undertaken to identify potential sources of this apparent error and the relationships between the attachment and complete mental health variables were explored further. The most impressive finding of the exploratory analyses was that nearly one quarter of the variation of complete mental health was accounted for by adult attachment. Taken together, although this project did not unfold as predicted, it did partially satisfy its secondary goal and hence it remains an interesting and viable contribution to the literature.
attachment, complete mental health