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Hurt Feelings: Emotional Abuse and the Failure of Empathy

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Beginning with a historical examination of the definition and study of psychological trauma, this article places trauma and abuse within a relational theoretical context to explore new understandings that can arise from this framework. Working within this framework and stressing the power of cultural narratives, the paper highlights the delegitimization of emotions and emotional pain and explores the ways in which a widespread failure of empathy contributes to a lack of understanding with regard to the validity of emotional trauma. The paper suggests that because evidence of suffering must often be in a physical form, mirroring early understandings of the causes of trauma, the tendency to rely on the courts for direction only serves to further undermine the credibility of emotional pain. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

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... Partner psychological aggression has primarily been studied as a type of behavior that occurs concurrently with physical aggression, including sexual coercion (Loring, 1994). Only recently, within the past two decades, have researchers begun to identify partner psychological aggression as a phenomenon that occurs in isolation of other forms of abuse as well (Sorsoli, 2004). The Journal of Emotional Abuse was founded in 1998, bringing attention to the prevalence of partner psychological aggression in the United States. ...
... Partner psychological aggression tends to receive less attention than partner physical aggression and partner sexual aggression. Because of this, survivors of partner psychological aggression do not often seek out counseling and frequently do not realize they have been experiencing psychological aggression (Sorsoli, 2004). When they do seek out counseling, it has been the norm for counselors to encourage the client to address the reality of the aggression and its impact, to work on self-expression, and to empower the client to work on transforming into a new self (Loring, 1994). ...
... The pain caused by partner psychological aggression is long-lasting and is often relived by the individual time after time, whereas it may be more difficult to "mentally re-create physical pain" (Gavin, 2011, p. 504). Sorsoli (2004) noted that much of partner psychologically aggressive experiences tend to occur in private and therefore it is difficult to prove allegations of aggression. Since the scars of psychological aggression are typically unseen, it is also easier to deny or misinterpret them (Williams, Richardson, Hammock, & Janit, 2012). ...
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Partner psychological aggression has been shown to be positively correlated with psychological distress and low self-esteem for women. This study adds to the existing literature by including research on men since very little research had been done on the effects of partner psychological aggression and the self-esteem of men. However, there were a limited number of men who participated in this study and who endorsed experiencing partner psychological aggression. Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted with data from 153 males and females (N = 153) from national colleges and community samples to explore the relationship amongst partner psychological aggression, psychological distress as measured by depression and PTSD, self-esteem, and self-compassion. In this study, it was hypothesized that partner psychological aggression could predict psychological distress, as specifically measured by depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Results concluded that partner psychological aggression could predict depression but not PTSD for women and it was not predictive of psychological distress for men. Self-esteem and self-compassion were hypothesized and found to be significantly negatively correlated with psychological distress and believed to buffer against the impact of psychological distress. Looking more closely, it was found that self-esteem was not predictive of depression for men and self-compassion was not predictive of PTSD for men. Furthermore, it was hypothesized and found that individuals who experienced partner psychological aggression and also endorsed lower levels of self-esteem and self-compassion were more likely to also exhibit symptoms of depression and PTSD. Additional clinical implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research are also included.
... Cognitive reframing using a developmental lens can potentially facilitate youths' ability to integrate psychological states with events and replace a chronological recounting of events with positive lessons learned about the self and or others, hence generating a more hopeful outlook. Reframing in this sense does not work to deny past realities but to overwrite dysfunctional thought and affective patterns that may have arisen from their harrowing experiences (Josselson, 2004;Oaksford & Frude, 2003;Sorsoli 2004;Wicks, & Buck, 2011). Our research, in line with previous research, suggests that this can be accomplished by having the youth understand the origins of their maladaptive thoughts and behavioural choices and in so doing reauthor their life story. ...
... Cognitive reframing using a developmental lens can potentially facilitate youths' ability to integrate psychological states with events and replace a chronological recounting of events with positive lessons learned about the self and or others, hence generating a more hopeful outlook. Reframing in this sense does not work to deny past realities but to overwrite dysfunctional thought and affective patterns that may have arisen from their harrowing experiences (Josselson, 2004;Oaksford & Frude, 2003;Sorsoli 2004;Wicks, & Buck, 2011). Our research, in line with previous research, suggests that this can be accomplished by having the youth understand the origins of their maladaptive thoughts and behavioural choices and in so doing reauthor their life story. ...
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... The chronic stress implied in abuse acts as a catalyst for the appearance of different illnesses in the victim, considerably worsening those already shown to be present (Blanco, Ruiz-Jarabo, García de Vinuesa, & Martín-García, 2004) and widening the pathological spectrum of abuse in couples. Studies carried out in different countries indicate that the victims of abuse have a four to five times higher probability of being in need of psychiatric treatment than those who have not been victims of abuse by their partners (Campbell, 2004;Campbell, Kub, & Rose, 1996;Díaz-Olavarrieta, Ellertson, Paz, De León & Alarcón-Segovia, 2002;Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986;Kubany et al., 1996;Seff, Beaulaurier, & Newman, 2008;Sorsoli, 2004). ...
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In a study conducted at a major university in Spain, 648 university students between the ages of 17 and 23 years were assessed to identify the manifestations of psychological abuse prior to the consolidation of marital status (e.g., matrimony, start of cohabitation). To evaluate psychological abuse in the students’ intimate relationships, the authors created a Questionnaire on Psychological Abuse. Results show coercive patterns of interaction in the students’ dating relationships. Significant differences were found between men and women, with behavioral factors such as hostility, blaming, and abusive insistence. Future research is suggested that would permit changes in attitude and behavior to be introduced into dating relations.
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Emotional abuse and secondary abuse of children are increasingly recognized within the mental health and legal professions as at least as damaging to adjustment as physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. However, emotional and secondary abuse are relatively more difficult for mandated reporters to recognize and document, and reporting laws are problematic. This review article was written to acquaint professionals with the seriousness and prevalence of emotional and secondary child abuse and with the issues surrounding the reporting of such abuse.
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Maltreatment has serious consequences for the development of children. The reason for the negative outcomes is not, however, fully understood. This study investigated the hypotheses that psychological maltreatment would be present in almost all cases of physical maltreatment and that it would be more related to detrimental outcomes for children than would severity of injury. A sample of 175 maltreated children, 39 children in mental health treatment, and 176 normative children was assessed for type and severity of maltreatment. Both hypotheses were supported. In addition, evidence is provided that psychological maltreatment can occur alone, that assessments of parental psychologically maltreating behavior and negative child outcomes are highly correlated, and that child age and gender are unrelated to psychological maltreatment in young children whereas family income is related. Implications for investigation and treatment are considered.
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In the last century and a half, public and professional awareness of sexual abuse has emerged and been suppressed repeatedly. The 20th-century suppression of the problem has been linked to Freudianism, sexual modernism, and gender politics. Recent awareness of sexual abuse differs from awareness in the past because of the significant amount of current research attesting to the prevalence of sexual abuse and its injurious impact on human development. However, in the contemporary mental health professions, the courts, and the media, there has emerged an influential backlash against the latest discovery of child sexual victimization that utilizes arguments employed during earlier periods of suppression. Knowledge of the earlier cycles of discovery and suppression can assist professionals in understanding and countering present attempts to deny or minimize the problem of child sexual abuse.
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As theories of developmental psychology continue to define educational goals and practice, it has become imperative for educators and researchers to scrutinize not only the underlying assumptions of such theories but also the model of adulthood toward which they point. Carol Gilligan examines the limitations of several theories, most notably Kohlberg's stage theory of moral development, and concludes that developmental theory has not given adequate expression to the concerns and experience of women. Through a review of psychological and literary sources, she illustrates the feminine construction of reality. From her own research data, interviews with women contemplating abortion, she then derives an alternative sequence for the development of women's moral judgments. Finally, she argues for an expanded conception of adulthood that would result from the integration of the "feminine voice" into developmental theory.
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Emotional or psychological child abuse is riven by conflict and contradiction, and the resulting incoherence makes it an unstable basis for intervention in families. J. Robert Shull asks in this note how advocates, frustrated by the relative immobility of legal institutions in cases of child abuse other than physical battering or sexual contact, could attempt to make this category of abuse a viable reason for child protection work. He traces the conditions which produce the incoherence of psychological abuse in several discursive domains and locates those conditions in their historical context. Finally, he concludes by suggesting strategies for advocates to identify and manipulate the relations of power and knowledge that produce the incoherence of emotional abuse.
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One hundred twenty-nine women with previously documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked detailed questions about their abuse histories to answer the question "Do people actually forget traumatic events such as child sexual abuse, and if so, how common is such forgetting?" A large proportion of the women (38%) did not recall the abuse that had been reported 17 years earlier. Women who were younger at the time of the abuse and those who were molested by someone they knew were more likely to have no recall of the abuse. The implications for research and practice are discussed. Long periods with no memory of abuse should not be regarded as evidence that the abuse did not occur.
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Psychological maltreatment has been recognized as a major form of child abuse and neglect, standing alone in some cases and almost always embedded within or accompanying other forms of maltreatment. Expert opinion and research, particularly during the last 15 years, have provided sufficient clarification of theoretical orientations to and definitions of acts of psychological maltreatment to establish a common base from which researchers and practitioners can work toward greater understanding of this phenomena. Further progress requires increases in knowledge of the impact of psychological maltreatment on child victims. This article reviews research which has revealed possible and probable consequences of psychological maltreatment in its discrete forms and when associated with other types of child maltreatment. The broad range of findings is organized to clarify the types of impact found and special attention is given to their implications for the argument that psychological maltreatment is the core component of child abuse and neglect. Recommendations for further research are provided.
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Theorists and practitioners alike believe that emotional abuse exists. Despite this belief, we have made little progress in conceptually and operationally defining emotional abuse. We can make progress in this area by adopting a developmental approach. In this view, emotional abuse is deliberate behavior that seriously undermines the development of competence. Operationally, this means punishing an infant's operant social behavior (including attachment), punishing a child's manifestations of self-esteem and punishing the behaviors needed for normal interaction in extra-familial settings. To apply these standards to specific cases, we must have reliable and valid information about interaction patterns with the family.
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Child victims of sexual abuse face secondary trauma in the crisis of discovery. Their attempts to reconcile their private experiences with the realities of the outer world are assaulted by the disbelief, blame and rejection they experience from adults. The normal coping behavior of the child contradicts the entrenched beliefs and expectations typically held by adults, stigmatizing the child with charges of lying, manipulating or imagining from parents, courts and clinicians. Such abandonment by the very adults most crucial to the child's protection and recovery drives the child deeper into self-blame, self-hate, alienation and revictimization. In contrast, the advocacy of an empathic clinician within a supportive treatment network can provide vital credibility and endorsement for the child.
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The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
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Despite consensus on the existence and importance of psychological maltreatment, there is far less agreement on how it should be defined. This article reviews the current definitions, proposes a theoretical clarification of the concept, and describes its relevance for the field of developmental psychopathology. We conceptualize psychological maltreatment as the interaction between maltreating parent behaviors and the special vulnerabilities of a child, particularly his or her developmental level. Also, we restrict the definition of psychological maltreatment to verbal and nonverbal parent communication; parental acts that involve physical or sexual contact are excluded. This effort strives to minimize the redundancy with the definitions of other forms of maltreatment and facilitate research into the effects of all forms of victimization.
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The slogan, “words can hit as hard as fists,” has brought home to many Americans the importance of combating psychological maltreatment of children. Most everyone agrees that psychological maltreatment is a problem worth understanding and eliminating. Despite this consensus, relatively little research has been done on psychological maltreatment, at least not under that rubric. Why should such an important topic evade rigorous and intense study? One reason may be that researchers have been hampered by the lack of a generally accepted definition. According to Hart, Germain, and Brassard (1987), “Sufficiently rigorous operational definitions do not presently exist and they therefore deserve first priority in psychological maltreatment work” (p. 16).
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This article provides an overview of research into the emotional abuse of children, where it is the main or sole form of abuse. The aim of the project was to make a contribution to intervention in cases of psychological maltreatment. In order to do so, issues of definition, prevalence, location, manifestation and current intervention were explored. Both quantitative and qualitative data were required in order to address different aspects of the issues to be explored. Additionally, professional ‘provider’ perspectives as well as ‘consumer’ ones were sought. Information was therefore obtained from three sources: semi-structured interviews with 112 child protection professionals, a population survey of 504 students and in-depth interviews with 12 adult survivors of childhood emotional abuse. Outcomes included a suggested operational definition and an indication of prevalence. Emotional abuse appeared to be found in a broad range of families although it was more prominent in those exposed to multiple stressors. Abusive behaviours were identified and categorized. Signs in the children were varied but included attempted suicide or self-harm, eating disorders and school problems. A notable contribution of the study was the identification of the importance of lifelines for emotionally abused children which provided them with unconditional, positive regard. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Article
Emotional abuse refers to a relationship rather than to a series of events. Based on a recent study of children registered under the category of emotional abuse, it has been possible to identify three tiers of concern, namely, parental attributes, categories of ill-treatment and impairments of the child's development. Registration came late in professional recognition of concerns about the children and their families. A majority of the children had moved away from home following registration. The paper discusses the carer–abuser relationship in emotional abuse and suggests that a strict application of the term ‘child protection’ is not appropriate in emotional abuse. While advocating an early response to concerns suggesting emotional abuse, the paper raises questions about the appropriateness of immediate use of formal child protection procedures in the investigation and assessment of suspected emotional abuse. Alternative approaches are suggested which may not need to include police and social services in the early stages. The response to recognition of emotional abuse is more appropriately considered as working towards protection. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Article
This study assessed whether some of the correlates of learned helplessness—depression, low self-esteem, and a maladaptive attributional style—are long-term consequences of child abused. In this study, 260 subjects were identified as physically abused, psychologically abused, both physically and psychologically abused, or nonabused, based on responses to the Child Abuse Questionnaire (CAQ).Subjects were tested for levels of nonclinical depression via the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), for levels of self-esteem via the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE), and for the adaptiveness of attributional style via the Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ). It was hypothesized that each of the three abuse groups would differ from the control group on the three dependent measures; differences among the three abuse groups were also explored.Three one-way analyses of variance indicated that (1) BDI scores reflected a greater tendency toward depression in subjects reporting both types of abuse than in nonabused subjects or in subjects reporting either psychological or physical abuse, (2) subjects reporting psychological abuse only or both psychological and physical abuse showed lower self-esteem than did nonabused subjects, and (3) abused subjects did not seem to exhibit a more maladaptive attributional style than that of nonabused subjects. In addition, multiple linear regression analyses pointed to psychological abuse as a critical variable in predicting levels of depression, self-esteem, and attributional style, when physical abuse effects were controlled. Controlling for the effects of psychological abuse, however, indicated that physical abuse did not significantly contribute to the variance in these variables. Implications for the learned helplessness model and for future research are discussed. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Article
Qualifying paper--Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2000. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 82-88). Passed with distinction in HDP, October 2000.
Article
The existing literature on the long-term sequelae of child sexual abuse is reviewed. The evidence suggests that sexual abuse is an important problem with serious long-term sequelae; but the specific effects of sexual abuse, independent of force, threat of force, or such family variables as parental psychopathology, are still to be clarified. Adult women with a history of childhood sexual abuse show greater evidence of sexual disturbance or dysfunction, homosexual experiences in adolescence or adulthood, depression, and are more likely than nonabused women to be revictimized. Anxiety, fear, and suicidal ideas and behavior have also been associated with a history of childhood sexual abuse but force and threat of force may be a necessary concomitant. As yet, there is insufficient evidence to confirm a relation between a history of childhood sexual abuse and a postsexual abuse syndrome and multiple or borderline personality disorder. Male victims of child sexual abuse show disturbed adult sexual functioning. The relation between age of onset of abuse and outcome is still equivocal. Greater long-term harm is associated with abuse involving a father or stepfather and abuse involving penetration. Longer duration is associated with greater impact, and the use of force or threat of force is associated with greater harm.
Article
Childhood psychic trauma appears to be a crucial etiological factor in the development of a number of serious disorders both in childhood and in adulthood. Like childhood rheumatic fever, psychic trauma sets a number of different problems into motion, any of which may lead to a definable mental condition. The author suggests four characteristics related to childhood trauma that appear to last for long periods of life, no matter what diagnosis the patient eventually receives. These are visualized or otherwise repeatedly perceived memories of the traumatic event, repetitive behaviors, trauma-specific fears, and changed attitudes about people, life, and the future. She divides childhood trauma into two basic types and defines the findings that can be used to characterize each of these types. Type I trauma includes full, detailed memories, "omens," and misperceptions. Type II trauma includes denial and numbing, self-hypnosis and dissociation, and rage. Crossover conditions often occur after sudden, shocking deaths or accidents that leave children handicapped. In these instances, characteristics of both type I and type II childhood traumas exist side by side. There may be considerable sadness. Each finding of childhood trauma discussed by the author is illustrated with one or two case examples.
Article
Psychiatrists have tended to be reluctant followers rather than leaders in the proliferation of concern for child abuse that has developed over the past 25 years. By discounting the relevance of child sexual trauma, psychiatric clinicians and theoreticians overlook not only the therapeutic needs of many survivors but the opportunity to reconceptualize the role of trauma in the etiology and treatment of conditions presumed to be incurable. Present controversies over child sexual abuse are mirrors of past misadventures with uncovering. Since 1860, child abuse has been discovered and then discredited every 35 years by the most visionary clinicians of the day, each faced with the alternative of denouncing the discovery or succumbing to scorn and disgrace. The history of child sexual abuse, whether viewed by parent via child, therapist via patient, or adult survivor via the child within, is one of unimaginable pain and betrayal masked by adult distancing, disavowal, victim blame, and identification with the aggressor. The lurid emotional imperatives of the trauma itself have no place in a just and fair society, and they resist translation into the rational, objective language and concepts of behavioral science. The subject of child sexual abuse is itself so passionate and so paradoxical that it provokes polarized dichotomies at every level, leaving indifference and avoidance as the only hope for serenity. The active nesciance, the determined insistence on not knowing, that pervades every aspect of child sexual abuse encourages the most authoritative scholars to be the most repressive of radical discovery, especially if authority has been achieved as a reaction against youthful vulnerability. Every clinician facing a survivor of childhood sexual trauma faces an assault on personal comfort and authority, just as each patient in that encounter risks intimidation and disgrace. The connections between childhood assault and adult adjustment will be missed unless the therapist can find an unprejudiced path toward mutual acceptance. The promise of genuine understanding and radical resolution of the effects of child sexual abuse is dimmed on both sides by a history of abandonment in the face of scornful, punishing authority. Freud's concept of the unconscious as the arena for successful psychotherapy, his sense of the patient as a normal, healthy individual incapacitated by the effects of buried trauma and his initial optimism for radical recovery from post-traumatic handicaps were soundly derived from his clinical confrontations with child sexual abuse, as were Ferenczi's parallel contributions 35 years later.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
Article
With families in which incest has occurred, secrecy is the organizing principle of all family relationships. Both the testimony of survivors and the clinical literature emphasize the central role of the incest secret. Children who have been sexually abused by adults outside the family also frequently keep this secret as a result of intimidation or shame. Secrecy compounds the trauma of the sexual abuse itself by isolating the victim from others, so that her perceptions can not be validated. Often, the victim comes to doubt her own experience of reality, which is at odds with the family's version of the truth. Many, if not most, victims of child sexual abuse reach adult life still preserving the rule of secrecy.
Article
Sociologists have long been interested in the consequences of psychiatrists' and clients' social location on diagnostic judgment. Previous research provided conflicting evidence on the effects of sex and race on diagnosis, but it has been suggested that with the institution of a formalized diagnostic system, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (Third Edition), the effects of gender and race on diagnosis have become minimal. We assess the accuracy of this claim using an analogue approach in which 290 psychiatrists evaluate two case studies. Case studies are manipulated so that approximately one-fifth of the clinicians, using DSM-III-derived criteria, evaluate a white male, a white female, a black male, a black female, or a client whose sex and race are not disclosed. Results indicate that sex and race of client and psychiatrist influence diagnosis even when clear-cut diagnostic criteria are presented. We conclude that it is premature to close the question of the influence of sex and race on diagnostic assessments.
Article
This study investigating the effects of verbal abuse on children and their abused parents, tends to support the clinical impression that verbal abuse may have a greater impact for a longer period of time. Although there are very few pure forms of verbal abuse, there are some parents who use verbal abuse but would hit their children, neglect them, or involve them in sex. Verbal abuse may become an increasingly frequent form of controlling and disciplining children because of the increased awareness of physical abuse and because of the possible declining value of children. Verbal abuse may have a greater impact because the abused child has greater difficulty defending himself from the attack. Because children tend to identify with their parents, the verbal abuse by their parents becomes a way in which they then abuse themselves.
Article
Defining "emotional abuse" and "psychological abuse" is a task made difficult by uncertainty as to whether or not such terms are synonomous and/or interchangeable. There is an increasing tendency in child protection literature to regard them as synonomous, or at least, to make little distinction between them. The purpose of this paper is to explore the origins of this tendency, and to provide an alternative view, namely, that the terms are not synonomous, and there should be different definitions for each. Existing commonly used definitions are reviewed. The definitions that this paper provides stem from important concepts in emotional and psychological development.
Article
This article reviews the historical development of awareness about child sexual abuse and the counterreaction that this increasing awareness has often triggered. In particular, Conte discusses the current backlash against awareness of child sexual abuse, a reaction that he describes as characterized by extreme positions with lack of supporting data and near total rejection of knowledge and experiences of child sexual abuse. He urges all those who work professionally in the area of child sexual abuse to ensure that their opinions and actions are based on sound research and directed toward improving the lives of abused children.
Article
The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between childhood psychological maltreatment and adult manifestations of depression, anxiety, and dissociation. Women health care professionals reporting a history of childhood psychological maltreatment (n = 55) were compared to a nonabused control group (n = 55) on the three dimensions of anxiety, depression, and dissociation. The Childhood Experiences Questionnaire, a measure constructed specifically for this study to assess abuse history, was used to determine group membership. Participants were administered the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES). A significant discriminant function analysis using the STAI, BDI, and DES as predictor variables was able to correctly classify 74.5% of the psychologically abused participants and 89.1% of the nonabused group, with an overall hit rate of 81.8%. Statistically significant differences were obtained between the abused and nonabused groups on the STAI, BDI, and DES. Interpretation of these results suggests that participants who reported a history of childhood psychological abuse suffer significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety, and more frequent dissociative experiences, than the nonabused women.
Article
There are few well-validated measures of childhood emotional abuse. This study explored the potential of the Child Abuse and Trauma Scale (CATS; Sanders & Becker-Lausen, 1995) to yield such a measure. The CATS was originally devised to measure the extent of adverse sexual, physical and neglectful experiences, but contains items that also reflect the construct of emotional abuse. A sample of 236 nonclinical women completed the CATS and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale. A fourth subscale was drawn from the existing CATS items, reflecting reported emotional abuse during childhood. The concurrent validity and internal consistency of this new subscale were tested, and were found to be at an acceptable level. Indeed, there was some indication that the new childhood emotional abuse subscale played a more central role in anxiety and depression than did the original three subscales. It is recommended that this revised version of the CATS should be used in future research and clinical practice, in order that the multidimensional nature of abuse can be better understood.
Article
To review the clinically relevant literature on the physical and emotional abuse and neglect of children and adolescents published during the past 10 years. Literature published between 1988 and 1998 was reviewed following a systematic search of Medline, Psychinfo, and the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect. During the last decade there has been substantial progress in understanding the symptomatology associated with maltreatment. However, prevention and intervention research studies are relatively rare and frequently have important methodological limitations. Child maltreatment research in the next decade needs to focus on understanding factors leading to resilient outcomes and on assessing the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment strategies. Increased resources are needed to support child maltreatment research studies and investigators.
Article
Data from a community-based longitudinal study were used to investigate whether childhood verbal abuse increases risk for personality disorders (PDs) during adolescence and early adulthood. Psychiatric and psychosocial interviews were administered to a representative community sample of 793 mothers and their offspring from two New York State counties in 1975, 1983, 1985 to 1986, and 1991 to 1993, when the mean ages of the offspring were 5, 14, 16, and 22 years, respectively. Data regarding childhood abuse and neglect were obtained from the psychosocial interviews and from official New York State records. Offspring who experienced maternal verbal abuse during childhood were more than three times as likely as those who did not experience verbal abuse to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid PDs during adolescence or early adulthood. These associations remained significant after offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders were controlled statistically. In addition, youths who experienced childhood verbal abuse had elevated borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal PD symptom levels during adolescence and early adulthood after the covariates were accounted for. These findings suggest that childhood verbal abuse may contribute to the development of some types of PDs, independent of offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders.
  • Terr L. C.