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This study investigates links between emotional abuse and emotional awareness. Predictions included a positive correlation between emotional abuse and alexithymia, and that few individuals reporting emotional abuse would self-label as having been abused. Eighty participants completed anonymous, self-report surveys with symptom and trauma inventories. Participants were asked if they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused (using the word “abused”); these questions preceded symptom and maltreatment measures. Emotional abuse and neglect were significantly positively correlated with difficulty identifying feelings, even after controlling for participants' depression, anxiety, dissociation, and lifetime trauma. Few subjects self-identified as having been “abused,” even among those reporting abuse experiences. The results demonstrate a connection between emotional abuse and difficulty identifying emotions. Cognitive, therapeutic, and research implications are discussed.
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Awareness for Emotional Abuse
Rachel E. Goldsmith
Jennifer J. Freyd
ABSTRACT. This study investigates links between emotional abuse
and emotional awareness. Predictions included a positive correlation be-
tween emotional abuse and alexithymia, and that few individuals report-
ing emotional abuse would self-label as having been abused. Eighty
participants completed anonymous, self-report surveys with symptom
and trauma inventories. Participants were asked if they were physically,
sexually, or emotionally abused (using the word “abused”); these ques-
tions preceded symptom and maltreatment measures. Emotional abuse
Rachel E. Goldsmith, PhD, recently graduated from the University of Oregon Psy-
chology Department. She has co-authored papers on topics that include trauma aware-
ness, cultural aspects of trauma, and trauma and fiction. She has worked as a therapist
in university and community agencies, and has been an instructor for the Psychology of
Trauma undergraduate course at the University of Oregon.
Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon.
Freyd is the author of Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse
(Harvard, 1996) and the co-editor of Trauma & Cognitive Science (Haworth, 2001).
She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychologi-
cal Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Address correspondence to: Jennifer J. Freyd, Department of Psychology, 1227 Uni-
versity of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1227 (E-mail: rgoldsmi@darkwing.
Submitted for publication on 8/29/03; revised 4/26/04; revised 8/11/04; accepted
Journal of Emotional Abuse, Vol. 5(1) 2005
2005 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J135v5n01_04 95
and neglect were significantly positively correlated with difficulty iden-
tifying feelings, even after controlling for participants’ depression, anxi-
ety, dissociation, and lifetime trauma. Few subjects self-identified as
having been “abused,” even among those reporting abuse experiences.
The results demonstrate a connection between emotional abuse and dif-
ficulty identifying emotions. Cognitive, therapeutic, and research impli-
cations are discussed. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth
Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@> Website: <> © 2005 by The
Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]
KEYWORDS. Emotional abuse, emotional neglect, awareness, alexithymia
Despite established links between child abuse and psychological
symptoms such as depression, dissociation, and anxiety, many abuse
survivors experience awareness of symptoms without acknowledging
the abuse itself. One reason for this discrepancy may be the failure of
professionals and the public to agree upon a definition of child maltreat-
ment. In addition, many mental health providers focus on the above di-
agnoses without investigating the possibility of childhood abuse.
Another likely reason is that the adaptive cognitive styles abuse survi-
vors develop preclude awareness of abuse. Finally, abuse awareness
may incite stigma from attending to the taboo topic of family trauma.
Identifying certain behaviors as “abuse” stretches across domains of so-
cial policy, law, psychological research, and public perception. Under-
standing, preventing, and treating child abuse, however, requires some
degree of categorization, because qualitative differences in abuse charac-
teristics produce predictable diversities in psychosocial outcomes (e.g.,
Briere & Runtz, 1990; Kent & Waller, 1998). Cicchetti and Barnett (1991)
identify the need for a nosology of child abuse that incorporates the follow-
ing aspects: (a) symptom pattern or maltreatment type; (b) etiology; (c) de-
velopmental effects; and (d) treatment response. They also articulate the
importance of attending to severity, frequency, chronicity, and the devel-
opmental period during which maltreatment occurs. Cicchetti and Barnett
identify subtypes that include physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual
abuse, emotional maltreatment, and moral/legal/educational maltreatment.
Manly, Kim, Rogosch, and Cicchetti (2001) operationalize child maltreat-
ment to incorporate four subtypes: emotional maltreatment, physical ne-
glect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. In their sample of 492 maltreated
children, most had experienced more than one abuse subtype, and 15 dis-
tinct subtype combinations were represented. Erickson and Egeland (1996)
separate child neglect into five subtypes: physical neglect, emotional ne-
glect, medical neglect, mental health neglect, and educational neglect.
Hart, Brassard, and Karlson (1996) explain that tracking the inci-
dence and prevalence of emotional abuse is extremely challenging, as a
very small proportion of cases are reported. The three iterations of the
National Incidence Study (NIS-I, in 1981; NIS-II, in 1986; and NIS-III,
1993), a congressionally mandated study of the National Center on
Child Abuse and Neglect, comprised the first attempt to gather inci-
dence data for abuse subtypes using standardized definitions. The NIS
sample includes cases investigated by Child Protective Services and by
community professionals in counties that constitute a nationally repre-
sentative sample of the United States. Changes in the definitional crite-
ria between the first two incidence studies were implemented to reflect
the 1984 congressional Child Abuse Amendments (Cicchetti & Barnett,
1991), and produced much higher incidence estimates. Similarly, ex-
panded definitions for the NIS-III resulted in a 67% increase in inci-
dence estimate. This included a 183% increase in the number of
emotionally abused children (an estimate of 188,100 in 1986 contrasted
with an estimate of 532,200 in 1993), and a 188% increase in the esti-
mate of emotionally neglected children, from 203,000 in 1986 to
585,100 in 1993). According to the NIS-III, the greatest number of mal-
treated children are victims of neglect.
Though efforts to understand and prevent or treat the effects of abuse
necessitate identifying and defining its distinct forms, focusing exclu-
sively on maltreatment subtypes may obscure important connections.
Several psychologists, noting the separation of funding priorities and
research endeavors into different subtypes of maltreatment, have called
for research addressing similarities among abuse subtypes (e.g.,
Finkelhor & Dzuiba-Leatherman, 1994; Garrison, 1987). Survivors are
likely to have experienced more than one subtype of maltreatment (e.g.,
Moeller, Bachmann, & Moeller, 1993) and it is often the psychologi-
cal aspects of physically and sexually abusive acts, as much as the acts
themselves, that contribute to post-traumatic symptoms (e.g.,
Claussen & Crittenden, 1991; Gross & Keller, 1992; Vissing, Straus,
Gelles, & Harrop, 1991).
Many psychologists assert that emotional abuse underlies all forms
of child maltreatment (e.g., Brassard & Gelardo, 1987; Hart & Brass-
ard, 1987; Schore, 2001). Indeed, it is questionable whether childhood
sexual or physical abuse could be perpetrated by one’s caregiver in the
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 97
absence of psychological abuse. Emotional abuse has been the most re-
cent abuse subtype to emerge in the child maltreatment literature, and is
likely the least understood and the most underreported type of abuse
(e.g., Gracia, 1995). Definitions of emotional abuse remain rather vague
(Giovannoni, 1989). Psychologists’ terms for this topic include “emo-
tional abuse,” “psychological abuse,” “emotional maltreatment,” and
“psychological maltreatment.” Though this paper uses these terms in-
terchangeably, we recognize that their nuances may convey different
meanings. However, there does not appear to be a consensus within the
field regarding any one definition or distinctions between these terms.
The present study examines the ways that childhood emotional abuse
impacts college students’ current psychological functioning, especially
levels of emotional awareness, through measuring levels of alexithymia,
or a lack of words for feelings (Sifneos, 1973). Though previous studies
have demonstrated links between alexithymia and abuse in clinical sam-
ples (Berenbaum, 1996; Zlotnick, Mattia, & Zimmerman, 2001) and a
connection between alexithymia and self-expressiveness in the family
(Yelsma, Hovestadt, Nilsson, & Paul, 1998), this study specifically aims
to address the hypothesis that alexithymia and emotional abuse are re-
lated. In addition, the study aims to determine whether abuse labeling is
linked to abuse severity and to alexithymia. Is the severity of individuals’
emotional abuse experiences correlated with general emotional aware-
Brassard, Hart, and Hardy (1993) describe psychological maltreat-
ment as “a repeated pattern of behavior that conveys to children that they
are worthless, unloved, unwanted, or only of value in meeting another’s
needs” (p. 715). This project incorporates measures that operationalize
the following kinds of emotional abuse: rejecting, degrading/devaluing,
terrorizing, isolating, corrupting, exploiting, denying essential stimula-
tion, emotional responsiveness or availability, and unreliable or inconsis-
tent parenting (Briere, 1992; Garbarino et al., 1986; Hart & Brassard,
1987). The diversity of behaviors identified as emotionally abusive indi-
cates a spectrum of abusive environments. Qualitative differences in
emotional abuse experiences are likely to have different effects, just as
different general abuse subtypes contribute to diverse outcomes.
Emotional abuse is linked to a range of negative psychosocial out-
comes. Research demonstrates connections between emotional abuse
and adult depression (e.g., Gibb, Butler, & Beck, 2003; Gross & Keller,
1992; Steinberg, Gibb, Alloy, & Abramson, 2003), suicidality (Bifulco,
Moran, Baines, Bunn, & Stanford, 2002), anxiety (Harkness & Wildes,
2002; Kent & Waller, 1998), dissociation (Harkness & Wildes, 2002),
and drug and alcohol use among college students (Jelley, 2003). Kent,
Waller, and Dagnan (1999) found emotional abuse to be the only type of
abuse that predicted unhealthy eating attitudes among adult women, and
Kent and Waller (1998) discovered that emotional abuse predicted
more depression and anxiety than other forms of abuse.
As many psychologists consider neglect to be one form of abuse, we
consider emotional neglect to comprise one type of emotional abuse.
Erickson and Egeland (1996) use the term “psychological unavailabil-
ity” to describe a common form of emotional neglect; this definition
overlaps somewhat with some the definitions of emotional abuse de-
scribed above. Emotional neglect often originates when children are
preverbal and may be quite unaware their needs are not being met. Emo-
tional neglect is often most damaging in infancy, with extreme emo-
tional neglect resulting in failure to thrive and subsequent fatality.
Children who experience emotional neglect demonstrate anxious at-
tachment (e.g., Egeland & Sroufe, 1981) and internalizing problems
(Erickson & Egeland, 1996). Though little research has focused on
long-term effects of emotional neglect, psychologists have demon-
strated sequelae including major depression (e.g., Yamamoto, Iwata,
Tomoda, Tanaka, Fujimaki, & Kitamura, 1999) and personality disor-
ders (Johnson, Smailes, Cohen, Brown, and Bernstein, 2000). Loos and
Alexander (1997) found emotional neglect to be related to loneliness
and social isolation to a greater degree than any other maltreatment sub-
The cognitive processes necessary for accommodation or adaptation
to maltreatment and for subsequent recovery are quite complex. For
children who have experienced trauma, a secure attachment with a care-
giver protects against long-term negative symptoms (van der Kolk &
Fisler, 1994). When it is the parents themselves, however, who are the
source of trauma, children must develop cognitive techniques to cope
with their environments (Freyd, 1994, 1996). Strategies include disso-
ciation and denial, skills that may be so well-developed that dissociative
trauma survivors are able to use divided attention more effectively than
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 99
others to keep threatening information from awareness (DePrince &
Freyd, 1999). Isolating knowledge of abusive treatment from con-
sciousness makes it unlikely that survivors would acknowledge having
been abused.
Since their home environments are for the most part uncontrollable
and inescapable, children living with abusive caregivers must find ways
to either understand or disregard the treatment they receive. Two cogni-
tive models provide clarity in understanding the logic inherent in these
processes. Briere’s (1992) abuse dichotomy elaborates the implicit, de-
ductive logic through which children come to internalize abusive treat-
ment as deserved. Attributing abuse as stemming from one’s own
inherent badness inhibits the scarier prospect that a caregiver cannot be
trusted, and may help create an illusion of control. The very nature of
abuse strengthens this attributional process. Empirical studies reveal
victims’ attributions do indeed affect abuse awareness. For instance,
Rausch and Knutson (1991) found that even when participants reported
similar punitive experiences for themselves and their siblings, they
were more than twice as likely to identify their siblings’ experiences as
abusive than they were to identify their own. The authors also reported
that participants were more likely to interpret parental behavior towards
themselves, but not that directed towards their siblings, as deserved, and
therefore not abusive. Another helpful model is Freyd’s (1996) betrayal
trauma theory, which explains how children may isolate abuse experi-
ences from memory and consciousness in order to maintain a necessary
relationship with a caregiver. By selectively ignoring evidence of be-
trayal, people can survive and even engender caregiving in environ-
ments that would otherwise be hopeless. Since individuals employ
these mechanisms to escape consciousness of their realities, they are
conceptualized as implicit, and may later prove difficult to observe and
The quality of emotional abuse itself may directly impact the devel-
opment of emotional awareness. In maltreating environments, children
can learn that it is unacceptable, threatening, or dangerous to express
emotions, especially negative ones. Since abuse and neglect produces
negative emotions, children may adapt to abuse with general deficits in
emotional awareness. Bowlby (1988) describes one pathway to deficits
in emotional awareness as a parenting style that requires the denial of
certain emotions, such as environments where parents instruct their
children not to cry or express negative emotions. Children learn that
they must distance themselves from their own needs and feelings to ob-
tain love and care. Similarly, Linehan (1993) describes two important
characteristics of invalidating environments. First, they impart that an
individual is wrong in their assessment of their own experience. Sec-
ond, they ascribe children’s emotional experiences to personal charac-
teristics that are unacceptable. The consequences of these environments
are such that individuals do not learn to accurately label private experi-
ences, and therefore exhibit impairments in their abilities to modulate
Neuroanatomical and neuropsychological empirical research pro-
vides physical evidence of connections between psychological abuse
and neglect and capacities for emotional awareness. Cicchetti (2002)
explains that emotional abuse and neglect can alter otherwise healthy
children’s brain structure, function, and organization, and that chil-
dren’s brains are especially vulnerable during periods of rapid creation
or modification of neuronal connections. Schore (2000, 2001) offers il-
luminating descriptions of the pathways through which early abuse and
neglect impact regions of the brain involved in emotional awareness.
Schore (2001) specifies that “purely ‘psychological’ relational trauma”
(p. 222) produces altered neuroanatomical and neurophysiological de-
velopment. Specific damage includes the overpruning and retraction of
dendrites, which results in fewer synaptic connections to other cortical
and subcortical areas. Schore (2000) explains that the maturation of the
orbitofrontal cortex, which assesses internal states to allocate coping re-
sources and participates in learning about emotions, is experience-de-
pendent. Schore incorporates the neuroimaging and EEG data of Ryan,
Kuhl, and Deci (1997) to explain how positive parent-child interactions
influence the development of right hemisphere cortical and subcortical
networks that are important to emotion regulation, and hypothesizes
that “growth-inhibiting” intergenerational patterns of stress and coping
result from the suboptimal development of corticolimbic structures that
occur as a consequence of aversive environments.
How might these coping mechanisms operate after individuals leave
their home environments? Learning models suggest that both the re-
peated nature of family abuse and the depth of processing in the mecha-
nisms described above would render coping techniques difficult to
extinguish. The concurrent timing of these processes and individuals’
overall cognitive development further deepens their incorporation.
Abuse and neglect early in life have strong deleterious effects (e.g.,
Schore, 2001), but since they occur during nonverbal years, victims are
less likely to exhibit awareness of early child abuse trauma. Finally, the
brain changes in the orbitofrontal regions Schore identifies are likely to
endure and reinforce patterns of emotional unawareness.
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 101
Though individuals do not have the same motivations to retain rela-
tionships with their caregivers after leaving their home environments,
many (including most college students) continue to depend on those
same caregivers. In addition, societal stigma around abuse may prevent
the revision of the cognitive processes described above. Since during
abuse it is unsafe to experience emotional reactions fully, awareness of-
ten appears after leaving the situation. Changing abuse perceptions and
attributions may provoke a period of great psychological distress. Some
research demonstrates that abuse awareness may have negative conse-
quences. Varia and Abidin (1999) investigated individuals’ perceptions
of childhood emotional abuse, reported maltreatment experiences, and
relationship satisfaction among three groups: “Non-abused” (persons
not reporting psychological abuse); “Acknowledgers” (those reporting
and acknowledging childhood emotional abuse); and “Minimizers”
(those reporting comparable levels of psychological abuse but not ac-
knowledging abuse). Participants in the Non-abused group reported the
highest levels of relationship satisfaction, followed by the Minimizers,
and finally, the Acknowledgers. These results indicate that in at least
one aspect of life, survivors fare better with less explicit awareness. An-
other explanation could be that minimizing abuse relates to a general
lack of emotional awareness reflected in survivors’ assessments of both
their present relationships and past experiences. However, abuse aware-
ness can be beneficial in that it positively impacts survivors’ parenting.
Egeland and Susman-Stillman (1996) found that for mothers with child-
hood abuse, dissociative tendencies and idealization of childhood expe-
riences contributed to abuse towards their own children.
Is abuse awareness related to overall levels of emotional awareness?
The research described above indicates that survivors’ techniques for
coping with abuse, such as the development of dissociative tendencies,
continue beyond the circumstances under which these mechanisms de-
velop. Similarly, a lack of awareness for being abused may be related to
a general deficit in emotional awareness. Alexithymia, or a lack of
words for feelings (Sifneos, 1973), is a useful construct in investigating
emotional awareness. The alexithymia construct contains three ele-
ments: (a) difficulty identifying feelings; (b) difficulty describing feel-
ings; and (c) an externally oriented cognitive style (Parker, Bagby,
Taylor, Endler & Schmitz, 1993). Research has linked alexithymia with
substance abuse disorders, posttraumatic stress disorders, depression,
eating disorders, and reduced REM (rapid eye movement) density (Tay-
lor, 2000). Alexithymia is also associated with low self-esteem
(Yelsma, 1995) and subjective measures of illness (Lumley,
Tomakowsky, & Torosian, 1997). Additional studies have demon-
strated connections between alexithymia and childhood abuse in clini-
cal samples (Berenbaum, 1996; Zlotnick et al., 2001). Yelsma et al.
(1998) found a significant negative correlation (r=.52, p< .0001) be-
tween counseling clients’ perceptions of positive expression with their
families and their levels of alexithymia; the authors found that family
negative expressiveness was also correlated with alexithymia, but to a
lesser degree (r= .34, p< .009). Their findings indicate that emotional
neglect, in the form of a lack of positive expression, may be even more
strongly related to alexithymia than emotional abuse.
The research summarized above helps to explain reports that adult survi-
vors of child abuse do not necessarily see themselves as having been
abused (e.g., Rausch & Knutson, 1991; Varia & Abidin, 1999; Weinbach
& Curtiss, 1986). For individuals seeking treatment for abuse sequelae,
deficits in awareness regarding trauma and its effects among health profes-
sionals likely contribute to victims’ levels of awareness for abuse. Atten-
tion to trauma and its effects form only a small part of most therapists’
training (Courtois, 2002). Mental health workers often fail to ask about
trauma experiences (Read & Fraser, 1998a; Young, Read, Barker-Collo, &
Harrison, 2001), and most mental health services do not detect clients’ ex-
posure to childhood trauma (Briere & Zaidi, 1989; Wurr & Partridge,
1996). Mental health professionals identify higher rates of abuse when they
ask specific questions regarding abuse experiences than when they utilize
general screening questions (Dill, Chu, Grob, & Eisen, 1991). Mental
health workers commonly fail to detect emotional abuse, just as they often
fail to detect sexual and physical abuse (Thompson & Kaplan, 1999). In
addition, victims most commonly seek professional help not because of the
trauma itself, but for depression (e.g., Berliner & Elliott, 1996) or com-
plaints about themselves or their relationships (Briere, 2002).
The present study hypothesizes that alexithymia is positively corre-
lated with levels of emotional abuse, even when controlling for sub-
stance use and lifetime trauma, and negatively correlated with abuse
Participants were 80 university students enrolled in introductory psy-
chology or linguistics courses. They received course credit for their par-
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 103
ticipation. They included 50 women and 30 men whose ages ranged
from 17 to 52 years, with 91% of participants between the ages of 17
and 21. Seven students identified as Asian-American; 5 identified as
Hispanic; 2 identified as Native American; 58 identified as white; 7
identified as “other”; and 1 did not endorse any category. None cur-
rently lived with their parents. None of the subjects refused to partici-
pate. The university’s Institutional Review Board approved human
subjects’ participation in this study, and all participants signed an in-
formed consent form.
Survey packets included demographics, three questions assessing
perceptions of abuse that included one question for each abuse subtype
(physical, sexual, and emotional; e.g., “Would you say that you were
emotionally or psychologically abused as a child (before age 17)?”), the
Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 (Bagby, Taylor, & Parker, 1994), the
Trauma Symptom Checklist-40 (Elliott & Briere, 1992), the Symptom
Checklist-90 (Derogatis, Lipman, & Covi, 1973), questions about drug
and alcohol use, the Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey (Goldberg & Freyd,
2004), the Child Abuse Trauma Scale (Sanders & Becker-Lausen,
1995), and the Child Maltreatment Interview Schedule (Briere, 1992).
The Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20; α= .74-.84; Parker, Bagby,
Taylor, Endler, & Schmitz, 1993) is the most frequently used measure of
alexithymia (Taylor, 2000). Participants respond to statements regarding
their thinking and discussion of emotional content using Likert scales that
range from 1-5. Examples of statements include, “I am often confused
about what emotion I am feeling,” and “I don’t know what’s going on in-
side me.” The TAS-20 contains three subscales: Difficulty Identifying
Feelings (α= .73-.83), Difficulty Describing Feelings (α= .61-.78), and
Externally Oriented Thinking (α= .60-.71; Parker et al., 1993).
The Trauma Symptom Checklist-40 (TSC-40; α= .90, subscales
.62-.77, Elliott & Briere, 1992) queries a range of posttraumatic symp-
toms. The study used the TSC-40 subscales of dissociation, anxiety, and
depression. Previous research has demonstrated the construct validity of
the TSC-40 (Elliott & Briere, 1992) and its convergent validity when
compared with the SCL-90 (Zlotnick, Shea, Begin, Pearlstein, Simpson,
& Costello, 1996).
The study also used the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90; Derogatis
& Cleary, 1977; Derogatis et al., 1973) to assess symptoms of anxiety
and depression. The measure has good construct validity and scale
The study included a group of questions about drug and alcohol use.
For each of nine drugs (alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, cocaine, opium, her-
oin, methamphetamines, LSD, and ecstasy), participants were asked
how many days out of the past 30 they had used the drug. There was also
a space for “other” where students could write in additional drugs.
The 12-item Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey (BBTS; Goldberg &
Freyd, 2004) asks respondents to indicate how many times they have
experienced different interpersonal and non-interpersonal traumas both
before and after age 18. Traumatic experiences queried include disas-
ters, accidents, witnessing death or injury, forced sexual contact, physi-
cal assault, and emotional or psychological maltreatment. Interpersonal
items include those assessing experiencing and witnessing abuse perpe-
trated by a close other and those that assess experiencing and witnessing
abuse perpetrated by a non-close other. This scale was included to as-
sess traumatic events other than parent or caregiver maltreatment, since
a range of traumatic experiences impacts psychological functioning.
The Child Abuse Trauma Scale (CAT scale; Sanders & Becker-Lausen,
1995) was designed to measure “the individual’s present, subjective per-
ception of the degree of stress or trauma present in his/her childhood” [em-
phasis in the original] (p. 317). Examples of scale items include, “Did you
feel safe living at home?” and “As a child, did you feel unwanted or emo-
tionally neglected?” The measure uses a Likert scale of 0-4, where 0 de-
notes “never”; 1, “rarely”; 2, “sometimes”; 3, “very often”; and 4,
“always.” A higher score signifies greater levels of maltreatment; some
items, such as the first example above, are reverse coded. The CAT scale
contains subscales measuring Punishment, Negative Home Environ-
ment/Neglect, and Sexual Abuse, and has strong test-retest reliability (r=
.71-.91) and internal consistency (α= .63 to .90; Kent & Waller, 1998).
Kent and Waller added an Emotional Abuse subscale, comprised of the 7
items from the CAT scale they felt best reflected the construct; only 1 of
these items overlaps with the Negative Environment subscale. The
subscale appears to have good internal consistency (α= .88). The present
study uses the new subscale.
The Psychological Maltreatment Scale of the Child Maltreatment In-
terview Schedule (CMIS; Briere, 1992; α= .87, Briere & Runtz, 1988)
asks how often emotional abuse experiences occurred in an average
year. The scale uses a Likert scale of 0 (never)to6(over 20 times a
year). The scale has 6 items that ask how often did a parent or caregiver
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 105
“yell at you”; “insult you”; “criticize you”; “try to make you feel
guilty”; “ridicule or humiliate you”; “embarrass you in front of others”;
and “made you feel like you were a bad person.”
Participants did not know the topic of the study when they signed up
for the study. When they arrived at the study site, they were invited to
complete an anonymous questionnaire about life experiences. Partici-
pants were told both verbally and via the informed consent that some of
the questions were personal and potentially upsetting; the words
“abuse” and “trauma” were not used. Both the consent and debriefing
forms included phone numbers for counseling resources. Participants
completed a packet of self-report questionnaires in groups, with ample
space between each person for privacy. The instructions stated the im-
portance of answering questions in order. After completing the ques-
tionnaires, participants dropped them into a box to ensure anonymity.
Data Analysis
Participants’ scores were computed for each measure and measure
subscale. We used descriptive statistics to assess whether the current
sample revealed rates and ranges of abuse experiences, as measured by
the CAT scale, that were similar to those reported by Sanders and
Becker-Lausen (1995). Preliminary analyses investigated zero-order
correlations between measures thought to capture the same constructs.
These included the SCL-90 and the TSC-40 subscales of depression and
anxiety, and the CMIS and CAT measures of emotional abuse. We then
computed zero-order correlations between abuse measures, alexithymia
subscales, and psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety,
and dissociation. We also investigated zero-order correlations between
abuse and gender, and between abuse and substance use. Finally, we
used partial correlations to determine the extent of the unique relation
between emotional abuse and alexithymia subscales, by controlling for
other abuse correlates. All data analysis utilized SPSS 10.0.
Though emotional abuse is better considered a continuous rather than
a dichotomous variable, there are often practical (including research,
social, or legal) reasons to group people into abused versus non-abused
categories. Categorizing participants as abused or non-abused involves
choices regarding measures and cutoff points. Some of these decisions
are necessarily arbitrary. None of the measures we used contain cutoff
points or categorization systems. After creating and comparing a few
categorization methods, described in the Results section below, partici-
pants who would be considered emotionally abused were identified un-
der each system. Though some participants fall into the “abused”
category under all categorization systems, many fell into different cate-
gories depending on the method employed. These disparities highlight
the importance of using multiple methods in assessing people’s abuse
experiences. Our preferred categorization method allows for differ-
ences due to method variance. The project method did not categorize in-
dividuals as physically or sexually abused.
Table 1 indicates mean scores and standard deviations for trauma
symptoms, alexithymia subscales, and abuse measures. The average
score on the CAT scale was .74, with a standard deviation of .38. These
statistics closely reflect those of Sanders and Becker-Lausen (1995) in
two college studies that, combined, included over a thousand students:
CAT scale mean scores were .75 and .73, and standard deviations were
.42 and .41, respectively. Scores on the CMIS Psychological Abuse
subscale (Briere, 1992) ranged from 1-40, with an average of 13.38 and
a standard deviation of 10.15.
Multiple measures for both symptoms and abuse were correlated. De-
pression subscales from the TSC-40 and the SCL-90 were highly corre-
lated (r= .63, p< .001), and the anxiety subscales were correlated at a
level of .53 (p< .001). The Emotional Abuse subscales of the CAT scale
and the Psychological Abuse subscale of the Child Maltreatment Inter-
view Schedule (CMIS; Briere, 1992) were also highly correlated (r= .86,
p< .001). The Psychological Abuse subscale of the CMIS was also sig-
nificantly related to the average score on the entire CAT scale (r= .73, p<
.001) and the Negative Home Environment/Neglect subscale (r= .63, p<
.001). There were no significant relations between abuse measure scores
and participants’ alcohol or drug use, and none between abuse and gen-
der. Reported levels of emotional abuse using the CAT Emotional Abuse
scale and the Negative Home Environment/Neglect scale revealed signif-
icant zero-order correlations (p< .001) with depression (r= .49 and .61,
respectively), anxiety (r= .44 and .41, respectively), and dissociation (r=
.39 and .45, respectively).
Students rarely identified themselves as having been emotionally
abused. Only six students responded “yes” to the emotional abuse per-
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 107
ception question. Participants who acknowledged experiencing emo-
tional abuse included 5 females and 1 male, ages 18-19. Under the
categorization system we chose, all six of the “acknowledging” partic-
ipants fall into the abused category. Their small number tempers the
validity of any comparison testing between them and other abused
participants. Two participants acknowledged experiencing sexual
abuse; these participants were also the only ones who acknowledged
experiencing physical abuse. One of these participants, however, did
not indicate sexual or physical abuse experiences in the abuse ques-
The results of the abuse measures that queried specific abuse behav-
iors support previous research (e.g., Dill et al., 1991) demonstrating that
such questions yield more endorsements than general questions regard-
ing abuse. For instance, on the BBTS (Goldberg & Freyd, 2004), 18
TABLE 1. Means and Standard Deviations of Trauma Symptom and Abuse
Child Maltreatment Inventory 79 13.38 10.15
Schedule Psychological Abuse
Child Abuse Trauma Scale 74 .74 .38
Average Score
Child Abuse Trauma
Scale subscales:
Emotional Abuse 80 1.02 .65
Negative Home
Environment 78 .82 .60
Sexual Abuse 79 .10 .27
Punishment 79 1.11 .55
Trauma Symptom
Checklist-40 subscales:
Dissociation 77 2.19 1.94
Anxiety 75 4.88 3.03
Depression 78 6.27 3.41
Toronto Alexithymia
Scale-20 subscales:
Difficulty Identifying 78 13.69 5.37
Difficulty Describing 80 13.48 3.43
Externally Oriented 80 27.06 2.79
participants reported experiences of psychological maltreatment by
someone close before the age of 18. These participants include all six
participants who acknowledged having been emotionally abused. A
similar pattern emerged for sexual and physical abuse reporting. On the
CAT scale, 18 individuals endorsed at least one item on the sexual
abuse subscale, such as “Did you have traumatic sexual experiences as a
child?” or “Did your relationship with either of your parents ever in-
volve a sexual experience?” as compared to only two people who en-
dorsed the general question regarding sexual abuse. Similarly, on the
CMIS, eight individuals endorsed the questions, “Before you were age
17, did anyone ever touch your body in a sexual way, or make you touch
their sexual parts? Did this happen with a family member?” One replied
that this had happened with a parent; two replied that it had happened
with a stepparent, three replied that it had happened with a sibling, and
two replied that it had happened with another family member. Seven-
teen people responded “yes” to the question on the CMIS, “Before you
were 17, did one of your parents or stepparents ever have problems with
drugs or alcohol?” Regarding physical maltreatment, seven participants
endorsed the CAT item, “Did your parents ever beat or hit you when
you did not expect it?” and 18 endorsed the item, “As a child, did you
feel that your home was charged with the possibility of unpredictable
physical violence?”
Several categorization systems were considered to describe individu-
als as emotionally abused, and participants identified as abused vary un-
der the criteria of each system. Table 2 compares the criteria for each
categorization system and the participants each system identifies. Cut-
off points were selected to reflect scores well above the mean scores for
each measure. The first system (A) involves the Emotional Abuse
subscale of the Child Abuse Trauma Scale (Kent & Waller, 1998). If
participants are categorized as emotionally abused using the criterion of
a subscale average of 1.5 or above, 16 students fall into this category. If
the same criterion are applied with Sanders and Becker-Lausen’s
(1995) Negative Home Environment/Neglect subscale, comprised of 14
items, 11 participants fall into the abused category (system B). If partic-
ipants with an average score of 1.5 or above on either subscale are con-
sidered to have been emotionally abused, the category includes 19
people (system C). Shifting instruments, if those participants with a
score of 18 or more on the CMIS Psychological Abuse subscale are re-
garded as emotionally abused, the resulting category contains 24 partic-
ipants (system D). Suppose participants need to score both an 18 or
higher on the CMIS Psychological Abuse subscale and have at least a
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 109
1.5 average on either the Emotional Abuse subscale or Negative Home
Environment/Neglect subscale of the CAT scale to be categorized as
emotionally abused (system E). Only seven participants would meet
these criteria. If, however, participants need either a score of 18 or
higher on the CMIS subscale or an average score of 1.5 or more on one
of the CAT subscales, the resulting category includes 28 people (system
F). Ten participants are categorized as emotionally abused in only one
of the systems described above; 2 are categorized abused under two sys-
tems; 11 under three systems; 4 under four systems; and only 2 partici-
pants fall into the “abused” category using all five of the systems above.
Figure 1 shows the position of the six “acknowledging” individuals
on a 2-dimensional scatterplot of their CMIS Psychological Abuse
subscale scores and their maximum CAT subscale scores. The figure
demonstrates that although there appears to be some relation between
abuse severity and abuse perception, this relation seems complex. Many
of those with substantial maltreatment experiences did not consider
themselves “abused.” The figure also depicts differences between our
preferred categorization system, System F, and individuals’ own emo-
tional abuse perceptions. We provide the following example to illustrate
some of the difficulties in categorizing participants as emotionally
abused or non-abused. Participant 57, an “acknowledger,” responded
affirmatively to the abuse perception questions for physical abuse, sex-
ual abuse, and emotional abuse, and the trauma measures indicated a
family member was the perpetrator of sexual abuse. Was this individual
emotionally abused? Attempts to categorize this participant’s experi-
ences recall our earlier question: could sexual abuse occur without emo-
tional abuse? Though our preferred categorization system, system F,
includes this individual in the “abused” group, this participant does not
meet criteria for emotional abuse using systems A or E. This case illus-
trates some of the complexities inherent in studying abuse subtypes sep-
arately and in categorizing abuse experiences.
Emotional Abuse and Alexithymia
Participants’ scores on the Identifying Feelings and Describing Feel-
ings subscales of the TAS-20 revealed a significant zero-order correla-
tion (r= .63, p= .001). This result reflects the normative relation
between the two factors of .65 (Bagby, Parker, & Taylor, 1994). The
Identifying Feelings subscale was not related to the Externally Oriented
Thinking subscale (r= .16, p> .05) but the Describing Feelings and Ex-
ternally Oriented Thinking subscales were significantly correlated (r=
.36, p< .01). Bagby et al.’s (1994) factor analysis identified similar cor-
relations of .10 between the Identifying Feelings and Externally Ori-
ented Thinking subscales and .36 between the Describing Feelings and
Externally Oriented Thinking subscales. The Emotional Abuse
subscale of the CAT scale, as proposed by Kent and Waller (1998), was
strongly correlated with the Identifying subscale of the TAS-20 (r= .56,
p< .001). This correlation remained even when controlling for depres-
sion, anxiety, dissociation, and lifetime traumatic events (r= .34, p<
.01). In order to isolate that portion of the variance explained by nega-
tive family environments, the BBTS was used to control for the effects
traumatic events other than abuse may have on psychological function-
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 111
TABLE 2. Abuse Categories and Self-Identification by Participant Number
Categorization or Identification System Participant Number
System A: Participants with a CAT
Emotional Abuse Subscale
Average > 1.5
3, 15, 17, 21, 25, 33, 37, 39, 41, 42, 54, 56, 68,
69, 70, 72
= 16
System B: Participants with a CAT
Negative Home Environment Subscale
Average > 1.5
3, 15, 18, 21, 30, 56, 57, 65, 68, 69, 70
= 11
System C: Participants with a maxi-
mum CAT subscale score (Emotional
Abuse OR Negative Home
Environment) > 1.5
3, 15, 17, 18, 21, 25, 30, 33, 37, 39, 41, 42, 54,
56, 57, 68, 69, 70, 72
= 19
System D: Participants with a CMIS
Abuse score > 18
3, 12, 15, 16, 21, 25, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 42, 43,
50, 53, 54, 56, 64, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 74
= 24
System E: Participants with BOTH a
CMIS Psychological Abuse score of
18 AND a maximum CAT subscale
score of > 1.5
3, 15, 21, 25, 37, 69, 70
= 7
System F: Participants with EITHER a
CMIS Psychological Abuse score of
18 OR a maximum CAT subscale
score of > 1.5
3, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 30, 33, 35, 37, 39,
41, 42, 43, 50, 53, 54, 56, 57, 64, 68, 69, 70, 71,
72, 74
= 28
Participants who responded “yes” to the
question, “Would you say you were
emotionally or psychologically abused
as a child (before age 17)?”
3, 17, 21, 54, 57, 68
= 6
Participants who responded affirma-
tively to having been psychologically
mistreated before age 18 on the
Freyd-Goldberg questionnaire
3, 4, 15, 17, 18, 20, 35, 41, 42, 43, 47, 54, 57,
64, 68, 69, 72, 78
= 18
ing. The Negative Environment subscale of the CAT scale and CAT
scale average scores were also highly correlated with the Identifying
subscale (r= .53, p< .001, and r= .55, p< .001, respectively). When
controlling for depression, anxiety, dissociation, and lifetime trauma,
the Negative Environment subscale and CAT scale average also re-
tained a significant relationship to the Identifying Feelings subscale of
the TAS-20 (r= .36, p< .01, and r= .32, p< .05, respectively).
Using the same partial correlation analysis, emotional abuse as mea-
sured by the CAT scale was not significantly related to the Describing
Feelings subscale of the TAS-20 (r= .09, p= .51) or the Externally Ori-
ented Thinking subscale (r=.03, p= .81). None of the CAT scale
scores were significantly related to the Describing or Externally Ori-
CMIS Score
Maximum CAT Subscale Average
00.5 11.5 22.5 33.5
categorized not abused
categorized abused
self-identified as abused
FIGURE 1. Scatterplot of participants’ CMIS Psychological Abuse scores and
maximum CAT subscale average from either the Negative Home Environ-
ment/Neglect subscale or Emotional Abuse subscale. Participants’ abuse cat-
egories are shown using system F.
ented Thinking subscales except for the Punishment subscale, which
correlated with the Externally Oriented thinking subscale (r= .32, p<
.05). Running these analyses after substituting item mean scores for
missing values revealed no significant changes. Table 3 provides a cor-
relation matrix for partial correlations between the three subscales of
the TAS-20 and the CMIS and CAT subscales, controlling for anxiety,
depression, and dissociation using the TSC-40 and for lifetime trauma
using the BBTS.
The current results support the hypothesis that individuals’ experi-
ences with emotional abuse and neglect are related to current levels of
emotional awareness, especially identifying feelings. These results
echo theoretical models and research showing that accommodations to
abuse, such as dissociation and self-blame, are often generalized and
persistent (e.g., Briere, 1992; DePrince & Freyd, 1999), and further
show that emotional awareness is specifically linked to emotional abuse
and neglect. However, it is important to note that using different scales
to measure childhood emotional abuse changes the strength of this cor-
relation. Strikingly few participants who indicated having had emo-
tional abuse experiences acknowledged having been abused. Indeed,
the numbers of “acknowledgers” were so low that it was not possible to
ascertain correlations between individuals’ labeling abusive experi-
ences as abuse, abuse severity, mental health and emotional awareness.
The data set from Goldberg and Freyd (2004), however, also reveals a
significant correlation between emotional abuse as measured on the
BBTS and the Difficulty Identifying Feelings subscale of the TAS-20,
and is comprised of 733 community participants. These results do not
replicate previously established relations among trauma and substance
use or trauma and gender. The small sample size may influence these
null results. With regard to substance use, it is possible that the some-
what normative use of drugs and alcohol in college populations may ob-
scure relations among substance use and trauma.
Methodological Considerations
The order of the measures may influence participants’ responses. Be-
cause considering specific experiences might influence people’s abuse
perceptions, the measures querying abusive experiences occur several
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 113
pages after the abuse perception questions. The decision to assess abuse
perception before querying abuse behaviors differed from that of Varia
and Abidin (1999), who had participants complete abuse perception
questions immediately following each abuse measure. Similarly, this
study positioned the TAS-20 before measures assessing feelings and
symptoms, since presentation of these words could influence partici-
pants’ thoughts regarding how much and in what ways they think about
feelings. Finally, symptom measures were presented before abuse mea-
sures, since thinking about abuse could alter symptom endorsement.
The language researchers and clinicians choose in questioning par-
ticipants about abuse experiences doubtless influences responses, espe-
cially since the mechanisms we investigate involve the ways abuse
survivors use language to express their emotions and experiences.
TABLE 3. Partial Correlation Matrix for TAS-20 Subscales and Abuse Mea-
TAS-20 Subscales
Difficulty Identifying Difficulty Describing Externally
Feelings Feelings Oriented
Difficulty Identifying .55** .06
Difficulty Describing .
Feelings .37**
Psychological Abuse .19 .03 .18
Subscale of the CMIS
Child Abuse Trauma .32* .25 .13
Scale Average Score
Child Abuse Trauma
Scale subscales:
Emotional Abuse .34** .09 .03
Negative Home .36** .21 .03
Sexual Abuse .27 .22 .20
Punishment .02 .18 .32*
< .05. **
< .01.
These partial correlation coefficients control for anxiety, depression, and dissociation
using the Trauma Symptom Checklist-40, and lifetime traumatic events using the BBTS.
Though the abuse perception questions and a question about psycholog-
ical mistreatment appeared in different positions in our questionnaire, it
is striking that 18 participants endorsed having been “psychologically
mistreated” before age 18 by a close other, while only six considered
themselves to have been “emotionally abused.”
Important limitations of this study include its correlational method,
relatively small sample size, and reliance on retrospective self-reports.
Factors such as memory accuracy, infantile amnesia, unawareness, and
mood all may influence self-reported maltreatment (Hardt & Rutter,
2004). Hardt and Rutter review psychological literature regarding abuse
reporting published between 1980 and 2001. They determine that the
evidence indicates that when study participants retrospectively report
abuse or neglect to have occurred, these positive reports are most often
correct. Hardt and Rutter note the ubiquitous finding that even with sub-
stantiated severe abuse and neglect, approximately one-third of individ-
uals deny abuse occurrences when specifically queried as adults. Their
analysis reveals that false negatives and measurement error constitute
the greatest threats to the validity of retrospective reports. For example,
Fergusson, Horwood, and Woodward (2000) examined the stability of
physical and sexual abuse reporting among a birth cohort of 1265 indi-
viduals at ages 18 and 21. At both time points, the rate of false negative
reports was approximately 50%; the authors also noted an absence of
false positive responses. Reporting was not related to measures of psy-
chiatric adjustment.
Limitations of the study include the sample’s limited age range and
ethnocultural homogeneity. It is certainly possible that abuse awareness
could have different psychosocial correlates depending on individuals’
ages and ethnocultural environments.
Cognitive and Clinical Implications
This study demonstrates that survivors of childhood emotional abuse
experience depression, anxiety, dissociation, and difficulty identifying
their feelings without perceiving themselves to have been abused. The
study also replicates Dill et al.’s (1991) finding that specific questions
regarding abuse yield more reports of abuse than more general ques-
tions. Clients in all diagnostic categories may have experienced abuse.
For instance, several researchers have noted the role of abuse histories
in clients with psychosis (Briere, Woo, McRae, Foltz, & Sitzman, 1997;
Read, Perry, Moskowitz, & Connolly, 2001; Ross, Anderson, & Clark,
1994). The profound relationship between emotional abuse and affec-
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 115
tive experience indicates clinicians should assess family abuse when
evaluating psychiatric disorders. Mental health centers should incorpo-
rate policies and training procedures regarding when and how to take
clients’ trauma histories (Briere, 1999; Young et al., 2001) and how to
respond to disclosures (Agar & Read, 2002; Read & Fraser, 1998b).
These should include clients’ possible emotional abuse experiences.
The study results also support conceptualizations of stress and trauma
that differ somewhat from those in the current DSM. Though psychologi-
cal difficulties such as depression and anxiety can occur in the absence of
abuse, the interrelations among childhood abuse, dissociation, depres-
sion, and anxiety suggest that when individuals have experienced abuse,
such symptoms are better understood as trauma responses than distinct
pathologies. Survivors’ deficits in emotional awareness indicate that psy-
chologists should be mindful of the range of emotions that may occur fol-
lowing interpersonal trauma. The DSM depiction of trauma emphasizes
fear and anxiety, and pays less attention to other important post-traumatic
responses such as dissociation and feelings of betrayal (Brett, 1996;
DePrince, 2001). Shame and guilt are also important emotional responses
to interpersonal trauma (e.g., Lee, Scragg, and Turner, 2001). The nature
of chronic childhood abuse and survivors’ affective experiences suggests
that this type of trauma is better depicted by the model of Complex PTSD
introduced by Herman (1992) than by the PTSD diagnosis in the
DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), which emphasizes
single incident traumas. DSM diagnoses should be expanded to include
the effects of chronic trauma, including emotional abuse and neglect, on
systems of self-regulation and emotional awareness.
Therapists’ understanding of emotional abuse survivors’ difficulties
identifying feelings should contribute to treatment planning. Several
modalities of psychotherapy emphasize the development of self-ther-
apy skills that facilitate emotional awareness and regulation. These in-
clude Briere’s (1996) self-trauma model, Cognitive Behavior Therapy
(e.g., Beck, 1995) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan, 1993).
Psychoanalytic perspectives have also emphasized the importance of
awareness for childhood trauma (e.g., Miller, 1983). Follette, Ruzek,
and Abueg (1998) describe a contextual-ecological approach that con-
siders symptoms and problems in the context of the past and present en-
vironments in which they were developed and are maintained. Impaired
emotional awareness and inaccurate cognitions regarding oneself and
the world may have been strategies to cope with abuse. Individuals may
have inhibited awareness for information that could have threatened at-
tachment relationships or elicited retribution from abusers. Understand-
ing the processes through which they developed strategies that were
initially adaptive and later maladaptive may lessen the self-blame abuse
survivors may experience regarding their psychosocial symptoms. Ver-
bal disclosure of traumatic events produces both physical and mental
health improvements (e.g., Pennebaker, 1997). Schore (2001) articu-
lates that forming a coherent trauma narrative may help to repair some
of the damage in the brain’s orbitofrontal regions that is caused by abuse
and neglect. Psychotherapy with abuse survivors that addresses emo-
tional awareness can lessen the possibility of intergenerational trans-
mission. For instance, Egeland (1988) notes that distinguishing factors
of mothers who broke cycles of abuse included therapeutic interven-
tions that brought about increased emotional maturity.
Clinicians should also be sensitive to the costs and benefits of abuse
awareness. Identifying abuse could assuage depression in survivors
through a reversal of the reasoning hypothesized in Briere’s (1992)
abuse dichotomy. If individuals no longer identify their own badness as
the source of parental maltreatment, they may develop healthier
self-perceptions. However, long-term learning processes and guilt may
constitute obstacles to abuse recovery. The nature of emotional abuse as
an inescapable environmental constant implicates repeated condition-
ing that one is bad. Feelings accompanying this conditioning may be in-
ternalized and remain despite an intellectual understanding that one’s
own badness did not produce the abusive treatment. Identifying treat-
ment as abusive may provoke feelings of guilt from questioning one’s
family environment, and can result in isolation and blame that exacer-
bate trauma (Root, 1992). However, when individuals acknowledge
abuse, they may be less likely to blame themselves, consciously or un-
consciously, for the treatments they endured. Therapeutic relationships
that provide safety and validation for a range of emotional experiences
contrast with clients’ experiences of abuse and neglect, and can facili-
tate emotional awareness.
Over the last several decades, there has been substantial progress in
defining emotional abuse and describing its forms. Measurements of
emotional abuse such as the ones used in this study constitute important
steps in operationalizing these definitions. Perhaps psychologists’ next
focus should be developing a consensus on the definition of emotional
abuse as defined by the maltreatment inventories currently available.
Rachel E. Goldsmith and Jennifer J. Freyd 117
One area of future focus may be the way psychologists investigate re-
lationships between childhood maltreatment and alexithymia. Kench
and Irwin (2000) found that the Difficulty Identifying Feelings subscale
of the TAS-20 was significantly related to individuals’ family environ-
ments, but that the other two subscales were not as clearly linked. The
present study echoes these findings, and demonstrates that the relation
between emotional abuse and difficulty identifying feelings persists
even when controlling for other trauma sequelae. This investigation
also underscores the importance of multiple measurements: for exam-
ple, there was a significant relation between alexithymia and emotional
abuse using the CAT scale, but not as reported via the CMIS. The CAT
scale, with its emphasis on subjective experience, may more closely tap
those abuse elements related to individuals’ alexithymia.
Though consciousness of abuse experience is a complex personal
process for survivors, sustained public and professional consciousness
of abuse has much to offer. As psychologists consider the prevalence
and impact of child abuse, it is helpful to remember Hart and Brassard’s
(1987) statement that “a positive ideology of children as human beings
in their own right has not yet been established” (p. 162). Working to es-
tablish such an ideology will reduce abuse prevalence and its impact,
and ameliorate lifetime psychological functioning.
This research was supported in part by the University of Oregon Development &
Psychopathology Training Grant (NIMH # 5 T32 MH20012-04) and by the University
of Oregon Foundation Fund for Research on Trauma and Oppression.
The authors thank M. Rose Barlow, Kathryn Becker Blease, Laura Brown, Anne
DePrince, Melanie Langlois, Anne Mannering, John Read, Jessica Smith, and Eileen
Zurbriggen for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
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... Emotional abuse is usually perpetrated by a parent or guardian, so the abuse relates precisely to the parent-child relationship (Buser & Buser, 2013). As a likely attachment figure the child is placed in a situation where they must develop cognitive strategies to accommodate their environment such as dissociation or denial (Goldsmith & Freyd, 2005). These strategies allow the child to continue living in a psychologically abusive environment with some insulation from the verbal and personal attacks. ...
... These strategies allow the child to continue living in a psychologically abusive environment with some insulation from the verbal and personal attacks. For other children, their method of accommodation may be to internalize the abuse; believing the attacks are warranted and deserved as this choice is preferable to admitting the caregiver is truly that cruel (Goldsmith & Freyd, 2005). Further strategies may erase the memories altogether. ...
... Further strategies may erase the memories altogether. In these situations, the child will not recognize, admit, or report any emotional abuse as they don't have historical recollection of the experience (Goldsmith & Freyd, 2005). ...
... The current study focused exclusively on IPPA, defined as behaviors intended to cause emotional and/or psychological harm, including verbal (e.g., insults) or non-verbal behaviors (e.g., destroying possessions) to belittle, coerce, isolate, or control the partner (Shorey et al., 2012). The lack of research focusing solely on psychological aggression could suggest a systemic problem of minimizing or normalizing IPPA as a form of abuse (Goldsmith &Freyd, 2005;Hannem et al., 2015). This could explain why victims of nonphysical aggression are less likely to consider themselves as having experienced abuse (Goldsmith &Freyd, 2005). ...
... The lack of research focusing solely on psychological aggression could suggest a systemic problem of minimizing or normalizing IPPA as a form of abuse (Goldsmith &Freyd, 2005;Hannem et al., 2015). This could explain why victims of nonphysical aggression are less likely to consider themselves as having experienced abuse (Goldsmith &Freyd, 2005). In Canada, physical and sexual violence are considered crimes, while most forms of psychological aggression, other than threats of harm and criminal harassment (e.g., stalking), are not formally recognized as such (Government of Canada, 2019). ...
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The attachment theory has commonly been used to examine intimate partner psychological aggression (IPPA), but few studies have examined its association with self-reported justifications for one's own use of IPPA. Behaviors, including the use of IPPA, are influenced, maintained, and function within the context of their justifications, highlighting the importance of investigating these justifications to obtain a clearer picture of IPPA. This study examined whether insecure romantic attachment (i.e., attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance) in both partners of a couple was associated with their justifications for their own use of IPPA. A community sample of 81 mixed-sex couples who reported using IPPA in the last year completed self-reported questionnaires on adult romantic attachment and their justifications for their use of IPPA. Results of a path analysis based on the actor-partner interdependence model revealed moderate positive associations between
... Victims' abuse incidents or abuse experiences cannot be included in the abuse history report. According to Dr. Rachel E's study, when 80 anonymous participants were asked if they had ever suffered abuse, the majority responded negatively, even though many of these participants were people who had experienced abuse [18]. ...
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... Sexual abuse is already associated with mood disorders and anxiety (Carr et al., 2013), and so our results do not deviate from those findings. Numerous authors indicate that emotional abuse underlies all forms of child maltreatment (according to Goldsmith & Freyd, 2005). Indeed, it is questionable whether childhood sexual or physical abuse can even take place in the family context in the absence of emotional abuse. ...
The aim behind this study was to first analyze the nature and the extent of childhood trauma and existing maladaptive outcomes (internalized and externalized problems, and dissociation) among adolescents in the foster system, and then analyze the possibility of using traumatic experiences to predict the aforementioned outcomes of childhood trauma. The sample consists of 121 respondents, children and youths in the care of child protective services, without adequate parental care, residing in temporary foster care families on the territory of Serbia, aged between 11 and 18. The respondents filled out the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire – CTQ (Bernstein & Fink, 2003), the Dissociative experience scale for adolescents, A-DES (Armstrong et al., 1997), and the Child behavior checklist – youth self-report (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001). The results of the analyses have indicated that physical and emotional neglect are the most frequent forms of maltreatment in early childhood, with a relatively high prevalence of the other individual forms of trauma. Early childhood trauma statistically significantly predicted all the analyzed maladaptive outcomes, explaining approximately 20% of the variance of internalized and externalized problems, and dissociation. Recommendations are given for future studies.
... Автори зазначають, що багато зі студентів, які зазнали емоційного насилля, не оцінюють жорстоке ставлення до себе в термінах насилля. У деяких із них було діагностовано високий рівень алекситимії, що могло стати на заваді при оцінюванні моральної шкоди [14]. ...
The article provides a theoretical overview of the main scientific approaches to the concept of "emotional violence", a comparison with similar concepts. Peculiarities of forms and manifestations of emotional violence in social networks are analyzed. The concept of cyberbullying and its modern types are considered. It has been established that difficulties in diagnosing and providing psychological assistance in emotional violence are associated with a distorted perception of modern formalized norms of social relations, which perceive and define threats, humiliation and insults as the norm of communication. To increase the effectiveness of combating cyberbullying requires a comprehensive solution: the inevitability of punishment for the crime, the definition of criteria for assessing the presence of signs of crime, which requires the formation of tools for assessing the consequences of harm. Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify and describe the definition of "psychological violence", to determine the psychological signs of emotional violence, to create tools to assess the harm done to the victim. An influential factor in combating cyberbullying is a collaborative approach: involving a wide range of professionals in the design and implementation of cyberbullying prevention programs, cyberbullying victim support programs, and zero tolerance programs for bullying, educating children and youth on media security and media literacy.
... Claussen and Crittenden (70) found that most children experiencing physical maltreatment experienced psychological maltreatment as well and that the latter was a better predictor for negative outcomes than the severity of physical injury. Emotional abuse however is more likely to go under-identified by the person affected by it (71) as well as by other people (70). In this light, it can be assumed that patients who reported physical abuse and neglect in the CTQ might also have experienced forms of emotional abuse and neglect, but may not have reported it in the questionnaire to the full extent. ...
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Theory of mind (ToM) is an aspect of social cognition impaired in different addictive disorders, including opioid addiction. This study aimed at replicating ToM deficits in opioid dependent patients undergoing opioid maintenance treatment (OMT) and exploring the influence of substance use related variables, executive functions and childhood maltreatment on ToM in opioid dependent patients. 66 opioid dependent patients were tested using the Movie for Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC) and compared with the data of healthy controls. Furthermore, the opioid dependent patients underwent testing for executive functions and filled in the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). Performance on the MASC was significantly poorer in the opioid dependence group than in the control group, even when recent additional drug use and psychiatric comorbidities were controlled for. No correlations were found between ToM and substance use related factors. Aspects of ToM performance in opioid dependent patients correlated significantly with different EF domains. ToM correlated significantly with the CTQ scales for physical maltreatment. The results confirm impaired ToM in opioid dependent patients and highlight executive functions and childhood maltreatment as influential factors. The lack of associations between ToM and substance use related variables and the association with childhood maltreatment suggest that ToM impairments might be a risk factor predating substance abuse.
... Therefore, early life emotional abuse is central to understanding child maltreatment's latent effects (Viola et al., 2016). Furthermore, childhood emotional abuse would result in a series of di culties identifying emotions and emotional awareness (Goldsmith & Freyd, 2005), which would increase the susceptibility of developing anxiety and depression. Further, the anxious and depressive state would contribute to the incidence of abnormal eating behavior (Levinson et al., 2017). ...
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Background: Early life stress induces long-lasting changes in adulthood, such as psychiatric and metabolism abnormality. The prevalence of childhood emotional abuse in clinical obese subjects remains unclear. Method: A set of questionnaires, including the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI) was sent out. Clinical data from 37 obese subjects (Age: 29.65±5.35, Body Mass Index (BMI): 37.59±6.34) and 37 healthy subjects with normal body weight (Age: 31.35±10.84, BMI: 22.16±3.69) came into the investigation. Multiple mediation analysis was performed with BMI as the outcome variable, childhood trauma as the predictive variable. Depression, anxiety, and bulimia as the mediating variables. Result: Obese group reported higher childhood emotional abuse (t=2.157, p=0.034), worse mood state (anxiety: t=5.466, p<0.001; depression: t=2.220, p=0.030), and increased bulimia (t=3.400, p=0.001), when compared to healthy group. Childhood emotional abuse was positively associated with BMI (β = 1.312, 95% CI = 0.482−2.141). Anxiety and bulimia showed multiple mediating roles in the relationship of childhood emotional abuse and obesity (indirect effect = 0.739, 95% CI = 0.261−1.608), accounting for 56.33% of the total effect. Conclusion: Childhood emotional abuse may contribute to adulthood obesity, potentially mediated by anxiety and bulimia.
The present chapter aims to address school bullying as a source of childhood trauma and recommends the use of emotional coaching as a regulatory strategy. The chapter will begin with an introduction to the concept, types, occurrence, and impact of school bullying. Next, the authors will outline the role of school bullying in pushing students to enter the school-to-prison pipeline and the challenges involved in identifying and supporting these students. The chapter will then explore the process of emotional coaching, the steps involved, the role of teachers, and the challenges they could face during this process. Finally, the chapter will end by providing practical strategies to incorporate emotional coaching in traditional and virtual classrooms as well as provide a sample template script for the same. The summary and key points section will briefly review the content and highlight the key takeaways for the readers to keep in mind.
Objective: The objective of the review is to understand how academic literature on domestic violence has described or defined subtle, non-physical abuse in intimate heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Introduction: Academic literature frequently refers to subtle or covert abuse in intimate relationships; however, this kind of abuse, while recognized by therapists who work with victims, has not yet been researched. Without understanding how clients experiencing subtle abuse present in therapy, therapists may misunderstand the cause of their distress and do more harm than good. This scoping review aims to understand how the current literature describes or defines subtle or covert abuse to inform future research to enable therapists to recognize subtle abuse in their clients. Inclusion criteria: Academic work that describes or defines subtle or covert abuse in intimate partner relationships based on primary research or discussion papers published in English will be considered for inclusion. Work will be excluded if it only describes physical or overt non-physical abuse. Methods: MeSH terms and keywords relating to domestic violence literature found in preliminary searches were used to design the initial search strategies. Search terms based on these were chosen in discussion with a librarian. The following databases will be searched: PsycINFO (EBSCO), MEDLINE Complete (EBSCO), CINAHL (EBSCO), PsycArticles (EBSCO), and Scopus. Searches will be conducted for studies published between 1950 and 2021.
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Araştırmanın amacı, bireylerin çocukluğundaki iş deneyimleri ile bugünkü benlik saygıları ve yaşam doyumları arasındaki ilişkide temel psikolojik ihtiyaçların aracı rolünü incelemektir. Çocukluk dönemindeki iş deneyimlerinin bireyler üzerindeki etkilerinin araştırılması sağlıklı toplum oluşturma hedefi açısından oldukça önemlidir. Bu amaç ve önem doğrultusunda araştırmada Geçmiş Çalışma Hayatını Değerlendirme Ölçeği, Çocukluk Çağı Ruhsal Travma Ölçeği, Temel Psikolojik İhtiyaçların Tatmini ve Engellenmesi Ölçeği, Yaşam Doyum Ölçeği ve Rosenberg Benlik Saygısı Ölçeği kullanılmıştır. Araştırma örneklemini 18-25 yaş arasındaki 1198 üniversite öğrencisi oluşturmaktadır. Araştırma bulgularına göre, çocukluk döneminde çalışmış olan bireylerin temel psikolojik ihtiyaçları, benlik saygıları ve yaşam doyumları, çalışma şartlarına ve iş özelliklerine göre farklılık göstermektedir. Çalışmada ayrıca, bireylerin çocukluk döneminde iş sebebiyle yaşadıkları okul ve aile sorunlarının bireylerin bugünkü benlik saygılarını ve yaşam doyumlarını temel psikolojik ihtiyaçlar aracılığıyla olumsuz etkilediği; işe yönelik olumlu duyguların ise bireylerin benlik saygılarını ve yaşam doyumlarını olumlu etkilediği tespit edilmiştir. Araştırmanın ana fikri, çocuk işçiliğinin bireyler üzerindeki psikolojik etkilerinin çalışmış olma durumuna göre değil çalışma şartlarına ve iş özelliklerine göre değişeceğidir. Bu bağlamda, iş deneyimi olan bireylerin, iş deneyimi olmayan bireylerle karşılaştırılması sonucunda anlamlı bir ilişki bulunmamıştır. Ancak çalışma şartları ve iş özellikleri dikkate alındığında olumlu iş deneyimi olan bireylerin, hiç çalışmamış olan bireyler göre temel psikolojik ihtiyaçları, benlik saygıları ve yaşam doyumları daha yüksek bulunurken; olumsuz iş deneyimi yaşamış olan bireylerin, iş deneyimi olmayan bireyler göre temel psikolojik ihtiyaçları, benlik saygıları ve yaşam doyumları daha düşük bulunmuştur. Anahtar Kelimeler: Çocuk İşçiliği, Temel Psikolojik İhtiyaçlar, Benlik Saygısı, Yaşam Doyumu, Duygusal İhmal, Öz-Belirleme Kuramı
Previous work has established a relationship between reports of childhood emotional maltreatment and cognitive vulnerability to depression, as well as an association between cognitive vulnerability and self-referent information-processing biases. Findings from this study of individuals at low (LR) and high (HR) cognitive risk for depression revealed a relationship between reports of childhood emotional maltreatment and current information processing biases. Specifically, individuals with greater childhood emotional maltreatment exhibited more negative self-referent information processing. Moreover, cognitive risk mediated the relationship between childhood emotional maltreatment and these information-processing biases. Testing an alternate model, information-processing biases also mediated the relationship between childhood emotional maltreatment and cognitive risk.
This important new volume provides a comprehensive account of the causes and consequences of child maltreatment from a developmental perspective. The chapters in the volume offer an historical and definitional context for future studies: What constitutes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse? What is child neglect and how has its definition changed over time? Why has the theory of the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment been overstated for so long? The heart of the volume lies in its careful description of well controlled research on the impact of maltreatment on the developmental process. Specific chapters address the effects of maltreatment on congitive, linguistic, social, and emotional development. Special attention is paid to age-specific deficits in social interaction, to parent-child interaction and attachment in the early years, and to peer relationships during later childhood and adolescence. The psychology of abusive and neglecting parents is also addressed. Who are the maltreating parents and how are they different from comparison parents? What are the conditions under which maltreatment recurs in subsequent generations? The volume concludes with a chapter on the processes at work in maltreatment can be applied to reducing the problem. Child Maltreatment will appeal to both researchers and clinicians in a range of disciplines including developmental and clinical psychology, psychiatry, social work, pediatrics, sociology, and law, as well as to policymakers and students in all of these areas.
Foreword - Lucy Berliner Preface - David Finkelhor Introduction PART ONE: INCIDENCE OF CHILD ABUSE Type and Forms of Child Maltreatment PART TWO: THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS OF CHILD ABUSE: INTEGRATION OF RESEARCH AND THEORY Long-Term Impacts of Child Abuse I Psychological Responses Long-Term Impacts of Child Abuse II Behaviors and Relationships PART THREE: EXPLORING THE SOLUTION: ABUSE-FOCUSED PSYCHOTHERAPY Philosophy of Treatment Parameters of Treatment I Process Issues Parameters of Treatment II Intervention Approaches Special Issues in Abuse-Focused Therapy Summary Appendix The Child Maltreatment Interview Schedule