This report explores the ways in which personality traits of the child may contribute to disturbances in caretaker-infant interaction and lead to abuse and neglect. Forty-eight abused and/or neglected infants were observed in a structured laboratory setting. Compared with normal infants observed in the same setting, the abused/neglected infants showed a variety of distorted affective communications which interfered with mutual engagement and/or elicited negative responses in caretakers. The distortions are described under six different headings: affective withdrawal, lack of pleasure, inconsistency and unpredictability, shallowness, ambivalence/ambiguity, and negative affective communications. Clinical vignettes are presented, and the implications for therapeutic work with caretakers are discussed.