From Emotional Abuse in Childhood to Psychopathology in Adulthood: A Path Mediated by Immature Defense Mechanisms and Self-Esteem

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The present study examined the course traveled from childhood emotional abuse to adulthood psychopathology. One hundred ninety-six undergraduate students age 20 to 45 (M = 27; SD = 8.17), answered self-report questionnaires assessing emotional abuse in childhood (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire), parental attitudes (Parental Bonding Instrument), psychopathological symptomatology (Brief Symptom Inventory), self-esteem (Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale), and defense mechanism organization (Defense Style Questionnaire). Results indicated that reported psychopathological symptomatology highly exceeded the Israeli norm. Structure Equation Modeling provided a statistically significant explanation (52%) of the target variable of psychopathological symptomatology. According to the path model, emotional abuse in childhood and perceptions of controlling and noncaring parents had an indirect effect on the psychopathology. This was mediated by immature defenses and low self-esteem. We conclude that the manifest psychopathology among adults who suffered emotional abuse in childhood is produced by the detrimental effect of abuse on personality, and takes the form of immature defense organization and damaged self-representation.

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