Shame and Alienation Related to Child Maltreatment: Links to Symptoms Across Generations

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Abstract

Objective: The current study investigated associations between appraisals of shame and alienation related to mothers’ own experiences of child maltreatment and symptoms across generations—in mothers themselves as well as their toddler/preschool-aged children. Method: Mothers who survived maltreatment (N = 113) with a child between the ages of 2 and 5 were recruited to participate in an online study on Maternal Coping, Attachment and Health. Mother participants completed a series of questionnaires, including those that asked about posttrauma appraisals of their own maltreatment experiences as well as their child’s and their own mental health symptoms. Results: When taking into account other posttrauma appraisals (e.g., fear, betrayal, anger, self-blame), maternal shame and alienation were both significantly associated with maternal trauma-related distress (a composite of anxiety, PTSD, dissociation, and depressive symptoms). Maternal shame was also significantly linked to child internalizing symptoms and externalizing symptoms. Lower levels of fear and higher levels of betrayal were associated with externalizing symptoms as well. Maternal trauma-related distress mediated the relationship between maternal shame and child externalizing symptoms, and partially mediated the relationship between shame and internalizing symptoms. Conclusion: This study is the first of its kind to examine the role of posttrauma appraisals among mother survivors of maltreatment as they relate to symptoms in their young children. Although additional research is necessary, findings suggest that mothers’ posttrauma appraisals, such as shame, could be a relevant factor in the early social-emotional development of survivors’ children.

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