Childhood emotional maltreatment and adult relationship functioning
Fontenot, Lauren Gay
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Adult outcomes of Childhood Emotional Maltreatment (CEM) continue to be understudied in comparison to outcomes of other forms of maltreatment (i.e., childhood physical abuse, childhood sexual abuse), despite research and theory consistently linking CEM with varied negative psychological and relational outcomes in adulthood (Hankin, 2005; Perry, DiLillo, & Peugh, 2007). Given its interpersonal nature, repetitive CEM experiences can be regarded as “chronic relational adversity,” (Yates, 2007), which predisposes individuals to negative interpersonal outcomes through ensuing cognitive and behavioral processes carried into adulthood and research examining the impact of CEM on romantic relationships has supported such notions (Perry et al., 2007). The present study examined the effect of early maladaptive schemas, insecure attachment and self-esteem as mediators of the relationship between CEM and current relationship functioning. Participants were 576, predominantly Caucasian, female undergraduate students who completed online surveys measuring the constructs of interest. Structural equation modeling analyses support a partial mediation model in which the relationship CEM evidences both a direct and indirect effect on reduced relationship functioning with the strongest association observed between the Disconnection/Rejection early maladaptive schema domain. Although preliminary, results suggest that CEM experiences impact women’s beliefs about themselves in the context of relationships with others, and such negative beliefs detrimentally impact their perception of current relationship functioning. While additional longitudinal examinations of these constructs within clinical samples are needed, results suggest implications for individualized therapeutic intervention through the use of schema therapy for women with interpersonal and romantic relationship difficulties following CEM experiences. Current findings contribute to efforts within the current literature focused on understanding and mitigating the cognitive sequelae of childhood emotional maltreatment experiences.