The disturbed caregiving system: Relations among childhood trauma, maternal caregiving, and infant affect and attachment

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Abstract

The interrelations among maternal childhood experiences of physical or sexual abuse, adult trauma-related symptoms, adult caregiving behavior, and infant affect and attachment were investigated among 45 low-income mothers and their 18-month-old infants. A history of physical abuse was associated with increased hostile-intrusive behavior toward the infant, increased infant negative affect, and a decreased tendency to report trauma-related symptoms. A history of sexual abuse was associated with decreased involvement with the infant, more restricted maternal affect, and more active reporting of trauma-related symptoms. Infants of mothers who had experienced childhood violence or abuse were not more likely to display insecure attachment strategies than infants of mothers who had not experienced trauma. However, the form of insecure behavior was significantly different. Insecure infants of violence-exposed mothers displayed predominantly disorganized strategies, whereas insecure infants of mothers with benign childhoods or neglect only displayed predominantly avoidant strategies. Results are discussed in relation to Main and Hesse's (1990) concept of frightened or frightening behavior and to current literature on psychological sequelae of trauma.

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