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Keywords:

  • childhood abuse;
  • adulthood abuse;
  • bulimic women;
  • nonbulimic women;
  • psychological correlates

Abstract

Objective

We evaluated associations between childhood physical and sexual abuse in bulimic women and eating disturbances, psychiatric symptoms, and likelihood of later abuse in adulthood.

Method

Fifty-one bulimics and 25 normal eaters participated in this study. Semistructured interviews and self-report measures were used to assess eating symptoms, comorbid psychiatric disturbances, personality pathology, and childhood and adulthood abuse.

Results

Compared with the normal eaters, bulimic women reported higher levels of childhood abuse. Although bulimic women showed more psychopathology than nonbulimic women, there was a correspondence between the presence and severity of abuse and the severity of concurrent psychopathologic symptoms. Results linked dissociation and submissiveness to most severe forms of abuse. Abuse in adulthood was almost always preceded by earlier abuse during childhood.

Discussion

Our findings suggest an association between certain psychopathologic traits and the likelihood of abuse (especially when occurring both in childhood and adulthood). Observed associations could implicate causal effects of childhood abuse on personality development, influences of personality traits in heightening the risk of abuse, or both. © 2003 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 33: 397–405, 2003.