Pathways from childhood sexual abuse to trait anxiety

Child Abuse Negl. 2019 Nov;97:104148. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104148. Epub 2019 Aug 29.


Background: Children exposed to sexual abuse are at risk for developing several psychological and behavioral difficulties during adulthood. Here, direct and indirect effects of family conflict, insecurity within the family system (manifested as disengagement and/or preoccupation), and negative feelings provoked by childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on trait anxiety scores were analyzed with structural equation modeling. Both Finkelhor and Browne's traumagenic dynamics model and Davies and Cummings Emotional Security Theory were applied.

Methods: A total of 168 female college student survivors of CSA participated in this study. Information regarding each participant's abuse was obtained from a self-reported questionnaires. Emotional security was assessed with the Security in the Family System scale. To assess negative feelings regarding abuse and trait anxiety, Children's Impact of Traumatic Events Scale-Revised and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory were applied, respectively.

Results: Level of family conflict was found to directly relate to emotional insecurity and trait anxiety. In addition, preoccupation strategies were found to be directly related to trait anxiety. Conversely, disengagement strategies were indirectly related to anxiety through the negative feelings provoked by abuse. Experience with other types of abuse and/or neglect was also related to emotional insecurity and feelings provoked by CSA. Meanwhile, continuity of abuse only correlated with feelings provoked by abuse.

Conclusions: Strong relationships between family conflict, emotional insecurity, negative feelings provoked by CSA and trait anxiety were observed. These results suggest that treatment of CSA survivors should focus on improving security within the survivors' family system and reducing negative feelings provoked by abuse.

Keywords: Child sexual abuse; Emotional security; Family; Trait anxiety; Traumagenic dynamics.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Emotions
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Personality Inventory
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires