Childhood Attachment and Abuse: Long-Term Effects on Adult Attachment, Depression, and Conflict Resolution

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Oct;21(10):1015-23. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00062-8.


Objective: The primary aim was to determine the relative contributions of early attachment and abuse history to adult attachment, depression, and conflict resolution behaviors. Differences between abused and nonabused respondents were also assessed.

Method: A multi-scale questionnaire was completed by 879 college students. Hierarchical regression analyses were used to answer the primary research question, and analyses also compared the 26.4% of respondents who reported childhood abuse with those who did not.

Results: Respondents who indicated they had been abused as children reported less secure childhood and adult relationships than their nonabused counterparts. They were also more depressed and more likely to use destructive behaviors in conflict situations. Although both adult romantic attachment and respondents' depression scores were best accounted for by childhood attachment to mother and father rather than abuse history, the opposite pattern of results emerged for conflict resolution behaviors. In this case, abuse history was the stronger predictor, and parental attachment did not account for any significant additional variance.

Conclusions: Results suggest that the long-term impact of childhood abuse may be mediated by early attachment experiences, whereas the long-term impact of abuse on conflict resolution behaviors may be considerably more direct.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Family Health*
  • Father-Child Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Personality Development*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies