Childhood abuse affects emotional closeness with family in mid- and later life

J. Tina Savla, Karen A. Roberto, Ana L. Jaramillo-Sierra, Laura Eubanks Gambrel, Hassan Karimi, L. Michelle Butner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

Knowledge about the effects of early life adversity on kin relationships in later years is sparse. The purpose of this study was to examine if childhood abuse and adversity negatively influences emotional closeness with family in mid- and later life. A second goal was to determine the role of psychosocial resources and personality traits in buffering the effects of early adversities. Gender and cohort differences were explored to see if men were differentially affected than women and whether middle-aged adults (35-49 years old) were differentially affected than older adults (50-74 years old) by the effects of childhood abuse and adversity. Methods: Using retrospective accounts of early family abuse and adversities of 1,266 middle aged adults and 1,219 older adults from a large population-based survey, the National Survey of Midlife Development in United States (MIDUS), separate multiple regression analyses were conducted for the two cohorts to examine the effects of childhood emotional and physical abuse and family adversities on perceived emotional closeness with family. Interaction effects between childhood abuse and adversity (e.g., being expelled from school, death of sibling, parental divorce, losing a home to a natural disaster) with psychosocial resources (perceived control and self acceptance), personality characteristics (extraversion and neuroticism), and gender were examined. Results: Results of OLS regressions suggest emotional and physical abuse predicted family closeness in middle-aged adults. Conversely, only emotional abuse predicted family closeness in older adults. Moderation models revealed that high levels of self acceptance were associated with better maintenance of emotional closeness among middle-aged adults who were emotionally and physically abused as children. Older adults with lower extraversion who experienced emotional abuse or reported greater number of adversities in childhood were found to be at higher risk for lower emotional closeness with family. Early life adversities were more detrimental for women. Conclusions: Findings suggest that the aftermath of childhood abuse does not dissipate with time, but continues to influence family relationships in mid- and later life. Identifying the links between childhood adversities and adult relationships can help identify strategic points for intervention to reduce the long-term effects of accumulated adverse experiences over the life course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)388-399
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume37
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013

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Keywords

  • Acceptance
  • Cohort
  • Emotional closeness
  • Family abuse
  • Personal control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this

Savla, J. T., Roberto, K. A., Jaramillo-Sierra, A. L., Gambrel, L. E., Karimi, H., & Butner, L. M. (2013). Childhood abuse affects emotional closeness with family in mid- and later life. Child Abuse and Neglect, 37(6), 388-399. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2012.12.009