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Separation from parents during childhood trauma predicts adult attachment security and post-traumatic stress disorder

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 May 2017

R. A. Bryant*
Affiliation:
School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
M. Creamer
Affiliation:
Phoenix Institute, University of Melbourne, 161 Barry Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia
M. O'Donnell
Affiliation:
Phoenix Institute, University of Melbourne, 161 Barry Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia
D. Forbes
Affiliation:
Phoenix Institute, University of Melbourne, 161 Barry Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia
K. L. Felmingham
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS 7000, Australia
D. Silove
Affiliation:
School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
G. Malhi
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Sydney, St Leonards, NSW 2065, Australia
M. van Hoof
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia
A. C. McFarlane
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia
A. Nickerson
Affiliation:
School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
*
*Address for correspondence: R. Bryant, Ph.D., School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia. (Email. r.bryant@unsw.edu.au)

Abstract

Background

Prolonged separation from parental support is a risk factor for psychopathology. This study assessed the impact of brief separation from parents during childhood trauma on adult attachment tendencies and post-traumatic stress.

Method

Children (n = 806) exposed to a major Australian bushfire disaster in 1983 and matched controls (n = 725) were assessed in the aftermath of the fires (mean age 7–8 years) via parent reports of trauma exposure and separation from parents during the fires. Participants (n = 500) were subsequently assessed 28 years after initial assessment on the Experiences in Close Relationships scale to assess attachment security, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was assessed using the PTSD checklist.

Results

Being separated from parents was significantly related to having an avoidant attachment style as an adult (B = −3.69, s.e. = 1.48, β = −0.23, p = 0.013). Avoidant attachment was associated with re-experiencing (B = 0.03, s.e. = 0.01, β = 0.31, p = 0.045), avoidance (B = 0.03, s.e. = 0.01, β = 0.30, p = 0.001) and numbing (B = 0.03, s.e. = 0.01, β = 0.30, p < 0.001) symptoms. Anxious attachment was associated with re-experiencing (B = 0.03, s.e. = 0.01, β = 0.18, p = 0.001), numbing (B = 0.03, β = 0.30, s.e. = 0.01, p < 0.001) and arousal (B = 0.04, s.e. = 0.01, β = 0.43, p < 0.001) symptoms.

Conclusions

These findings demonstrate that brief separation from attachments during childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects on one's attachment security, and that this can be associated with adult post-traumatic psychopathology.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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