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Buffering effects of safe, supportive, and nurturing relationships among women with childhood histories of maltreatment

  • S. R Jaffee (a1), R. Takizawa (a2) (a3) (a4) and L. Arseneault (a4)



Adults who were victims of childhood maltreatment tend to have poorer health compared with adults who did not experience abuse. However, many are in good health. We tested whether safe, supportive, and nurturing relationships buffer women with a history of childhood maltreatment from poor health outcomes in later life.


Participants included women from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study who were involved in an intimate relationship at some point by the time their twin children were 10 years old. Women were initially interviewed in 1999–2000 (mean age = 33 years) and 2, 5, and 7 years later. They reported on their physical and mental health, and their health-risk behaviours.


Compared with women who did not experience abuse in childhood, women with histories of maltreatment were at elevated risk for mental, physical, and health-risk behaviours, including major depressive disorder, sleep, and substance use problems. Cumulatively, safe, supportive, and nurturing relationships characterized by a lack of violence, emotional intimacy, and social support buffered women with a history of maltreatment from poor health outcomes.


Our findings emphasize that negative social determinants of health – such as a childhood history of maltreatment – confer risk for psychopathology and other physical health problems. If, however, a woman's current social circumstances are sufficiently positive, they can promote good health, particularly in the face of past adversity.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: L. Arseneault, Ph.D., Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, Box Number P080, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:


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