Intergenerational associations between trauma and dissociation.
Dissociation in middle childhood among foster children with early maltreatment experiences.
Trauma Articles, Chapters, & Commentaries – Articles and commentaries on this site are all authored or co-authored by Jennifer J. Freyd.
Becker-Blease, K.A., DePrince, A.P., & Freyd, J.J. (2011). Why and how people forget sexual abuse. The Role of Traumatic Memories In V. Ardino (Ed.),Posttraumatic Syndromes in Children and Adolescents. (pp 135-155) West Sussex, UK: Wiley/Blackwell.
Hulette, A.C., Kaehler, L.A., & Freyd, J.J. (2011). Intergenerational associations between trauma and dissociation. Journal of Family Violence, 26, 217-225.
Abstract. The purpose of this study was to investigate intergenerational relationships between trauma and dissociation. Short and long term consequences of betrayal trauma (i.e., trauma perpetrated by someone with whom the victim is very close) on dissociation were examined in a sample of 67 mother-child dyads using group comparison and regression strategies. Experiences of high betrayal trauma were found to be related to higher levels of dissociation in both children and mothers.
Furthermore, mothers who experienced high betrayal trauma in childhood and were subsequently interpersonally revictimized in adulthood were shown to have higher levels of dissociation than non-revictimized mothers. Maternal revictimization status was associated with child interpersonal trauma history. These results suggest that dissociation from a history of childhood betrayal trauma may involve a persistent unawareness of future threats to both self and children.
….Betrayal Trauma Theory (Freyd 1994, 1996) posits that dissociation is most likely to occur when a trauma is perpetrated by someone with whom the victim has a close relationship. Research has shown that exposure to traumas high in betrayal is significantly associated with dissociation
(e.g., DePrince 2005; Freyd et al. 2001, 2005). In the case of child maltreatment, betrayal trauma theory suggests that a child who is dependent on his/her parent learns to dissociate the experience of parental betrayal and abuse from conscious awareness, in order to maintain an attachment to that parent.
Several studies have identified a link between the experience of maltreatment and heightened dissociation in children (Becker-Blease et al. 2004; Hulette et al. 2008a, b; Macfie et al. 2001a, b; Ogawa et al. 1997). For example, Hulette and colleagues (2008a, b) found that maltreated
preschool-age children in foster care had a significantly higher mean level of dissociation than non-maltreated children.
Children who experienced multiple forms of maltreatment were the most highly dissociative. These findings are in accord with betrayal trauma theory (Freyd 1996), as children experiencing different kinds of abuse may have a greater need to be dissociative in order to preserve a relationship with caregivers.
Betrayal trauma seems to have long-term effects on dissociation as well. In a prospective longitudinal study, Ogawa et al. (1997) found that maltreatment predicted dissociation across developmental
periods (i.e., infancy, preschool, elementary school, adolescence, and young adulthood). Dissociation is also present in adult survivors of childhood betrayal trauma (Coons et al. 1988; Loewenstein and Putnam 1990; Putnam 1997; Putnam et al. 1986; Ross et al. 1991)….
Hulette, A.C., Freyd, J.J., & Fisher, P. A. (2011). Dissociation in middle childhood among foster children with early maltreatment experiences. Child Abuse & Neglect, 35, 123-126. Dissociation, defined as “a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), has been hypothesized to develop in response to caregiver maltreatment and betrayal (e.g., Briere & Runtz, 1988; Chu & Dill, 1990; Freyd, 1994; Hornstein & Putnam, 1992; Liotti, 1999; Putnam, 1993; Sanders&Giolas, 1991; Terr, 1991).
Further, researchers have recently identified a link between maltreatment and the experience of high dissociation in early childhood (Becker-Blease, Freyd, & Pears, 2004; Hulette, Fisher, Kim, Ganger, & Landsverk, 2008; Hulette, Freyd, et al., 2008; Macfie, Cicchetti, & Toth, 2001a; Macfie, Cicchetti, & Toth, 2001b; Ogawa, Sroufe, Weinfeld, Carlson, & Egeland, 1997). Macfie et al. (2001a) found a significant increase in dissociation in preschoolaged children over a 1-year period, suggesting that early maltreatment has long-term effects on dissociation.
They also found that severity and chronicity of maltreatment were associated with dissociation and that physical abuse was associated with dissociation in the clinical range (Macfie et al., 2001b). Hulette, Freyd, et al. (2008) examined dissociation with the children in the current sample when they were preschool aged. In addition to the finding that maltreated preschool-aged foster children had significantly higher mean levels of dissociation than nonmaltreated children, they found the highest levels of dissociation in children who had experienced moderate–high physical abuse with emotional maltreatment and neglect.
In another sample of preschool-aged children, Hulette, Fisher, et al. (2008) found that children who had experienced multiple forms of maltreatment (i.e., neglect, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse) showed the highest dissociation….In this study, we examined dissociation in school-aged foster children who had been maltreated in early childhood.
The finding that foster children continue to be highly dissociative years after maltreatment experiences supports previous research findings….
Summary – The findings from the current study suggest that the experiences of early maltreatment and foster care are related to later dissociative symptoms in school-aged children, and that girls are more susceptible to dissociative symptoms. It is important for practitioners to consider these factors to prevent pathological problems that could negatively impact other areas of such children’s lives.