Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


In order to appreciate the relationship problems child abuse victims experience in adulthood, there must first be a fundamental understanding of how the abusive relationship impacts a victim’s cognitions and behaviors. The various forms of child abuse include sexual, physical, and emotional. Information gathered from relevant child abuse literature is provided regarding definitions, statistics, prevalence, effects experienced in both childhood and adulthood, and effects on interpersonal functioning. Attachment theory’s working models and child attachment styles are discussed and introduced as potential sources for conceptualizing the interpersonal problems commonly associated with a history of child abuse. For this current study, a sample of 132 undergraduate students was obtained and divided into groups representing child abuse histories. The purpose was to examine the relationship between child sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and the presentation of relationship-specific attachment styles in adulthood. Results indicated that participants who did not experience abuse in childhood had attachment scores similar to a secure attachment style across all three relationships (mother, father, best friend), while the abuse groups exhibited a minimum of one insecure attachment style. All of the groups (Non-Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse) had low avoidance and anxiety scores for mother and best friend, suggestive of a secure attachment. However, scores on avoidance were significantly elevated for relationship with father in the three abuse groups. These results suggest a dismissing attachment style with fathers if a history of any type of child abuse is present. In addition, relationship with mother for the Emotional Abuse group was also associated with significantly high avoidance scores, revealing a dismissing attachment style. Overall, scores on anxiety did not reflect any issues regarding low self-evaluation and thus did not provide evidence for its influence in abuse victims’ adult interpersonal functioning. However, issues regarding trust, which is well established throughout the child abuse literature, were evident in this study’s results. With the exception of the Non- Abuse group, participants displayed an avoidant attachment style (specifically dismissing) with their father for all types of abuse examined, as well as with their mother for the Emotional Abuse group. Abuse victims relied on their best friends and felt comfortable with this, as indicated by the secure attachment style within this adult relationship. Implications regarding these results and their potential use in clinical settings as well as society are provided.


Dr. Leo Herrman

Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type



© 2014 Sarah Landry


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Psychology Commons