The study took place in Canada. Researchers recruited a sample of 186 mother-young adult dyads, as in mothers and their children aged between 18 and 25 years old. Participants were asked to fill an online survey addressing child maltreatment, maternal emotional dysregulation, and mother-child attachment.
According to the results, there was a direct effect between a history of physical neglect and emotional dysregulation in mothers and lower attachment. Results also reveal a strong intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment, with specific types of child maltreatment experienced by mothers associated with specific types of maltreatment often experienced by their children. For instance, mothers with a history of physical and sexual abuse as well as exposure to domestic violence were likely to have children who experienced physical abuse. Mothers with a history of sexual abuse had children who also experienced sexual abuse. Mothers who experienced both sexual abuse and physical neglect had children who experienced exposure to domestic violence. Finally, mothers with a history of sexual abuse and physical neglect had children who experienced physical neglect as well.
Further analyses showed that mothers who had a history of neglect or physical abuse experienced emotional dysregulation, which led to an insecure mother-child attachment. Lower attachment was, in its turn, associated with a higher probability of physical abuse, emotional maltreatment and physical neglect in the second generation . Moreover, mothers who experienced cumulative child maltreatment were likely to have children who experienced cumulative child maltreatment as well.
In conclusion, this phenomenon sheds light on the idea that child maltreatment can have lasting impacts than can be indirectly and unconsciously transmitted from one generation to the other. While studies have yet to confirm these results in a sample of father-child dyads, both parents are urged to seek resources and therapeutic care to overcome their childhood traumas and to avoid – unintentionally – transferring this experience across generations.
Instead of an intergenerational transmission of trauma, how about an intergenerational transmission of growth ?
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Attachment. New York, NY: Basic Books. (Original work published 1969).
Langevin, R., Gegné, M.-E., Bassard, A., & Fernet, M. (2022). Intergenerational Continuity of Child Maltreatment: The Role of Maternal Emotional Dysregulation and Mother-Child Attachment. Psychology of Violence. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000409