Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon


Defended & Completed May 2010
PhD granted 2011 after clinical internship

Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

Dissertation Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate intergenerational relationships between trauma, dissociation, and emotion.   Short and long term consequences of betrayal trauma on cognitive and emotion coping strategies in a sample of 67 mother-child dyads were explored.  Group comparison, correlation, and regression strategies were used to examine relationships between the following variables: maternal and child trauma histories, maternal and child dissociation, maternal alexithymia, and child emotion coping strategies in response to distressful events. 
            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 a group of mothers who had experienced high betrayal trauma in childhood but were not revictimized in adulthood.  This may indicate that dissociation from a history of childhood betrayal trauma involves a persistent unawareness of future threats in the environment.  Additional evidence consistent with this hypothesis was found.  Maternal revictimization status was related to child interpersonal trauma history, suggesting that a dissociative unawareness for threats may extend to children.  More generally, an association was found between maternal interpersonal trauma history and child interpersonal trauma history.
            Maternal dissociation was also predictive of maternal alexithymia.  This relationship was examined because mothers high in alexithymia were hypothesized to display deficits in emotion socialization that could put their children at greater risk for dissociation.  Evidence consistent with a relationship between maternal alexithymia and child dissociation was found.  Furthermore, a significant association between maternal alexithymia level and child emotion coping strategy was revealed.  Children with highly alexithymic mothers displayed higher levels of passive emotion coping strategies on a task assessing their reactions to a distressful parent-child event. 
            This study provides evidence that the experience of parental trauma has intergenerational effects on children.  It is an important first step towards longitudinal studies that can provide additional clarification of the nature of the relationships between these variables, as well as parent-child intervention studies that may help to prevent child trauma exposure and reduce symptomatology.

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