Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Attachment, Self-Esteem and Subjective Well-Being among Survivors of Childhood Sexual Trauma

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Attachment, Self-Esteem and Subjective Well-Being among Survivors of Childhood Sexual Trauma

Article excerpt

The current study is a quantitative exploration of the relationships between attachment security, childhood sexual trauma, sexual self-esteem, and subjective well-being. It was predicted that higher levels of secure attachment, lower presence of childhood sexual trauma and higher levels of sexual self-esteem would contribute to higher levels of subjective well-being. Participants were 213 undergraduate students at a Midwestern university. Theories of attachment (Bowlhy, 1973) and well-being (Lent, 2004) provided a framework to guide the hypotheses of the present study. We hypothesized that higher attachment security would be related to higher sexual self-esteem and higher subjective well-being, and that participants who scored higher on a scale measuring childhood sexual trauma would have lower sexual self-esteem and lower subjective well-being. It was found that high levels of attachment security and sexual self-esteem predicted high levels of subjective well-being, whereas presence of childhood sexual trauma predicted lower levels of sexual self-esteem. Results from hierarchical regression analyses fully supported the hypotheses of the present study. Future research should analyze possible coping mechanisms that may contribute to subjective well-being restoration as well as coping efficacy.


Survivors of childhood sexual trauma often experience attachment insecurity, decreased self-esteem, and psychological distress (Muller, Sicoli, & Lemieux, 2000). In addition, childhood sexual trauma may lead to problems in adult romantic relationships, especially in relation to sexuality. Sexual self-esteem, or the degree to which an individual feels positively about themselves in a sexual manner, has been associated with global subjective well-being, where higher sexual self-esteem is related to higher subjective well-being (Mayers, Heller, & Heller, 2003). To better understand these relationships, Lent's (2004) restorative model of subjective well-being and Bowlby's (1973) theory of attachment provided a framework for the present study.

Lent (2004) described the model of restorative well-being as it applies to individuals who have experienced trauma. Lent (2004) defined traumas as "stressful events (or, more specifically, how such events are appraised), [which] are assumed to create perturbations in people's characteristic levels of domain-specific and overall life satisfaction" (p. 501). According to Lent (2004), individuals who experience trauma are more likely to have difficulty maintaining subjective well-being. Theoretically, individuals with secure attachment, higher sexual self-esteem, and higher subjective well-being are better able to cope and heal from childhood sexual trauma.

Childhood Sexual Trauma and Attachment

According to Deblinger, Mannarino, Cohen, and Steer (2006), the occurrence of childhood sexual abuse is related to emotional and behavioral problems during childhood and individuals may continue to experience persistent emotional distress in adulthood. Individuals who experience childhood sexual abuse may suffer from high levels of shame and low levels of trust (Deblinger et al., 2006). Experiencing sexual trauma creates a rupture in the working model related to attachment. Individuals with a history of any type of childhood trauma are more likely to report attachment insecurity (Alexander, 2009; Bailey, Moran, & Pederson, 2007). Specifically, Alexander (2009) found that childhood sexual trauma contributes to insecure attachment styles. Insecure attachment can be problematic in adult relationships because it fosters hostility, antisocial tendencies, impulsiveness, passivity, helplessness, lack of empathy, and difficulty relating to others and maintaining friendships (Liang, Williams, & Siegel, 2006).

Individuals with avoidant attachment patterns tend to use these strategies in an attempt to reduce psychological damage caused by complex trauma (Bailey et al. …

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