Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Exploring the Relationship between Childhood Maltreatment and Intimate Partner Abuse: Gender Differences in the Mediating Role of Emotion Dysregulation

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Exploring the Relationship between Childhood Maltreatment and Intimate Partner Abuse: Gender Differences in the Mediating Role of Emotion Dysregulation

Article excerpt

Despite evidence that childhood maltreatment is associated with increased risk for intimate partner abuse perpetration, the mechanisms underlying this relationship remain unclear. Given literature suggesting that violent behaviors may serve an emotion regulating function, this study examined the mediating role of emotion dysregulation in the relationship between childhood maltreatment and intimate partner abuse perpetration among 341 male and female undergraduates. However, given evidence of gender differences in the underlying mechanisms of intimate partner abuse, emotion dysregulation was expected to be more relevant to the perpetration of partner abuse among men. Consistent with hypotheses, emotion dysregulation mediated the relationship between childhood maltreatment and intimate partner abuse among men; conversely, emotion dysregulation was not associated with partner abuse among women.

Keywords: intimate partner violence; perpetration; emotion regulation; childhood abuse; childhood neglect

Intimate partner abuse is a clinically relevant behavior of great public health significance. Research suggests that intimate partner abuse occurs with relatively high frequency, with national estimates indicating that 8% to 21% of individuals in a serious relationship report engaging in an act of violence aimed at an intimate partner in a 1-year period (Schafer, Caetano, & Clark, 1998). Furthermore, a national survey of young adults found that 37% of men and 35% of women reported engaging in some form of physical violence toward an intimate partner in the past year (White & Koss, 1991).

In light of the high prevalence and clinical relevance of this behavior, researchers have focused considerable attention on the identification of risk factors for the perpetration of intimate partner abuse, such as problem drinking behavior (Bell, Harford, & McCarroll, 2004; Chen & White, 2004), an insecure attachment style (Mauricio & Gormley, 2001), depressive symptoms (Chen & White, 2004; Maiuro, Cahn, Vitaliano, Wagner, & Zegree, 1988), and antisocial tendencies (Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart, 1994; White & Widom, 2003). However, one of the most robust and frequently examined risk factors is a history of childhood maltreatment (for reviews of the literature on the risk factors for intimate partner abuse perpetration, see Schumacher, Feldbau-Kohn, Slep, & Heyman, 2001; Stith, Smith, Penn, Ward, & Tritt, 2004).

Indeed, the preponderance of evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between childhood maltreatment (including sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional neglect) and intimate partner abuse perpetration, with research indicating that both males and females with a history of childhood maltreatment are at greater risk for engaging in intimate partner abuse (Bevan & Higgins, 2002; Downs, Smyth, & Miller, 1996; Else, Wonderlich, Beatty, Christie, & Staton, 1993; Hastings & Hamberger, 1988; Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart, 1994; Kalmuss, 1984; Marshall & Rose, 1988; Swinford, DeMaris, Cernkovich, & Giordano, 2000; White & Widom, 2003; Wolfe, Wekerle, Scott, Straatman, & Grasley, 2004). Yet, although it is clear that childhood maltreatment increases the risk for later intimate partner abuse perpetration, the mechanisms underlying this relationship remain unclear. Further, although several mediators of the relationship between childhood maltreatment and intimate partner abuse perpetration have been proposed and examined (e.g., antisocial behavior and personality traits and alcohol consumption/problems; see Capaldi & Clark, 1998; Downs et al., 1996; Else et al., 1993; Hastings & Hamberger, 1988; Swinford et al., 2000; White & Widom, 2003), there are other potentially relevant mediators that warrant examination as well (see White & Widom, 2003).

One such mediator may be emotion dysregulation. Indeed, researchers in the area of developmental psychology have long suggested that emotion regulation is integral to normative development, with the development of adaptive emotion regulation capacities considered to be a major developmental milestone of childhood (see Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994; Fox, 1994; Southam-Gerow & Kendall, 2002; Thompson, 1994). …

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