Self-Perception in Women
with Histories of Incest
Mary Taylor Armsworth, Karin Stronck
and Colleen D. Carlson
Empirical and clinical reports describing the sequelae of unwanted sexual experiences in childhood point to a complex of disturbances in sense of self and body image resulting from the interplay of dissociative defenses and unmet developmental needs. This study investigated relationships between experiences of incest in childhood and disturbances in body image and selfperception, dissociation, difficulties with intimacy, feelings of self-worth and recognition of affect. A nonclinical sample of seventy-one women (n = 36 with a history of incest; n = 35 controls who were abuse-free) completed the Body Cathexis-Self Cathexis Scale (BC-SC), a measure of body and. self-image; the Perceptual Alteration Scale (PAS) and the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), measures of dissociation; and selected ego functioning subscales from the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI). Compared with the control group, women with a history of incest were found to have significantly greater body and self-dissatisfaction and higher levels of dissociation as measured with the PAS but not the DES. Negative body image was related to negative selfperceptions and, on EDI subscales, to not feeling in control and a general sense of worthlessness. Subscales on the EDI functioned diffrentially for the ethnic groups represented in this sample. Utility of the various instruments is presented as well as implications for practice and further research.