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Child Abuse Negl. 2010 Mar;34(3):161-71. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2009.08.012.

Identifying experiences of physical and psychological violence in childhood that jeopardize mental health in adulthood.

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School of Social Work, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 536 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA.



This study examined associations between profiles of physical and psychological violence in childhood from parents and two dimensions of mental health in adulthood (negative affect and psychological well-being). Profiles were distinguished by the types of violence retrospectively self-reported (only physical, only psychological, or both psychological and physical violence), as well as by the frequency at which each type of violence reportedly occurred (never, rarely, or frequently).


Multivariate regression models were estimated using data from the National Survey of Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS). An adapted version of the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) was used to collect respondents' reports of physical and psychological violence in childhood from each parent. Respondents also reported on current experiences of negative affect and psychological well-being.


Regarding violence from mothers, reports of frequent psychological violence-even when coupled with never or rarely having experienced physical violence-were associated with more negative affect and less psychological well-being in adulthood. Nearly all profiles of violence in childhood from fathers-with the exception of reports of rare physical violence only-were associated with poorer adult mental health.


Results provide evidence that frequent experiences of psychological violence from parents-even in the absence of physical violence and regardless of whether such violence is from mothers or fathers-can place individuals' long-term mental health at risk. Moreover, frequent physical violence from fathers-even in the absence of psychological violence-also serves as a risk factor for poorer adult mental health.


Findings provide additional empirical support for the importance of prevention and intervention efforts directed toward children who experience physical and psychological violence from parents, as well as among adults who reportedly experienced in childhood only one type of violence and especially psychological violence at high levels of frequency.

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