Isn’t it nice when research validates what you already know? I came across this headline yesterday, Troubled Romantic Relationships May Stem From Childhood Emotional Maltreatment, and had a “yeah, no kidding” moment. A reminder once again that common knowledge to those of us familiar with trauma is not all that common.
What I find interesting here is not only that the link is made between childhood abuse and trouble with adult relationships, but also that self-criticism is identified as a mediating factor. I’ve written a great deal about the link between childhood abuse and self-criticism, or negative self-talk, as part of my Learning to Love Yourself After Trauma series in 2010.
I also appreciate the specific focus on emotional abuse (which includes neglect) and the assertion that emotional abuse is present in all forms of child maltreatment.
It is unclear to me from this summary, and my later reading of the entire article, if self-criticism is only seen as contributing to the relationship becoming unhealthy versus also playing a role in the choice of an unhealthy partner to begin with.
In my article Relationships after Severe Trauma: Making Healthy Choices I covered the the factors that can contribute to unhealthy romantic relationships, including traumatic bonding and abuser dynamics.
The following is a summary of this research on childhood maltreatment and adult romantic relationships. As always I look forward to your thoughts!
People who experience Childhood Emotional Maltreatment (CEM) are more likely to have troubled romantic relationships in adult years, according to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers.
In two separate studies, doctoral candidate Dana Lassri and Prof. Golan Shahar of BGU’s Department of Psychology examined the stability and satisfaction of intimate relationships among college students with a history of CEM. The studies, published in the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, suggest that emotional abuse as a child impacted relationship fulfillment due to self-criticism. Participants had an extremely strong tendency to bash themselves, and this interfered with their relationship satisfaction.
The studies also revealed that some participants had symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) due to the emotional abuse they endured. This could be the result of internalizing behaviors caused by the maltreatment or by a child’s inability to properly comprehend their circumstances.
Childhood Maltreatment (CM) includes sexual and physical abuse, emotional maltreatment and neglect, and is a significant contributor to the dramatic increase in referrals to university counseling centers. CM also foments self-criticism causing a deleterious effect on romantic relationships.
“Over time, this tendency might be consolidated, becoming a defining part of a person’s personality, and ultimately derailing relationships in general and romantic relationships in particular,” explains Ms. Lassri, whose doctoral dissertation, supervised by Prof. Shahar, served as the basis for the study. Lassri and Shahar are with the Sealth and Health Research Lab (SEALTH) located at the Department of Psychology of BGU.
Lassri believes that even though these findings were gathered from college-age individuals, the behaviors could potentially worsen throughout adulthood.
American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the. (2012, May 6). “Troubled Romantic Relationships May Stem From Childhood Emotional Maltreatment.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from
Dana Lassri and Golan Shahar. Self-Criticism Mediates the Link between Childhood Emotional Maltreatment and Young Adults’ Romantic Relationships. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2012; Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 289-311 [link]