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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00643

The influence of attachment styles and personality organization on emotional functioning after childhood trauma

 Jürgen Fuchshuber1,  Michaela Hiebler-Ragger1, Adelheid Kresse1, Hans-Peter Kapfhammer1 and  Human F. Unterrainer2, 3*
  • 1Medical University of Graz, Austria
  • 2University of Vienna, Austria
  • 3Center for Integrative Addiction Research (CIAR), Austria

Background: Current literature suggests a tenuous link between childhood trauma, personality organization, adult attachment and emotional functioning in various psychiatric disorders. However, empirical research focusing on the interaction of these concepts is sparse. Therefore, this study intends to investigate the influence of personality organization and attachment dimensions on the relationship between childhood maltreatment and emotional functioning in adult life. In order to assess emotional functioning, we adopted the Affective Neuroscience model of primary emotions, comprising SEEKING, FEAR, ANGER, SADNESS, CARE and PLAY. In addition, the possibly mediational role of primitive defense mechanisms in the relationship between childhood trauma and adult attachment was investigated.
Methods: The total sample consisted of 616 non-clinical adults (Age: M = 30; SD = 9.53; 61,9% female). Path analysis was applied in order to investigate interactions between childhood trauma, personality organization, adult attachment and primary emotion dispositions.
Results: The findings suggest that childhood trauma significantly predicted deficits in personality organization and insecure attachment (all p < 0.001). Furthermore, a reduced level of personality organization was significantly associated with increased ANGER (p < 0.001), while adult attachment substantially predicted primary emotion dispositions in general. Moreover, Tthe results indicate significant mediational effects of personality organization and attachment dimensions on the relationship between childhood trauma and primary emotions (p < 0.01). The final model was able to explain 48% of the variance in SADNESS, 38% in PLAY, 35% in FEAR, 28% in CARE, 14% in ANGER and 13% in SEEKING. Furthermore, primitive defense partially mediated the relationship between childhood trauma and adult attachment.
Discussion: The findings contribute to the understanding of the relationship between childhood maltreatment and impaired emotional functioning in adult life. Furthermore, the importance of personality organization and attachment dimensions for emotion regulation is underlined. Consequently, the treatment of patients with childhood trauma should focus on facilitating the development of more secure attachment patterns and increased personality functioning in order to improve overall emotional functioning. In that regard, overcoming primitive defense strategies might be a promising strategy in influencing insecure attachment patterns.

Keywords: adult attachment, Personality organization, Structural Equation Modeling, childhood trauma, Primary emotions, affect regulation, Mediation

Received: 08 Nov 2018; Accepted: 08 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

LUIGI JANIRI, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Italy

Reviewed by:

Martin Zack, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada
Lorenzo Moccia, Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic, Italy  

Copyright: © 2019 Fuchshuber, Hiebler-Ragger, Kresse, Kapfhammer and Unterrainer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Human F. Unterrainer, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, human.unterrainer@univie.ac.at