Hurtful Family Environments: Links with Individual, Relationship, and Perceptual Variables
Family members create a social environment that varies in terms of the degree to which it evokes hurt. Two studies were conducted to examine the nature of hurtful family environments and to assess whether the association between people's experience of their family environment as hurtful and their perceptions of hurtful family interactions could be described by a sensitization or a habituation model. The results indicated that hurtful family environments are characterized by aggression, a lack of affection, neglect, and violence. Individuals' views of their family environment as aggressive were negatively associated with their own verbal hostility and their self-esteem, but positively linked to their anxiety and to their tendency to see a family member's hurtful behavior as intentional. People's tendency to note their family displayed a lack of affection was positively linked to their own verbal hostility and negatively associated with their self-esteem. The findings also offered partial support for a habituation model: Those who said their family environment was characterized by a lack of affection rated hurtful family interactions as less emotionally painful than did others. Together, the results provide a rationale for examining the emotional contexts created by family members as well as the implications of those contexts for individuals and their family relationships.