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Emotional Attachments in Abusive Relationships: A Test of Traumatic Bonding Theory

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An empirical test of traumatic bonding theory, the notion that strong emotional attachments are formed by intermittent abuse, is reported. In-depth assessments (interviews plus questionnaires) were conducted on 75 women who had recently left abusive relationships (50 where physical violence had occurred). The study found support for the effect of relationship dynamic factors such as extremity of intermittent maltreatment and power differentials on long-term felt attachment for a former partner, experienced trauma symptoms, and self-esteem, immediately after separation from an abusive partner and again after a six month interim. All three of these measures were significantly intercorrelated within each time period. Each measure at Time 1 correlated significantly with each corresponding measure at Time 2. After six months attachment had decreased by about 27%. Relationship variables (total abuse, intermittency of abuse and power differentials) accounted for 55% of the variance in the attachment measure at Time 2 indicating prolonged effects of abuse suffered in the relationship.
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Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia 2: Department of Psychology, Carleton University

Publication date: 01 January 1993

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