Early life adverse experiences and the effect on parenting stress and schizotypal symptoms

Doctoral thesis OPEN
Hugill, Melanie ; Fletcher, Ian ; Berry, Katherine (2016)
  • Publisher: Lancaster University

A robust amount of research indicates that childhood adverse experiences can have a detrimental impact on later relational experiences and mental health as an adult. Adverse childhood experiences, such as childhood sexual abuse (CSA), or other interpersonal traumas can affect the formation of secure attachments to caregivers. These insecure attachment styles persist into adulthood, affecting all subsequent relationships including that between parent and child. This thesis firstly examines the relationship between CSA and later parenting stress in a systematic literature review. The results indicate there is no strong, consistent evidence of a direct association between CSA and later parenting stress. However, it is suggested that contact-only CSA may produce a significant association with parenting stress and that studies including both contact and non-contact CSA may need larger sample sizes to detect smaller effects. Additionally, an indirect relationship between CSA and parenting stress through current level of depression is proposed. The review highlighted that clearer definitions of CSA and use of properly validated questionnaires are essential to progress this field of research and enable generalisability of results. The aim of the second paper was to investigate associations between attachment, parenting and schizotypy in a non-clinical sample. Participants (N = 134) completed self-report measures online and hypotheses were tested using correlation and mediation analysis. Results found that parenting stress mediated the association between attachment anxiety/avoidance and schizotypy, though parenting competence was not significant as a mediator in a parallel model. Childhood trauma was associated with schizotypy and attachment but was not associated with parenting variables, preventing inclusion in mediation analysis. The study adds to the understanding of what may exacerbate schizotypal symptoms in the first 12 months postpartum as parental attachment insecurity and parental stress together predicted elevated self-reported experiences of schizotypal symptoms in this period.
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