Relations between early maltreatment and mental representations of relationships assessed with projective storytelling in middle childhood

Edward R. Mccrone, Byron Egeland, Mark Kalkoske, Elizabeth A Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations

Abstract

Children who participate in the Mother-Child Project, a longitudinal study of high-risk children, were giver projective storytelling task during their sixth-grade year. Story sets were coded for relationship themes like peer acceptance and problem solving, and responses were compared between groups identified based on pas maltreatment. The maltreatment group included 43 children who were identified as having been physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected or having psychologically unavailable care. A control group of 53 children from this high-risk sample was identified as having received adequate care. The remaining participants whose care was questionable were not included in this study. Based on quantitative analyses using a factor measuring relationship expectations and controlling for IQ and socioeconoraic status, the maltreate group told stories significantly more negative compared to the control group. Findings are introduced and discussed in terms of attachment theory and related work addressing the mental representations of maltreated children. In particular, it is proposed that, based on early maltreatment experiences, children acquire internal working models of themselves as unworthy and of others as unavailable. In subsequent relationship situations they would be constricted in cognitively processing events, have difficulty regulating their own emotions, an employ processes of defensive exclusion (e.g. projection, introjection, displacement, splitting, preoccupatioi idealization) to manage their distress feelings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-120
Number of pages22
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

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