Parental verbal aggression: Attachment and dissociation in adolescents

Carolee Verdeur Rada (2002)

This study is an exploration into individual responses to experiences with family verbal aggression in an urban community. Previous studies have included family verbal aggression under the broad definition of psychological abuse. This study identifies family verbal aggression independently from physical violence and examines its effect on the lives of youth. Specifically this study determined whether a relationship exists between family verbal aggression and dissociative experiences, insecure attachment, and unsatisfying relationships in two distinct groups of high school adolescents: those in a traditional high school and those who attend an alternative program. While most studies have examined family violence and psychological abuse in minority, low socioeconomic groups in large inner city environments, this study assessed the amount of family verbal aggression in a small urban community with a predominantly white, non-clinical adolescent population, and a range of socioeconomic subgroups. The population consisted of 141 New England high school adolescents enrolled in grades 10-12. Administering a variety of empirically validated measures, in a school setting, the following areas were investigated: (a) Does a relationship exist between the amount of family verbal abuse and dissociative experiences? (b) Does exposure to family verbal abuse predict insecure adolescent attachment to the parent or primary caregiver? (c) If insecurely attached adolescents report family verbal aggression and experience dissociative experiences, are their dissociative symptoms greater? and (d) If adolescents are exposed to family verbal aggression, are their relationships with peers and others compromised? The findings from this research provide preliminary support that relationships exist between family verbal aggression and insecure attachment and adolescent dissociative experiences. The most important finding is that family verbal aggression is a significant predictor of adolescent dissociative experiences. In addition, insecurely attached adolescents reported a greater number of ungratifying relationships. The premise of this study, that family verbal aggression could exacerbate dissociation, was supported. Aggression within the family did not predict dysfunctional relationships. The contrast is significant between the experiences of alternative high school students and those of the larger high school community. The alternative high school students were matched demographically to their larger high school population, yet reported a significantly greater number of experiences with family violence, family verbal aggression, and dissociative experiences. The data suggests this group of urban adolescents have experiences with violence more similar to adolescents living in a large, inner city.