A Longitudinal Examination of Outcomes Related to Emotional Abuse in Children
Emotional abuse has been linked to both internalizing and externalizing outcomes in adults and children, even after controlling for the presence of physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood (Braver, Bumberry, Green, & Rawson, 1992; Gibb et al., 2001; Kaufman & Cicchetti, 1989; Kim & Cicchetti, 2006). The developmental/organizational perspective, as well as attachment theory, suggests that emotional abuse occurring in childhood will result in disrupted views of subsequent relationships, leading to maladaptive outcomes such as aggression, depression, and low self-esteem (Cicchetti & Toth, 1995). The current study examined these relations in an archival sample of low-income urban children ages 5 to 11 years identified by social services as abused. Measures were completed over four years by children attending a summer day camp, as well as by counselors and peers. The relation between emotional abuse and outcomes was examined concurrently, as well as across several time points. Social competence was also examined as a possible mediator in these relations. Self-esteem, as well as onset of abuse, the child's age, and gender were explored as moderators in these relations. After controlling for physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse was related to counselor-reported internalizing and externalizing behaviors, self-reported depression, peer-reported aggression, and counselor-reported social competence at several time points. Further, social competence acted as a partial mediator in the relation between emotional abuse and externalizing behaviors. Several moderators were identified as well; however, given the large number of analyses, moderation results were underwhelming. Clinical implications, as well as directions for future research are discussed.