Research has long established that exposure to child abuse is linked to poorer mental health across the lifespan. More recent research has specifically linked exposure to child abuse to lower hope. Lower hope is particularly concerning for social workers since Dennis Saleebey, a pioneer of the strengths-based practice paradigm, noted that hope is necessary for resilience and recovery.
A former colleague of Saleebey’s, C.R. Snyder, offered theory as to why the experience of child abuse is linked to lower hope. Snyder contended that hope is a byproduct of interpersonal relationships, with hope arriving in the context of others who foster hope. Research with children also suggests that perceiving the presence of others willing to help overcome barriers is an antecedent of hopefulness. However, theory also suggests that the experience of child abuse can generate “insecure attachments” that involve distrust and anxiety toward others. Higher levels of insecurity around others results in fewer pathways to our goals, culminating in lower hope.
To test the theory that experiences of child abuse serve as a driver of lower hope because of insecure attachments generated by the abuse, the current study involved testing a three variable path model of child abuse experiences as a driver of lower hope mediated by insecure attachments. The study involved survey data from a sample of adults living in the United States (N = 266). The scales used were the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale, The Adult Attachment Scale, and the Adult Hope Scale. The path model was tested using SPSS and the PROCESS add on, with bootstrapping (N = 5000) used to evaluate the statistical significance of the indirect effects of the proposed model.
The results indicated that the indirect effect of child abuse experiences on lower hope through insecure attachments was statistically significant, b = -.124, BCa CI [-0.210, -.063]. In contrast, the direct effect of child abuse on hope was not statistically significant (b = .018, BCa [-.141, .177]. Thus, the results indicated that a model of “indirect effect only”, or “full”, mediation best explained the data. Full mediation models are considered the strongest evidence for a directional relationship between variables.
Conclusions and Implications
The results were consistent with the predictions of Snyder’s theory that child abuse experiences are a driver of lower hope later in life due to their lasting, negative effect on interpersonal relationships. This was evident in the current sample where insecure attachments served as a full mediator between experiences of child abuse and lower hope. Such results suggest a need for more research to assist child abuse survivors overcome the anxiety and distrust of others that can be a lasting, negative effect of the abuse experience. By helping child abuse survivors develop more secure attachments toward others, social workers may provide survivors with more pathways to their goals, resulting in greater hope.