Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 48, Issue 12, pp 2391–2402 | Cite as

A Longitudinal Study of the Mediating Role of Romantic Attachment in the Relation Between Child Maltreatment and Psychological Adaptation in Emerging Adults

  • Jacinthe DionEmail author
  • Jennifer Gervais
  • Noémie Bigras
  • Marie-Eve Blackburn
  • Natacha Godbout
Empirical Research


Considering the long-term deleterious consequences of child maltreatment, it is crucial to better understand the pathways leading to psychological outcomes in emerging adulthood. This study contributes to the existing knowledge through the examination of the role of romantic attachment as a mechanism explaining the association between child maltreatment and psychological adaptation. Prospective and retrospective data from 605 school-based participants (56.0% women) from the general population involved in a 10-year study were used. Child maltreatment, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, was measured at age 14 years (mean age = 14.04, SD = 0.21). Ten years later (mean age = 24.5, SD = 0.50), similar forms of maltreatment, in addition to neglect, were measured, along with adult romantic attachment, self-esteem, and psychological distress. The results of path analyses, controlling for self-esteem and psychological distress at age 14, revealed that child maltreatment was associated with increases in psychological distress and with decreases in self-esteem in emerging adults, through their levels of romantic attachment anxiety. The results also revealed that cross-sectional analyses involving retrospective measurements of child maltreatment at age 24 were as valuable as longitudinal analyses involving its measurement at age 14. Those results confirm the importance of romantic attachment in survivors’ well-being, and suggest that attachment may be a key target for intervention with adolescents or emerging adults.


Child abuse Cumulative Trauma Self-esteem Distress Adolescents Adults 



We would like to thank the authorities of the four school boards, as well as the directors and teachers of each school, for their assistance in the data collection and administration of the project. We are also grateful to all the teens who accepted to participate in this research. Finally, technical support from Joanne Zinkewich is gratefully acknowledged.

Authors’ Contributions

JD conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; JG participated in the design of the study and also drafted the manuscript with JD; NB performed the statistical analysis and participated in the interpretation of the data; MEB participated in the conception of the study, in its design and the interpretation of the data; NG helped to draft the manuscript and participated in the interpretation of the data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was supported by grants from the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux du Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean; the Direction régionale du ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS); the MELS Programme d’aide à la recherche sur l’enseignement et l’apprentissage (PAREA); the Conseil régional de prévention de l’abandon scolaire (CRÉPAS), and Le Fonds de recherche du Québec—Société et culture (FRQSC) (# 2011-NP-137517).

Data Sharing and Declaration

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the first and last authors. However, restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study and are therefore not publicly available. However, data are available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission from the first author.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Intersectoral Center for Sustainable HealthUniversité du Québec à ChicoutimiQCCanada
  2. 2.Coholder VISAJ Research ChairQCCanada
  3. 3.Interdisciplinary Research Center on Intimate Relationship Problems and Sexual Abuse (CRIPCAS)QCCanada
  4. 4.Department of sexologyUniversité du Québec à MontréalQCCanada
  5. 5.ÉCOBES Recherche et transfert, Cégep de JonquièreSaguenayCanada

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