Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

Summer 6-29-2010

Document Type



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor David DiLillo. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2010 Copyright 2010 Sarah E. Evans


Child maltreatment has been linked to a myriad of long-term difficulties, including trauma symptomatology. However, not all victims experience long-term distress. Thus, a burgeoning area of research focuses on factors that may impede or facilitate resiliency to the psychological correlates of child maltreatment. Specifically, the severity of the abusive acts may be associated with greater long-term difficulties. To date, however, with the exception of child sexual abuse, few studies have examined the severity of maltreatment as a risk factor in the development of trauma symptoms. In contrast, social support has been theorized to contribute to resiliency following abuse. However, to date, the majority of studies examining positive social support as a protective factor have relied on self-report measures of perceived social support, rather than observational measures of received social support. Moreover, no study to date has examined the role that negative social support (i.e, blaming, criticizing) may play in potentiating trauma symptoms among victims of child maltreatment. Because child maltreatment involves serious boundary violations by a trusted person, a marital relationship is an important domain in which to examine these constructs. That is, it may serve as an arena for the manifestation of psychological disturbances related to maltreatment. Thus, the present study examined whether observationally measured positive and negative spousal social support moderated the relationship between child maltreatment severity (i.e., sexual, physical, psychological abuse; neglect) and trauma symptomatology in women and men. Results indicated that the severity of each type of child maltreatment significantly predicted increased adult trauma symptomatology. Contrary to hypothesized outcomes, positive spousal social support did not predict decreased trauma symptomatology. However, negative spousal social support generally did predict increased trauma symptomatology. There were no consistent patterns of interactions between child maltreatment severity and either type of social support. Future directions for research will be discussed and clinical implications with regard to the intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning of child maltreatment victims will be highlighted.