U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Childhood Abuse and Current Interpersonal Conflict: The Role of Shame

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 33 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2009 Pages: 362-371
Jungmeen Kim; Nancy L. Talbot; Dante Cicchetti
Date Published
June 2009
10 pages
This study evaluated whether shame-proneness mediated the association between childhood sexual abuse and current interpersonal conflict in economically disadvantaged mothers.
Shame fully mediated the link between childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner conflict expressed as women's verbal aggression towards their partners. The role of women's shame in accounting for the relationship between childhood abuse histories and interpersonal conflict seemed to depend upon the nature of the relationship or context such as family, intimate partner, or offspring; and type of interpersonal conflict such as verbal aggression versus physical aggression. Women with childhood sexual abuse were more likely to experience shame, which in turn, was associated with their verbal conflict in intimate relationships. Shame also provided partial explanation of the higher levels of family conflict and physical aggression performed by their partners among women with more severe sexual abuse in childhood. Findings are in accordance with previous literature that has indicated that an abusive childhood may predispose an individual to exhibit aggression in later life, and may put an individual at increased risk of being drawn to violent partners. Findings are also consistent with a theoretical model which posits that shame produces submissiveness as well as angry defensiveness and aggression, thereby making abused women more likely to lash out at partners. Data were collected from 129 mothers of children enrolled a summer camp program for at-risk children from financially disadvantaged families. Tables and references