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Child sexual abuse and attachment problems in adulthood

Child sexual abuse and attachment problems in adulthood

March 1, 2021

Child abuse affects millions of children around the world . Commonly speaking of 4 types of abuse: the physical, sexual, emotional and negligence. All of them are cause for great physical and / or psychological discomfort. In general, child sexual abuse is a serious public health problem that interferes with the development of the victim who suffers it, causing short and long-term repercussions in the entire biopsychosocial sphere of the person.

  • Related article: "The Theory of Attachment and the bond between parents and children"

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse refers to the set of behaviors of a sexual nature established between two people, one of whom is a minor, so that there is a situation of inequality, for reasons of age or power , and in which the minor is used for the sexual stimulation of the other person (López, 1997). Abusive behaviors include physical contact (genital, anal or oral), or involve the use of the child as an object of the sexual stimulation of the aggressor (exhibitionism or voyeurism) or of third parties (Madansky, 1996).


The prevalence rates are around 13% -15%. These rates are higher in girls, although the impact is equally detrimental to both sexes. It has been detected that the age of greatest vulnerability is between 7 and 13 years of age and that in 70 and 90% of cases it is committed by males, middle-aged and, frequently, relatives or acquaintances of the victim .

  • Maybe you're interested: "The different forms of child abuse"

Link and attachment styles

The development and quality of early relationships are important aspects in the social-emotional development, personality and mental health of people. In this sense, attachment is defined as the biological link established between the baby and the primary caregiver, who is seen as a safe base from which the child can explore the environment and return when he perceives that there is some danger (Bowlby 1969/1982).


These links allow children to develop internal work models from which they create expectations about the possibility of receiving support and how to get it. They influence individual emotions, expectations and adult relationships and help individuals cope with stressful situations.

There are 4 types of attachment styles : secure attachment and insecure attachment, within which we find the avoidant, the anxious-ambivalent and the disorganized-disoriented.

Secure attachment occurs when the primary caregiver responds to the child's distress consistently, promoting trust in the relationship. On the other hand, an avoidant attachment develops when the anguish is ignored or there is a persistent rejection.

Anxious style develops when caregivers respond to the baby's distress inconsistently, the child presents Difficulties in relying on caregiver availability to meet their needs and high levels of anxiety.


Finally, the disorganized-disoriented style, the baby shows disorganized and / or disoriented behavior in the presence of the mother.

The family environment that parents create around their children in the first years it may favor or hinder their future social relations. When secure attachments are established, they help children to be more socially competent. Attachment provides emotional security for an adequate development of personality, self-esteem and subsequent emotional regulation.

Repercussions of sexual abuse in the bond of attachment

The impact of sexual abuse on attachment is established in childhood and remains stable until adulthood .

Frequently, children exposed to parental violence have no basic needs covered and their caregivers are less available, which implies a higher prevalence of insecure attachment compared to children growing up in an adequate family environment. When those responsible for the abuse are the parents themselves, 80% of the cases, the ability to establish intimate relationships and trust are more damaged , since the person who must protect and take care is the one who harms.

Insecure attachment styles in adults they are associated with different psychological problems (substance use, alcohol abuse, criminal behavior, affective and anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, etc.) and health.

However, victims of sexual abuse also present difficulties at the social level, including sexual and marital problems in adulthood, behavioral and somatic level (general chronic pains, gastrointestinal disorders, feeding, sleep disturbances and difficulties in attention, memory and concentration).

Author: Tamara Garrido, Psychologist.


How Childhood Emotional Abuse Affects You In Adulthood (March 2021).


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