Child abuse and eating disorder symptoms: Shedding light on the contribution of identification with the aggressor

Tamar Rosenberg, Yael Lahav, Karni Ginzburg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Childhood abuse has been increasingly recognized as a risk factor for eating disorder symptoms. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that childhood abuse may lead to identification with the aggressor, an automatic defensive process, to survive the abuse. Although it has been clinically implied, the role of identification with the aggressor as a potential mechanism underlying the relation between childhood abuse and eating disorder symptoms has not yet been empirically explored. Objective: This study examines the role of identification with the aggressor as mediator in the association between history of childhood abuse and eating disorder symptoms among adults. Participants and methods: A convenience sample of 198 participants completed self-report questionnaires assessing history of childhood abuse, eating disorder symptoms, and the various facets of identification with the aggressor. Results: Severity of childhood abuse was significantly associated with shape and weight overevaluation, body dissatisfaction, and binge eating, as well as with all components of identification with the aggressor. In addition, almost all components of identification with the aggressor were significantly associated with eating disorder symptoms. Finally, identifying with the perpetrator's aggression mediated the association between childhood abuse and eating disorder symptoms. Conclusions: The findings may contribute to future clinical interventions by illuminating identification with the aggressor as an important aspect in treating eating disorders. Understanding the pervasive effects of identification with the aggressor on survivors' self and their interactions with others may point to the significance of the therapeutic relationship, through which survivors can reprocess and weaken its detrimental effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105988
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume135
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • Childhood abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Identification with the aggressor
  • Self-harm
  • Trauma

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