Understanding maltreating mothers: A synthesis of relational trauma, attachment disorganization, structural dissociation of the personality, and experiential avoidance

Jackie Amos, Gareth Furber, Leonie Segal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Treatment options are limited for families in which the child has severe and intractable disturbances of emotion and behavior, in which there is suspected or confirmed maltreatment by the mother, and in which the mother has her own history of childhood neglect and abuse. This paper proposes a model for understanding maltreatment in mother-child dyads, drawing upon the developmental psychopathology, behavior, and trauma literatures. At the core of this model is the hypothesis that a mother's maltreating behavior arises from unconscious attempts to experientially avoid the reemergence of an attachment-related dissociative part of the personality that contains the distress arising from her own early experiences of attachment relationships. The implications of this model for therapy are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-509
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Trauma and Dissociation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Attachment disorganization
  • Experiential avoidance
  • Exposure
  • Interpersonal trauma
  • Relational trauma
  • Response prevention
  • Structural dissociation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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