Dysregulation of the caregiving system in the context of maternal depression: The role of mistrust in the development and causation of abusive parenting behavior

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Abstract

Objective: This qualitative, case-based study drew on attachment and ethological theories to explore the role of mistrust, a severe attachment attitude, in the development and causation of abusive parenting behavior in mothers with severe, recurrent depression. Method: The study analyzed a priori codes from redacted comprehensive assessments of eight women with depression and child protective services involvement to explore how mistrust was expressed; its links to extreme defenses and reported childhood experiences; and its consequences for relationships and help seeking. Analyses also identified specific stimuli that elicited abusive parenting behaviors and explored the context of depression in relation to women’s attachment and caregiving histories and mental health care follow through. Results: Linked to suppressed feelings of vulnerability, mistrust was expressed in suspicions about support and in feelings of abandonment and betrayal. It was associated with an absence of support, family violence, role reversal, and parental mental illness. Mistrust affected mothers’ ability to maintain supportive relationships and to get help for their depression, which was a persistent part of their lives. A child’s cries, lack of support, partner abuse, and threats of abandonment triggered abusive parenting behavior, likely by tapping into core attachment pains related to unacknowledged longings for support. Unprepared to deal with these feelings, mothers became frustrated and redirected or displaced their anger onto their children. Conclusions: Mistrust may play a role in the dynamics of abusive parenting in mothers with severe, recurrent depression. Early identification and preventive intervention efforts that address this attitude could be beneficial for parenting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-54
Number of pages13
JournalPsychiatry (New York)
Volume78
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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