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The intergenerational transmission of childhood maltreatment: Nonspecificity of maltreatment type and associations with borderline personality pathology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2019

Sarah E. Paul
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Michael J. Boudreaux
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Erin Bondy
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Jennifer L. Tackett
Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Thomas F. Oltmanns
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Ryan Bogdan*
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Author for Correspondence: Ryan Bogdan, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, 1125 One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63130; E-mail:


One generation's experience of childhood maltreatment is associated with that of the next. However, whether this intergenerational transmission is specific to distinct forms of maltreatment and what factors may contribute to its continuity remains unclear. Borderline personality pathology is predicted by childhood maltreatment and characterized by features (e.g., dysregulated emotion, relationship instability, impulsivity, and inconsistent appraisals of others) that may contribute to its propagation. Among 364 older adults and 573 of their adult children (total n = 937), self-reported exposure to distinct forms of childhood maltreatment (i.e., emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect as assessed by the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire) showed homotypic and heterotypic associations across generations with little evidence that latent factors unique to specific forms of maltreatment show generational continuity. General nonspecific indices of childhood maltreatment showed evidence of intergenerational transmission after accounting for demographic factors and parent socioeconomic status (b = 0.126, p = 9.21 × 10−4). This continuity was partially mediated by parental borderline personality pathology (assessed longitudinally through a variety of measures and sources, indirect effect: b = 0.031, 95% confidence interval [0.003, 0.060]). The intergenerational continuity of childhood maltreatment may largely represent general risk for nonspecific maltreatment that may, in part, be propagated by borderline personality pathology and/or shared risk factors.

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