|Families With Violence Exposure and the Intergenerational Transmission of Somatization
Introduction: Adults who have histories of childhood trauma have been noted to display greater somatization. What happens in the parent-child relationship when those traumatized children become parents? The intergenerational link between maternal and child somatization has not yet been sufficiently explored in a longitudinal study in order to understand the potential impact of maternal trauma history and related psychopathology on subsequent child somatization and psychopathology.
Methods: This study examined longitudinal data of 64 mother-toddler dyads (mean age = 2.4 years, sd=0.7) who were later studied when children had a mean age of 7 years. Mothers with and without histories of interpersonal violence (physical/sexual abuse and/or family violence exposure) were included. Linear and Poisson regression models were used to test the associations between maternal interpersonal violence-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with maternal somatization severity when children were toddlers.
Results: Maternal PTSD severity was significantly associated with increased maternal somatization severity (p=0.031). Maternal somatization severity during the child’s early childhood predicted both maternal report of child somatization (p=0.011) as well as child thought problems (p=0.007) when children were school-aged. However, no association was found between maternal somatization and child-reported psychopathology.
Conclusion: The results are in line with the hypothesis of intergenerational transmission of somatization in the context of interpersonal violence and related maternal PTSD during formative early development. We interpret this as an expression of psychological distress from mother to child, as maternal trauma and pathology affect the caregiving environment and, thus, the parent-child relationship.