The unveiling of child sexual abuse (CSA) can elicit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in non-offending parents. The impact of disclosure is stronger for mothers who have already experienced interpersonal trauma, such as CSA or intimate partner violence (IPV). Alexithymia often serves as a coping mechanism in the aftermath of a trauma, as it creates a distance between oneself and distressing events. It could prevent individuals from resolving their trauma, be a risk factor for PTSD symptoms and compromise mothers’ capacity to support their child. The objective of this study was to examine whether alexithymia mediated the relationship between the experiences of interpersonal violence (IPV and CSA) of mothers of sexually abused children, and mothers’ PTSD symptoms following disclosure of their child’s abuse.
A sample of 158 mothers of sexually abused children completed questionnaires assessing CSA and IPV and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, which measures the capacity to identify and express emotions. The Modified PTSD symptom Scale-Self-Report evaluated PTSD symptoms related to their child’s disclosure of sexual abuse.
Results of a mediation model revealed that alexithymia significantly mediated the relationship between IPV and PTSD symptoms. Mothers’ CSA was directly associated with higher levels of PTSD following their child’s disclosure of abuse, but the relationship was not mediated by alexithymia.
Our findings highlight the importance of assessing mothers’ history of interpersonal trauma and ability to recognize and identify emotions as well as the need to offer support and specific intervention programs to mothers.