Susanne Witte, PhD, is a family psychologist and has received her PhD at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Currently she is working at the German Youth Institute, located in Munich, as well as at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the University Hospital Ulm. She is conducting studies covering a broad range of topics regarding child maltreatment. Her specific research interests are sibling relationships in the context of child maltreatment, training professionals to prevent child maltreatment, and international comparisons of child protections activities.
Closeness, appreciation, and caring between siblings in the context of neglect and physical and sexual abuse
Background: Abuse and neglect can have a severe and long-lasting impact on survivors. The consequences range from mental health problems to relationship problems as adults. Yet, the effects of maltreatment on the sibling relationship have not received much attention. The presentation focuses on the effects on the sibling relationship, particularly on positive characteristics such as closeness, companionship, support, and reassurance of worth.
Method: The study is based on a retrospective survey of 4568 adults as well as 870 sibling dyads. The participants answered questionnaires regarding childhood maltreatment and their sibling relationship during childhood and in the present.
Results: Childhood maltreatment is predictive of lower levels of closeness, intimate disclosure, and support between siblings during childhood. Considering different types of maltreatment, emotional neglect and abuse are the strongest predictors. In adulthood the negative effects continue: Child abuse survivors report less contact to their sibling, are less likely to seek support from their sibling, and perceive their relationship as more fragile.
Discussion: The retrospective design and a selection bias in study participation have to be taken into account for the interpretation of results. However, they shed light on the negative effects of child maltreatment on the sibling relationship currently rarely acknowledged in practice.