Psychopathology and self-esteem of incestuous families

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Families in which child sexual abuse has occurred are often described as dysfunctional or pathological. Although a limited number of studies have empirically examined psychopathology in incest offenders, findings are inconsistent and most studies are methodologically limited. Despite the fact that speculations have been made clinically about the psychological adjustment of mothers of incest victims, there are virtually no empirical and objective studies on their psychological functioning. Common to perpetrators, non-offending spouses and victims is the clinical finding of low self-esteem, which is generally regarded as an important component of psychological adjustment. However, very few researchers have examined the self­esteem of these incestuous family members objectively and empirically. The present study examined whether there were any significant differences between the psychological functioning of 20 families in which intrafamilial sexual abuse had occurred and 20 nonclinical control families without such a history of abuse. Family members included sexually abusive fathers, nonoffending mothers, and daughter victims for the experimental families, and nonclinical fathers, mothers and daughters for the control families. The MMPI was used to objectively evaluate the psychological adjustment of the parents from both groups of families, and the Coopersmith Self­Esteem Inventory (CSEI) was used to objectively evaluate self-esteem in all family members. Results indicated that, as a group, incestuous fathers in this study did not demonstrate clinically significant psychopathology as measured by the MMPI. However, they were significantly more psychologically maladjusted than the nonclinical fathers as indicated by their scores on the MMPI scales. In addition, similar to the research literature, incestuous fathers from this sample were a heterogeneous group in terms of psychopathology and degree of psychological disturbance. With regard to the mothers of incest victims, the results revealed that, as a group, these women did not demonstrate serious psychological disturbance as measured by the MMPI, although they did exhibit significantly more difficulty in some areas of personality functioning than did the nonclinical mothers. These findings challenge the uniformly negative and stereotypical picture of mothers of incest victims presented in the clinical literature. Like the father perpetrators, mothers of incest victims vary in their psychological characteristics. The results also showed that sexually abusive fathers, nonoffending mothers and daughter victims manifest significantly lower self-esteem than nonclinical fathers, mothers and daughters in this sample. Still, father perpetrators exhibited average self­esteem, while mothers of incest victims and daughter victims exhibited self-esteem in the low end of the average range. The results of this study are equivocal and are discussed in terms of their implications for future research studies, as well as for possible treatment issues of the key members of incestuous families.
Bibliography: p. 112-122.
Ammendolia, A. (1992). Psychopathology and self-esteem of incestuous families (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/18284