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Adult attachment in eating disorders mediates the association between perceived invalidating childhood environments and eating psychopathology

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This study aimed to evaluate the associations between perceived invalidating childhood environments, attachment in intimate relationships and eating psychopathology, to explore how these variables interact with each other, and to explore potential mediators to this pattern of association in a clinical eating disorder (ED) sample. One hundred thirty-seven ED outpatients were evaluated with the Invalidating Childhood Environments Scale (ICES), the Eating Disorder-15 (ED-15) and the Experiences in Close Relationships Inventory (ECR). Paternal invalidation was associated to the ED-15 total score through avoidance of proximity and anxiety over abandonment, while maternal invalidation was only associated to the ED-15 total score through avoidance of proximity. Our results highlight the potential role of the perception of an invalidating family environment in the development of eating pathology and of difficulties in intimate relationships. These results endorse the relevance of address parental invalidation and promote adequate emotion regulation strategies and interpersonal competencies in the context of intimate relationships.

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    We considered other parallel multiple mediation models with ED-15 total score as dependent variables, avoidance of proximity/anxiety related to abandonment as independent variables, and paternal and maternal invalidation as potential mediators. However, a condition for a parallel multiple mediation analysis is that no mediator causally influences another (Hayes 2013). In these cases, mediators (paternal and maternal invalidation) are correlated even after controlling for independent variables. Thus, it was not possible to test these mediation models.


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This study was authorized and approved by the institutional review board committee of the São João Hospital Center (Number 188-17) and the Ethic Committee for Human and Social Sciences of the University of Minho (Number 006/2017).

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Correspondence to Sónia Gonçalves.

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Gonçalves, S., Vieira, A.I., Rodrigues, T. et al. Adult attachment in eating disorders mediates the association between perceived invalidating childhood environments and eating psychopathology. Curr Psychol (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-019-00524-2

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  • Invalidating childhood environments
  • Attachment
  • Intimate relationships
  • Eating disorders