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Prunas, A. Pierro, R.D. Huemer, J. Tagini, A. (2019). Defense Mechanisms, Remembered Parental Caregiving, and Adult Attachment Style. Psychoanal. Psychol., 36(1):64-72.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(1):64-72

Attachment Research

Defense Mechanisms, Remembered Parental Caregiving, and Adult Attachment Style

Antonio Prunas, Ph.D., Rossella Di Pierro, Ph.D., Julia Huemer, M.D. and Angela Tagini, Ph.D.

The empirical study of defense mechanisms has taken place in relative isolation, with few connections to other fields deriving from psychodynamic theories, including attachment. This study aimed to explore the associations of remembered childhood caregiving and defense mechanisms with adult attachment styles in a nonclinical sample. Furthermore, we investigated which defenses are associated with specific insecure attachment styles. Participants were 238 university students (mean age = 28.11 years, SD = 9.42; 24.4% male) who volunteered to complete a set of questionnaires including the Response Evaluation Measure-71, the Attachment Style Questionnaire, and the Measure of Parenting Style. The main contribution to adult attachment style is given by immature defenses, which are associated with all dimensions of insecure attachment, and inversely related to secure attachment. Mature defenses seemed to play a secondary role because they predicted only secure attachment significantly. Maternal and paternal rearing style showed no significant effect on attachment scores, with the only exception of paternal abuse on need for approval and maternal overprotection on preoccupation with relationships and relationships as secondary. Splitting and repression emerged as mechanisms that characterized the avoidant dimension of insecure attachment, whereas the anxious dimension of attachment showed associations with projection and fantasy. The results support the hypothesis that immature defenses are a correlate of insecure attachment in adults and that specific defense configurations are associated with the avoidant and anxious components of attachment.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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