Attachment, Childhood Maltreatment, and Resilience of Humanitarian Aid Workers

Publication Date



Humanitarian aid workers are frequently exposed to the threat of violence and trauma and suffer with posttraumatic stress disorder at high rates. Several studies have suggested that attachment style mediates the effects of trauma on resilience, whereas other factors thought to impact resilience include childhood maltreatment and negative thoughts of the self and others. In this study, I sought to understand the relationship between these factors as they relate to resilience in humanitarian aid workers, taking into consideration the role of attachment. Questionnaire data collected for clinical purposes over a 5-year period from 1,841 humanitarian aid workers were used to investigate these relationships. A history of childhood maltreatment was associated with reduced resilience levels, greater posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology, and an increase in sensitivity to perceived stressors. Contrary to what was expected, findings also suggest that aid workers with a history of childhood maltreatment are no more likely to have insecure attachment styles than aid workers without childhood maltreatment histories. Further, attachment style does not seem to mediate the relationship between traumatic experience and resilience for individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment. The results also suggest that possible mechanisms associated with a lack of resilience are avoidance and negative thoughts such as shame and blame.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

First Advisor

Nolty, Anne

Document Type





Attachment behavior, Child welfare workers, Child abuse, Resilience, Post-traumatic stress disorder




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