Retraumatization and Revictimization: An Attachment Perspective
Retraumatization has been de¢ned as “one’s reaction to a traumatic exposure that is colored, intensi¢ed, ampli¢ed, or shaped by one’s reactions and adaptational style to previous traumatic experiences” (Danieli, 2010, p. 195). Although the exposure may not be inherently traumatic but may only carry reminders of the original traumatic event or relationship, retraumatization typically refers to the reemergence of symptoms previously experienced as a result of the trauma. Attachment theory brings an added dimension to this notion by framing trauma and adaptation to trauma within the context of close relationships. Early attachment relationships can either compensate for the initial experience of trauma, thus protecting the individual from retraumatization, or can exacerbate the initial experience of trauma, thus greatly increasing an abuse survivor’s risk for retraumatization. Furthermore, a new exposure not only to a traumatic event, but also to a new relationship that approximates the initial attachment relationship can act as a trigger for similar emotional reactions and similar behavioral responses to the new relationship. Thus, the individual may be at risk not only for emotional re-experiencing but also for actual revictimization. In fact, research suggests that child abuse and neglect (most of which occurs within the context of attachment relationships) leads to increased risk of interpersonal violence (physical and sexual assault or abuse, kidnapping or stalking) but not to increased risk of general traumas, crime victimization, or witnessing traumatic events (Widom, Czaja, & Dutton, 2008),
suggesting the interpersonal speci¢city of revictimization. This chapter will describe how attachment theory can explain both the process of emotional re-experiencing as well as the behavioral interactional patterns of abuse survivors which increase their risk for this revictimization and retraumatization.