Toward a developmental origin of the predictors of health : how representations of childhood are associated with well-being in adulthood



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In this study I explored whether the way adults think about their early childhood is related to their perception of control, coping strategies, and health outcomes. The participants (N=78) in this study were administered the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) between 1 and 18 years ago, when they were new parents. The current online survey assessed perceived control (a composite of the Perceived Health Competency Scale and a general life control item), coping strategies (generated from a factor analysis of the Brief C.O.P.E. measure), anxiety (GAD-7), overweight (a composite of waist-to-hip ratio by body mass index), lifetime number of mental health diagnoses, and lifetime number of physical health diagnoses. As expected, non-problem-focused coping strategies and low perceived control were significantly associated with overweight and poor mental and physical health outcomes. This study added a developmental component to explain the roots of these maladaptive strategies: Dismissing speech on the AAI, characterized by idealizing childhood, minimizing childhood needs and/or distress, and emphasizing the normalcy and independence of one's upbringing strongly negatively predicted current perceived control and approach coping, relative to Secure speech. In fact, Dismissing speakers endorsed using fewer coping strategies over all. Given the pervasive influence of perceived control and active coping on myriad aging and health outcomes, the origins of these strengths is of particular interest. Dismissing speakers, although they endorse experiencing less anxiety, are clearly faring the worst. Attachment theory as a framework for explaining lifespan agency, anxiety, health behaviors, and outcomes is discussed.