Psychological abuse has longer-term effects on a child than physical violence in the home.

This is according to new research from the University of Limerick (UL).

Exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to a child as they grow older than exposure to physical abuse.

The research was carried out by Catherine Naughton, who has just completed her PhD in UL’s psychology department and Centre for Social Issues Research. She investigated how children’s exposure to domestic violence and abuse between their parents affects them.

Psychological abuse can include name-calling, intimidation, isolation, manipulation, and control.

“What this research highlights is that growing up in a home with domestic abuse, in particular the psychological dimension of it, has long-term consequences for the wellbeing of young people,” said Ms Naughton, whose findings were based on the reports of young people who had grown up in a home where abuse occurred.

“Our research found that young people (aged 17 to 25 years) reported experiencing two distinct, yet interrelated, types of domestic abuse in their families of origin: physical, which includes hitting, punching, kicking and use of a weapon; and psychological abuse, including arguing, name-calling or behaviour that is intimidating, isolating, manipulating or controlling,” said Ms Naughton.

“Importantly, our findings show that it was young people’s exposure to the psychological dimension of domestic abuse which had a detrimental impact on their psychological well-being. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on wellbeing.”

Her research has just been published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

She said it was the inability to recognise psychological abuse, over physical, that made it more damaging in the long term. The children were unable to recognise it and speak out about it.

Ms Naughton, who works in UL’s school of law, already has three international peer-reviewed publications in this area.

The published research includes an analysis of interviews with district court judges in Ireland, highlighting the need for increased judicial awareness on the relevance of domestic violence and abuse to child custody and access decisions.

Study: Inability to recognise psychological abuse over physical makes it more damaging in long term


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