Category Archives: Emotional Abuse Articles

What Factors Increase Child’s Risk Of Emotional Maltreatment?


emotional maltreatment

According to the National Incidence Study Of Abuse And Neglect (NIS 4, 2010) children are more likely to be emotionally maltreated if (all else being equal):

  1. they live in a household in which there is parental unemployment
  2. they live in a household of low socio-economic status
  3. they live in a household in which there has occurred a family-structural breakdown
  4. they live in a family in which there are many other children
  5. they live in a rural county

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail :

1) They live in a household in which there is parental unemployment : children who live in a household in which neither parent is employed are at double the risk of being emotionally abused and are 3.5 times more likely to suffer emotional neglect than children who live in households in which there is no parental unemployment

2) They live in a household of low socio-economic status : children who grow up in households categorized as of low socio-economic status were found to be at four times greater risk of being emotionally abused and at five times nigher risk of being emotionally neglected.

3) They live in a household in which there has occurred a family-structural breakdown : children living with a single-parent (with or without a live-in partner) are 3.5 times more likely to suffer emotional abuse and/or emotional neglect than those children who live with both biological parents.

Also, children who live with a single parent and this parent’s unmarried partner are at greatest risk of suffering from emotional neglect.

4) They live in a family with many other children : children who live in families in which there are four or more children are at greater risk of both emotional abuse and emotional neglect than are children who live within smaller families (as regards the number of children)

5) They live in a rural county : children who live in a rural county are at twice the risk (on average) of suffering emotional abuse and/or emotional neglect than are children who live in urban counties.

NB : All of the above statistics relate to the U.S.




The above statistics, as has been seen, relate to both emotional abuse and emotional neglect ; I differentiate between these two types of emotional maltreatment below:

The difference between emotional abuse and emotional neglect :

Emotional Abuse : this entails an act of commission (i.e. something the parent actively did against the child, such as constantly telling him/her that s/he was never wanted or that s/he is ugly).

Emotional Neglect : this entails acts of omission (i.e. something the parent did NOT do for the child, the omission of which caused the child psychological damage, such as when a parent never displays love or affection for the child.


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Effect Of Parents With Low Empathy For Others’ Feelings


non empathetic parents

Parents with low empathy typically show little or no regret, remorse or guilt when they behave in ways that hurt and harm their children and children of such parents are therefore at particularly high risk of experiencing abuse.

At the extreme end of the scale, those with very low empathy are termed by psychologists as sociopaths or as suffering from anti-social personality disorder (however, this does not mean they will necessarily have been diagnosed or have broken the law – many such individuals can function well on a superficial level, seem charming on the surface and have cultivated a public persona that very effectively disguises their disorder; they may even strike the outside world as ‘model citizens’).

Other personality traits (on top of lack of feelings of guilt and superficial charm referred to above) of the sociopath include the following:

  • egocentricity
  • unreliability
  • dishonesty
  • an inability to form long-lasting relationships
  • superficial emotions
  • lack of awareness/concern regarding the harmful effects of their behavior on others
  • poor ability to make long-term plans
  • experiences abnormally low levels of anxiety (so can be good at jobs that require a strong nerve such as surgery)

People with very low empathy, such as sociopaths, tend not to be easy to change ; they are also, as implied above, often very hard to detect – this makes them all the more potentially dangerous.


One of the possible reasons why sociopaths may find it difficult to change is that research suggests they may be suffering from brain abnormalities (specifically, in the region of the brain responsible for giving rise to feelings of empathy for others, as, indeed, one may expect). However, much more research still needs to be conducted before a full picture can be built up of both biological and environmental causes (and, indeed, of how these two categories of causes interact, of course).


It is worth noting, however, that (at the time of writing), the latest research suggests that sociopaths may not so much lack empathy as have an abnormal ability to suppress it (Keysers et al. 2012).


First, an EMPATH  can be defined as a particularly sensitive and perceptive individual who is often the first to intuit that there is something ‘wrong’ with the sociopath. Such individuals can represent a threat to the sociopath as they have the potential to expose him/her (the sociopath) and challenge his/her manipulative behavior.

Frequently, due to this threat, the sociopath turns on/ becomes aggressive towards / attacks / tries to discredit the empath in an attempt to stop him/her (the empath) exposing him/her (the sociopath) and speaking the truth about his/her (the sociopath’s) behavior.


In order to try to defeat, or, even, psychologically destroy the empath, the sociopath will often enlist the support of the apath (or the support of several apaths).

An apath is someone who lacks the judgment or insight to perceive the sociopath’s malevolent manipulative behavior, or someone who is too apathetic and morally cowardly to care about it or do anything about it. If, on top of this, the apath bears the empath a grudge, the perverse collusion between the sociopath and apath may prove particularly devastating.

The psychological theorists, McGregor and McGregor, who originally formulated the above theory, termed this dynamic the sociopath-empath-apath triad. By way of illustration, the concept could apply to a family in the following manner :

  • mother = sociopath
  • youngest son = empath
  • oldest son = apath
  • father = apath

In the above example, there are two apaths; however, in other situations there may be just one or three or more.


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).



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When Parents Threaten Their Child With Violence

I have written elsewhere about how my mother was prone to unpredictable, unprovoked outbursts of extreme hostility when I was very young but it is only now I feel I want to be a little more specific – something has prevented me from going into detail up until now, although that ‘something’ is very hard to define, despite the fact I have (I hope!) gained a fair amount of insight into my past and its effects upon me.

When she was angry my mother’s verbal rage knew no limits ; her frequently repeated threats or hurtful statements included :

  • ‘I feel evil towards you! Evil!’ (The second ‘evil’ delivered in a particularly melodramatic, emphatic and malevolent tone)
  • ‘I feel I could knife you!’
  • ‘I feel murderous towards you!’  (or, if I was ‘lucky’, she’d be slightly more restrained and scream at me the rather more banal phrase, ‘I wish to Christ I’d never bloody had you!’ (though delivered in a tone of devastating conviction and palpable authenticity; one could almost feel the hot waves of hatred emanating from her).

(There may well be still worse examples which I have either repressed or which occurred when I was too young for them to form long-term memories – I simply can’t know; but this, of course, is true of everyone).

At the time, being on the receiving end of these, how shall I put it, rather less than maternally loving statements, I think I felt very little; just numb, in fact, as if everything had gone hazy and foggy. It seems I must have mentally shut down as a form of self-preservation; this is a psychological defense mechanism I now know to be called ‘dissociation‘).

For years, even decades, I kept these memories at the very back of my mind, so to speak, but, of course, that will have only worsened their psychological effect.

It is only now, decades later (I was about twelve-years-old when my mother’s verbal aggression was at its most vehement, just as I was entering puberty) that I feel ready to attempt to mentally process such experiences. However, painful this may be, avoiding doing so is likely to be even more so.

Very few of the articles I publish on this site are so personal and I apologize for, once again, indulging myself. However, my next post will be more objective and its topic directly related this one : ‘The Effects Of Parental Threats Of Violence Upon The Child.’


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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‘Adultification’ Of The Child By The Parent.


‘Adultification’ of a child by a parent entails that parent inappropriately assigning the child an adult role within the family that s/he is too young, and too developmentally immature, to take on or cope with.

It may involve the parent treating the child like an adult friend, a partner, a confidante or, as happened in my own case, a kind of personal counsellor/therapist (even before I was a teenager, my mother referred to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist’, amongst other, somewhat less complimentary, things, as I have written about elsewhere on this site).

The child may be ‘adultified’ in such a way even when the parent has access to more appropriate means of emotional support such as close friends or adult family members; however, the phenomenon is especially likely to occur if a parent has recently divorced or separated. In such a situation, for example, the newly single mother may start to use her son (for it is more frequently a son than daughter in such cases, according to research) for psychological and emotional support; if her recent separation has not been amicable there is often a danger that she may enlist her son as an ‘ally’ against this other parent, perhaps destroying the father-son relationship

As well as being expected to provide emotional support, some parentified children may be expected to provide practical support (such as overly arduous household duties or excessive personal care).


A parent who ‘adultifies’ his/her child may do so in a manipulative manner by only providing this child with approval as long as s/he (the child) is making great efforts (at the expense of his/her own needs) to fulfil the parent’s emotional needs. This obviously exploits the child’s innate need to positively bond with the parent, especially if the other parent is now absent.

Possible Effects Of Adultification Upon The Child:

Because the child is not developmentally ready (i.e. is not emotionally mature enough) to fulfil the adult role assigned to him/her, the effects tend to be negative and destructive; I provide examples below:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • impaired relationships with peers
  • deterioration in quality of school work
  • career problems in adulthood
  • difficulty maintaining relationships in adulthood

According to a recent study, the child may be adultified by the parent in four main ways:

1) By attaining precocious knowledge (e.g. by being treated as a confidante by the parent and made to discuss ‘adult matters’)

2) ‘Mentored’ adultification (assuming an adult role within the family with minimal supervision).

3) ‘Spousification’ (being treated as the parent’s spouse – this may entail sexual abuse)

4) ‘Parentification’ (having to act as a parent of younger siblings)

Whilst the effects of adultification upon the child are often negative, some evidence exists to suggest that mentored adultification (number 2 above) and parentification (looking after younger siblings – number 4 above) may help to increase a child’s confidence – however, such conclusions must be drawn tentatively as research into this area is still at a nascent stage.


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Controlling And Sociopathic Parents

controlling and sociopathic parents

A controlling and sociopathic parent will tend to see their child as an object/possession to be controlled and exploited according to the needs of that parent.

Sociopaths share certain characteristics which include self-centredness, lack of empathy, an excessive need for power and control, deviousness and deceptiveness, a predatory and exploitative nature, lack of conscience/feelings of remorse for wrongdoing, a tendency to deflect blame onto others/inability to accept personal responsibility and shallow emotions.

In order to manipulate and control others, male sociopaths are more likely to use verbal threats and violence whilst female sociopaths are more likely to use flirtation, appearance and sex.

Just because a person is a sociopath this does not necessarily mean they have been to prison or even ever broken the law. In fact, they may present a very positive (but false) image to the outside world such as being involved in charity work and of being a devoted and selfless parent – although things are very different behind closed doors.

Indeed, once behind closed doors the sociopathic parent may show little or no interest in the child and treat him/her in a neglectful manner. Indeed, as alluded to above, the child may be treated as a personal possession whose sole role in life is to meet that parent’s emotional needs.

Controlling and sociopathic parent (especially in the case of the mother as it is she who generally has the role of primary carer) will tend to not see the child as an individual with his/her own set of needs but as an object to be molded and manipulated by means of power and control (including verbal manipulation. the inducement of guilt. emotional terrorism and harsh, even sadistic, punishment – particularly if the child, quite naturally and normally under the circumstances, begins to sense s/he is being used/exploited by the parent and starts to rebel. Controlling and sociopathic parents cannot tolerate any challenge to their power, control and authority).

Because controlling and sociopathic parents do not tend to feel remorse for their behaviour, this liberates (due to their lack of conscience) to punish their children extremely harshly and this may mean they become physically or emotionally abusive even when only mildly provoked.

controlling and sociopathic parents


A child brought up by a sociopathic parent is prevented from developing in a psychologically and emotionally normal manner.

Those brought up by a controlling and sociopathic parents often report that they knew something was very wrong with how their parent related to them but they were unable to properly understand or articulate what this was. It is little wonder, then, that those brought up by a sociopath tend to grow up feeling deeply confused and full of self-doubt. Other effects may include :

  • becoming very withdrawn
  • becoming very aggressive
  • bullying others
  • emotional dysregulation
  • emotional numbness/deadness
  • poor concentration/attention which may negatively impact upon school performance

Whilst realizing one has been brought up by a sociopathic patent is clearly profoundly shocking and distressing it can, too, release one from guilt and lead one, finally, to the realization that, rather than feel guilty, one needs to start protecting oneself.

NB It is only possible to ascertain if a person is a sociopath by professional diagnosis.

For more information on EFFECTS OF OVER-CONTROLLING PARENTS – click here.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Emotionally Unstable Parents

The intense and constantly and dramatically fluctuating moods of the emotionally unstable parent permeate and dominate the household and can overwhelm the child, particularly when the intense emotions the parent is expressing are especially destructive ones such as hatred or suicidal despair.

Because the parent’s intense, destructive emotions are so unpredictable and can emerge ‘out of the blue’ the child can be made to feel constant trepidation, anxiety or fear, never knowing what to expect.

By definition, the emotionally unstable parent has great difficulty controlling his/her emotions; lack of control over one’s emotions is sometimes referred to as emotional dysregulation

This emotional dysregulation is likely to be most apparent when the individual is under stress (including minor stress that the majority of people would easily be capable of tolerating with relative equanimity).

Emotionally unstable patents often regard themselves as victims. Also, some may frequently use threats in order to manipulate others (without much in the way of guilt due to their lack of empathy).

Some may be suffering from personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Children who grow up with such parents tend to become psychologically insecure due, in large part, to the the inconsistency and unreliability of the parent’s emotional support.

Such parents often exploit their children, viewing them more as possessions to be exploited for their benefit rather than as individuals with their own specific set of unique emotional and psychological needs.

And, because of this, the child-parent relationship may become inverted; this is sometimes referred to as the parentification of the child – s/he becomes, in many respects, the parent’s parent (e.g. perpetually providing the parent with emotional support; indeed, this happened to me, starting before I became a teenager – in fact, my mother used to refer to me as her ‘little psychiatrist’.

Because the child is often forced to live to fulfil his parent’s needs rather than his/her own, this can lead him/her to develop identity problems as an adult.

Often, the emotionally unstable parent is able to mask their problem outside the home meaning that nobody appreciates the great stress under which the child is forced to live. This makes intervention on the child’s behalf far less likely.

If a child is forced to live under severe and protracted stress, the physical development of his/her brain may be affected; you can read one of my articles on this by clicking here.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Parental Alienation Syndrome

In simple terms, parental alienation syndrome (Gardner, 1985), refers to the psychological effects on the child when one parent (in custody of the child) manipulates this child into rejecting the other parent (not in custody of the child) during or after separation and/or divorce proceedings.

At its worst, it involves the parent with custody of the child actively and maliciously attempting to programme and brainwash the child into hating the other parent.

At the other end of the scale, however, it can be that the parent with custody does not realise the effect their negative comments about their ex-partner are having on the child (i.e. causing the child, too, to develop a negative attitude towards the non custodial parent).

In any event, the result is, according to parental alienation theory, that the child internalises the custodial parent’s negative view of the non-custodial parent.

In extreme cases, the custodial parent may even brainwash the child into believing that the non-custodial parent is guilty of having abused him/her (the child) even when this is untrue. A famous example of this is American writer/director Woody Allen’s allegation that his ex-partner, Mia Farrow, was guilty of such malicious manipulation of their daughter.

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What Are The Effects Of Such Manipulation Upon The Child?

Gardner suggests the manipulated child who develops parental alienation syndrome may be affected in the following ways:

– idealisation of the custodial parent

– demonization of the non-custodial parent

– belief that his/her (the child’s) feelings of unequivocally hatred towards the non-custodial parent stem from his/her own judgement alone and have not been influenced by the custodial parent

– absence of any feelings of guilt about his/her (the child’s) expressions of hatred towards the non-custodial parent


Initially, Gardner proposed that, in the vast majority of cases, it was the mother who alienated the child from the father. However, he later retracted this hypothesis and stated that both mothers and fathers were equally likely to practice such malicious manipulation of the child’s feelings, beliefs and behaviour.

Gardner also stressed that parental alienation syndrome only applies when the castigated parent is not guilty of any child abuse.


It should be noted, however, that the validity of Gardner’s theory of parental alienation syndrome is disputed amongst mainstream psychologists and is not an officially recognized childhood psychological disorder at the time of writing.

However, that does not change the fact that such manipulation of children, and such manipulation’s deleterious psychological effects, are very far from uncommon.


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The Trauma Of Being An Adopted Child


Children who become adopted have usually previously been orphaned or seriously abused prior to the adoption. Often, too, they will have spent time in an institution such as a children’s home. Also, they may have lived for temporary periods with various foster carers.

Because of such histories, most children who are adopted will have been extremely traumatized during their early lives and, therefore, arrive at their new adoptive parents’ home with serious emotional, psychological and behavioural difficulties.

If , as alluded to above, these children have suffered significant abuse by their parents, they are likely to have developed psychologically difficulties. The same is true of children who have become orphaned. But what about the children who have come from care homes or a series of foster parents? I look at how these experiences, too, may have caused them emotional difficulties.

Possible Adverse Effects On The Child Of Living In A Care Home:

These include :

– lack of funds/resources

– effects of staff leaving if a bond has developed between him/her and the child

– effects of friends leaving (eg due to age or moving to another institution)

– being bullied at school for being ‘different’

 – lack of consistency of care due to staff shift work and the employment of temporary staff from agencies

– inexperienced staff

– failure of staff/management to prevent bullying within the care home

– effects of having to leave the care home to be adopted; this can also be highly distressing if the child has built up strong emotional bonds with care home staff and/or care home child residents

institutionalisation, making it very hard for the child to cope outside of the care home environment

– the child may feel irrational shame for being ‘exhaustive


NB These are just examples; the above list is not exhaustive


Possible Adverse Effects Of The Child Having Previously Experienced Foster Care:

If the child comes to the adoptive home having experienced living with foster parents s/he may:

– have felt rejected and unwanted by the foster home/s s/he had lived in

– may have wanted to stay with the foster parents, causing a form a grief when s/he found out she had to leave

– inconsistency of care, if constantly moving from one foster family to another

– related to above, inconsistency of schooling and friendship groups if moves from one foster home to another involve constantly changing geographical locations

– experiencing bullying at school for being ‘different’

– the child may feel irrational shame for being ‘different’

Stress And Conflict:

Because the child who arrives at the homes of the people who intend to adopt him/her may well have been seriously emotionally damaged in ways such as those described above, their is often potential for significant conflict to develop between the intended adoptee and his/her intended adoptive parents. I explain why below:

In the new adoptive home, because of the previous stress the child has been under, perhaps causing damage to such brain areas as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, the child may act out his/her emotional disturbance. 

In so doing, s/he may, for example, regress, spend long spells crying, self-harm, behave destructively, be prone to out bursts of extreme rage, withdraw or act violently. And, if the child is not very young, may start drinking, smoking and taking drugs.

Indeed, if the brain’s development has been disrupted, s/he is likely to be neurologically immature leading to an inability to control his/her emotions or calm down easily when experiencing stress related anger or anxiety.

Indeed, studies reveal that those who have been adopted have higher than average concentrations of cortisol (a hormone related to stress) in their blood streams. This makes such individuals particularly vulnerable to depression, anxiety, uncontrollable emotions and fear.

The adoptive parents too, perhaps feeling they can’t cope, may also develop stress related problems. With both the child and the adoptive parents under such stress, this situation can, sadly, lead to very high levels of conflict between the two parties.

It is essential, therefore, that both the adopted child and the adoptive parents have in place the best social/practical/medical/psychological support systems in place as possible. Indeed, the importance of this is difficult to overstate.




brain damage caused by childhood trauma

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My Humiliating Psychosomatic Response To Childhood Trauma


I have thought about writing this article previously on many occasions but have been prevented by what I realize is an irrational sense of shame. This helps to illustrate, I think you will see, how pervasive and enduring the legacy of such irrational shame, stemming from a traumatic childhood and universally felt by those who experienced it, can be.

The story I am about to recount relates to the phenomenon of children experiencing psychosomatic symptoms (such as headaches and, in this particular case, stomach complaints) as a result of intense stress and anxiety.

I have mentioned before that when I was about ten years old (about two years after my parents’ divorce) my mother started a relationship with a schizophrenic who was frequently in and out of prison (for things like drink driving – whilst already banned from driving for the same offence – and car theft; he stole cars to visit his family in Scotland – a family we did not know existed at the time of the incident I am just about to relate.

When he came to live with us, he told us his name was Iain McDonald; after about a year, however, this was revealed to be an alias; his real name transpired to be John Lee.

One day (when I was still about ten years old), I was sitting in the back seat of our car with my mother driving and Iain McDonald (as he was at this time still styling himself) sitting in the front passenger seat.

My mother and ‘Iain’ were involved in one of their terrifying rows and, after a while, I started to feel sharp, excruciatingly painful stomach cramps.

Due to an very urgent need to use the bathroom, I pleaded with my mother to drive me home as quickly as possible, as you might well imagine.

However, ‘Iain’ insisted my mother first drivee him to a shop, involving a time consuming and, for me, agonizing detour, to buy cigarettes.

I protested, screaming my need to get back to our house and its urgently required bathroom post haste (although I did not use that particular expression at the time, of course).

To whom did my mother defer? You guessed it, her deranged, criminal, alcoholic live-in lover (if I may be permitted to employ an expression popular at the time).

The result? Predictable : let’s just say, euphemistically, that on the way to get the cigarettes I had a deeply humiliating ‘accident

Actually, having written this, I feel a strong sense of relief. A relief I was prevented from feeling at the time, sadly.

DH. 16.5.2016.

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Emotional Instability Disorder : The Role Of Parents


The World Health Organization (WHO) describes emotional instability disorder as being very similar to borderline personality disorder (BPD).

WHO list the following symptoms as those used to help diagnose emotional instability disorder :

– extreme mood fluctuations / instability of mood

– tendency to frequently become involved in conflict with others ( including friends, family and work colleagues

– great difficulty controlling impulses leading, often, to self-destructive, risk – taking behaviour with little or no regard for the consequences. If others try to prevent the person from acting on a particular impulse, s/he is liable to become highly frustrated and angry (in other words, the individual has a very strong need for instant gratification and is unable to repress this need).


Furthermore, WHO define emotional instability disorder as being of TWO SPECIFIC TYPES; these are:

1) The impulsive type

2) The borderline type

Let’s look at each of these two sub-categories of emotional instability disorder in turn.


The impulsive type is marked, in particular, by the following symptoms:

a) significant difficulty inhibiting impulses

b) severe emotional liability/instability


In addition to the above symptoms, the borderline type is likely to display some or all of the following symptoms:

a) absence of any significant aims and goals in life

b) a distorted view of self (eg regarding self as ‘evil’)

c) identity problems (including uncertainty as to what one’s values and principles are, what one’s role in society is and and what one’s basic personality characteristics are).

d) oppressed and depressed by a profoundly pervasive feeling that life is empty, futile, pointless and meaningless

e) intense, chaotic and highly unstable interpersonal relationships (eg. propensity for intense and dramatic ‘love-hate’ relationships in which the individual fluctuates wildly between idealizing their partner and then devaluing/demonizing him/her).

f) a tendency to self-harm as a way of dissociating and coping with stress

g) suicide attempts/suicide

h) a general tendency to indulge in self-destructive behaviour such as risky sex, excessive use of alcohol/drugs, compulsive gambling etc.

What Role Do Parents Play In The Causation Of Emotional Instability Disorder?

The latest rearch currently suggests that emotional instability disorder has various underlying causes that may interact with one another to give rise the disorder; these are:

prenatal factors (eg a highly stressed mother-to-be may produce a frequent flood of stress hormones which adversely impact the unborn child’s development)

genetic factors

environmental factors : in connection with environmental factors, how the child’s parents treat him/her as s/he grows up appear to be of paramount importance; therefore, I elaborate on this crucial factor below:

Recent research suggests that two types of parenting, may be particularly likely to contribute to the child being of much elevated risk of developing emotional instability disorder as an adult. These two harmful forms of parenting are :




Let’s look at each of these in turn:


Low Affection Parenting :

– lack of emotional and physical warmth shown to child

– not praising the child, instead focusing on ‘negative’ aspects of child’s behaviour

– poor supervision of child

– little time spent with child

– low expectations of child (eg. academic, vocational)

– poor communication with child


Harsh Parenting :

– punishing the child inappropriately and harshly

– mother who disciplines the child in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner

– high conflict between parents (eg. shouting, screaming, threatening, physically assaulting, swearing)

– verbal/emotional abuse of the child

– outbursts of uncontrolled anger, rage and hostility directed towards the child.




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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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