Combined Effects of Divorce and Emotional Abuse on The Child.

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Sometimes, when parents divorce, the child finds s/he is left to be brought up by a dysfunctional parent, perhaps because the single-parent is under enormous stress and/or suffers from mental illness. Indeed, this was the situation I found myself in from the age of eight, so I know how serious the effects on the child may be.

Specifically, in this article, I wish to look at the potential adverse effects on the child of being brought up in a single-parent family in which the single-parent is emotionally/verbally abusive towards him/her. In my own case, my mother would refer to me as ‘scabby’ (due to the wounds I incurred through self-harming) and ‘poof’ (I was ultra-sensitive), amongst much else.

About 80%of those who go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) have been the victims of child abuse – the most common forms of child abuse that BPD sufferers experienced during their childhoods are EMOTIONAL AND VERBAL ABUSE. Such abuse can absolutely devastate an individual’s self-esteem.

Three common forms of emotional and verbal abuse are :

1) Unavailability

2) Domination

3) Degradation

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1) Unavailability – this refers to when the parent is much more concerned with their own lives than with the emotional welfare of the child. Such parents show their child little encouraging interest or positive attention, and very little warmth and affection, even in times of need.

2) Domination – this occurs when a parent controls the child with menacing behaviour, threats and general intimidation.

3) Degradation – this is when the parent constantly undermines the child, including over-focusing upon, and over-emphasizing, misbehaviour. Very often, this results in the child becoming convinced that s/he is a ‘bad’ person (see also my article on this by clicking here).

Often, too, the abuse is directed at the child more indirectly and subtly (though, often, it’s not all that subtle!) through body language and facial expressions (e.g. by looking contemptuous – being treated with contempt is especially devastating – of the child or full of hatred towards him/her). Such treatment can be extremely damaging (especially, of course, if it is frequent and repetitive), and the potential psychological damage it can do should in no way be underestimated.


What if the child who is suffering such verbal and emotional abuse lives in a one-parent family, due to divorce, so that there is no other parent around to protect him/her? Clearly, in such a situation, it is overwhelmingly probable that the psychological damage done to the child will be all the more profound.

Many studies have been conducted upon the effects of divorce on children; these include :

deep distress

– extreme separation anxiety

– depression

– anxiety

– anger / anti-social behaviour

– intense fears of further abandonment

– greatly increased neediness

– age regression 

If on top of the effects of divorce, not only does the child not receive support and affection but is actually verbally and emotionally abused by the remaining parent, the result can be massive psychological trauma.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)