This anecdote from real life is the first in the series of Emotional Abuse Anecdotes published on

Each anecdote in the series is followed by a brief psychological explanation and analysis.

The Step-Father With An Alias

My parents divorced when I was eight and, after this, my mother dated a number of different men Eventually, after a year or two, she met a man who moved in with us.

He was an alcoholic and, like my mother, mentally unstable. He would disappear for days at a time after hiring a car for a 24 hours and failing to return it. One day, in connection with car theft, he was arrested and my mother was called to attend the police station. When she returned, I was asleep in bed. This did not prevent her though from bursting into my bedroom and, in an hysterical, blurting out that the man we had known as Iain McDonald was, in fact, John Lee and had not, as he had claimed, spent the previous decade, as a single man, living in Australia but as a married man with his wife and two children in Kelso in Scotland. He had been stealing or failing to return rented cars in order to go and visit them. 

I just remember feeling dazed and confused but tried my best to comfort my mother who eventually went back downstairs leaving me to reflect on this new reality.

Despite John Lee’s (alias Iain McDonald’s) numerous psychological problems, he was about the only adult¬† I had ever come into contact with who had actually seemed to like me being around so acted, essentially, as a step-father. However, very shortly after this dramatic revelation, he was sentenced to a short prison sentence in Pentonville Jail and I was never to see him again.

Brief Psychological Explanation And Analysis:

The child affected by this incident would have been emotionally harmed in various ways because of it.

First, living in the same household with an alcoholic is considered a Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) according to the seminal ACE study, as is living in a household in which one member (or more) goes to prison.

John Lee’s (alias, Iain McDonald’s) frequent unexplained absences from the household will also have exacerbated the child’s fear of abandonment, already established by his father’s walking out on the family. It would, too, have further insilled feelings of having been betrayed following his parents’ divorce. In turn, this will have impaired his ability to trust others.

Also, finding out that this man(who had essentially operated as a step-father) was not who he had claimed to be would have undermined the child’s sense of reality, perhaps increasing his chances of suffering from schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis in later life.

Finally, the fact that, following this dramatic revelation that things were not as they had seemed, the mother blurted out the discovery in an hysterical way to the sonand expected and depended upon him to console her without regard for how the situation affected him, ican be interpreted as ‘parentification’ or ‘spousification’ of the child, a phenomenon by which the child can become his mother’s ‘personal counsellor) which is known to be potentially highly damaging to the child’s psychological development.


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