News Release

Exposure to psychological domestic abuse most damaging to children's wellbeing

New research shows that exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to children's wellbeing in the long term than physical domestic violence

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Limerick

Exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to children's wellbeing as they grow older than physical domestic violence, according to new research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

A scientific paper by UL's Catherine Naughton, Aisling O'Donnell and Orla Muldoon was recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. It illustrates that growing up in a home with psychological abuse has longer-term effects on the wellbeing of young people than domestic violence.

Ms Naughton's research investigated how children's exposure to domestic violence and abuse between their parents affects them as young people.

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

According to Ms Naughton, "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".

"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. 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 wellbeing. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on wellbeing", Ms Naughton stated.

"We know that social support is important for recovery from traumatic childhood events. However, our findings evidence that exposure to high levels of psychological domestic abuse was associated with a decrease in young people's satisfaction with their social support. On the other hand, we also found that exposure to high levels of physical domestic violence has a protective effect in terms of satisfaction with social support for those also exposed to high levels of intra-parental psychological abuse. When children were exposed to physical violence in the home as well as psychological domestic abuse, they were more likely to be happier with the social support they were able to access. Psychological domestic abuse when it occurred alone seems to be the most damaging, perhaps because people are unable to recognise and speak out about it," she continued.

"This research examines the impact of psychological abuse in the home on Irish children as they grow older, but it also shows there is a need for more research in the area to assess the impacts of exposure to all types of domestic violence and abuse on younger children," Ms Naughton concluded.


To read the research paper, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, visit:

The paper is authored by Catherine M Naughton, Aisling T O'Donnell and Orla T Muldoon and was published online on May 5, 2017.

About Catherine Naughton:

Catherine Naughton recently completed her PhD in the Psychology Department and Centre for Social Issues Research, University of Limerick, Ireland. Her thesis research is in the area of child exposure to domestic violence and abuse.

Catherine 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; and, research highlighting how extended family, somewhat paradoxically, can play a protective role for children exposed to domestic violence and abuse.

In 2016, Catherine was named the recipient of the Haruv International Student Research Award by the International Family Violence and Child Victimization committee in the USA, and also received runner-up position for the Eadbhard O'Callaghan Early Career Research Award for Youth Mental Health, at the ACAMH Youth Special Interest Group Conference in Cork, Ireland.

Catherine's research has had an impact at national governmental level, including presentations to Irish house of parliament (Oireachtas) committees.

Based on her research expertise, she was also invited to be part of an expert group, which produced guidelines for the Irish police force, An Garda Siochana, on post-separation contact in the context of domestic violence and abuse.

Catherine lives in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland and currently works as a post-doctoral researcher in the School of Law in University of Limerick, on a project investigating youth offending.

About University of Limerick:

University of Limerick, Ireland, with more than 13,000 students and 1,300 staff is an energetic and enterprising institution with a proud record of innovation and excellence in education, research and scholarship.

The dynamic, entrepreneurial and pioneering values which drive UL's mission and strategy ensures that it capitalises on local, national and international engagement and connectivity.

It is renowned for providing an outstanding student experience and conducting leading-edge research. Its commitment is to make a difference by shaping the future through educating and empowering our students. UL is situated on a superb riverside campus of over 130 hectares with the River Shannon as a unifying focal point. Outstanding recreational, cultural and sporting facilities further enhance this exceptional learning and research environment.

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