The Impact of Divorce on Children

I love watching TED talks, they get the leading experts in a certain field to hold compelling, yet for us novices, interesting talks. In relative short time they talk about a subject and when done, they leave, at least me, with lots to think about and I often feel enlightened.

Dr Tamara Affifi is a professor in Communications at UCSB and is the presenter in the video below. Her recent research examines the impact that various factors like divorce, economic uncertainty and parents’ communication patterns (e.g., conflict, reoccurring stressful disclosures, social support) have on adolescents’ physiological stress responses (e.g., hormones).

In the video below, Dr Affifi touches upon the subject of how children feel about divorce. Some kids are much impacted, some less. The level of conflict is what makes the difference. I’ll admit, spit has a different taste to me now and watching the video made me ponder a few things.

Conflict, by definition, is a state of instability, disarray and uncertainty. It raises our ‘flight or fight’ responses; heart rhythm, blood pressure and alertness. Useful responses in emergency situations, when you need to get out of danger. It is a physical reaction that results in action, but to innocent children it is just stress, they can not change the situation, which has long-term psychological effects.

Children in high conflict marriages suffer the most. It is the continuous exposure to conflict that is damaging.

Conflict can take many different forms and shapes. From outright domestic violence, (sexual) child abuse, spouses continuously arguing, to psychological abuse. Psychological abuse is just as damaging, though so much more difficult to proof and quite frankly, so much harder to get away from. Psychological abuse is ever-present, there is a continuous conflict.

In psychological abuse there is continuous gaslighting. The victim is paralyzed because of the arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistencies. No matter what you do, it is wrong.

Psychological abusers need complete control over their victim and both male and female perpetrators exhibit a cluster of traits and high rates of personality disorders. Abusers can be very manipulative, often recruiting friends, law officers and court officials, even the victim’s family to their side, while shifting blame to the victim. Abusers are convincing. Why else would you have married him or her? But this makes the victim extra vulnerable, when the justice system sides with the convincing abuser, the victim gets victimized all over again.

Perpetrators need a high level of conflict and drama. By externalizing their inner chaos and projecting onto others, it diverts them from resolving their inner problems. Spouses and children suffer. Yes, children suffer. Not only because they see what happens to a parent, how the abuser treats the adult is how (s)he will treat the children, a double whammy.

Psychological abuse erodes the soul, it erases the identity. Isolated and alone, who can come to the victims aid? Who will believe them? Paralyzed, victims have a hard time leaving their abusers, I was no different. I fought long and hard to safe the marriage. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that divorce was actually in the best interest of the children.

One thought on “The Impact of Divorce on Children

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