Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Children Stuck In Between Parents

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to work with children and teens who are stuck in between their parents. The parents have either gone through and completed a custody and divorce battle or they are still in the thick of it. The one thing I have witnessed as a therapist is how it affects children. It does not matter the reason for the divorce, the children still feel fiercely loyal to both parents. When one parent speaks poorly of the other and vice-versa, it does not create a stronger alliance between child and parent, it creates confusion and existential anxiousness for the child. They can begin to exhibit symptoms of mental health disorders such as isolation, anger and behavioral outbursts, aggression, sadness/melancholy, grades drop, etc. In some cases, there were situations of abuse that resulted in the divorce. This can create even more confusion. An abuser can speak poorly of the survivor and vice-versa. When the situation is already highly emotional, and the environment has been emotionally and possibly verbally unsafe, the added stressors of witnessing parents can increase the pathological problems the child is experiencing. It can affect their psychosocial development (see information on Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development), change the direction of their attachment style (see info by John Bowlby and attachment), and possibly cause the child to feel alienated in the family. All of these sound very negative and damaging, and they can be. There is always, in my mind, a silver lining to struggles. Children can grow up and with or without professional or social help, they can recover and be stronger. Existential crises can lead to resiliency and personal growth (see info on Martin Seligman's theories of Positive Psychology). In the end, I would prefer to see children treated gently when there are battles raging in the family so that they can grow up and decide for themselves what to believe about their parents. As children, they might not be cognitively ready to make those decisions, yet. Just my thoughts on the subject... Dr. Jamison Law

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