The Trauma of Divorce

By Chrystal Allen-O’Jon

I, like so many others, have experienced the heartache of seeing our parents go through divorce. Some parents were able to handle the process amicably, others in rage, violence, or physical and verbal verbal assaults. Let’s examine those two words: Trauma and Divorce.

Trauma and Divorce

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Divorce (also known as dissolution of marriage) is the optional process of terminating a marriage or marital union. Put those two together (Trauma Divorce) and you have  an emotional response to the process of terminating a union. https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma –  Divorce – Wikipedia.

Emotions 

There can be several types of emotions  brought to the surface during divorce. The most common are feelings of loss, anger, confusion, anxiety, and so many others. Divorce  and  family separation can leave children feeling overwhelmed and emotionally sensitive. Now imagine if you were that child suffering trauma from divorce, only later to experience divorce and trauma yourself. This is trauma on top of trauma being passed on to your own children, creating residual trauma.

Why Divorce?

First, why do couples choose to divorce in the first place? This can be for many reasons. “Research has found the most common reasons are lack of commitment,  arguing, infidelity, marrying young/immature, unrealistic expectations, lack of equality in the relationship, lack of preparation for marriage, and abuse”. (yourdivorcequestions.org/how-common-is-divorce).

For many, marriage is thought to be a ”way out” from a dysfunctional home. The trouble with that thinking, is one leaves with residual dysfunction and takes that residual luggage into the marriage. If both parties in the marriage have residual dysfunction, it’s a recipe for disaster. Now, imagine children are brought into the picture. They now become victims of residual dysfunction and could possibly develop dysfunction, then be drawn into relationships with other dysfunctional people.  This vicious cycle will go on, until awareness of the behavior is developed.

Self-Aware

According to the website Self Aware,  one can “Start to question and challenge false beliefs”. False beliefs about self and others can develop watching the dysfunction of our parents, grandparents and those rearing us. As much as we’d like to blame them, however we must remember, perhaps they weren’t (aren’t) self aware either. What is Self Awareness? 5 Tips to Become More Self Aware (choosingtherapy.com). This same site goes on to give “Ways to Become More Self-Aware” .  They suggest these as options: 1. Nature Walks; 2. Mindfulness; 3. Meditation;  4. Yoga and 5. Journaling.  Without self-awareness, one continues a cycle of toxic and sometimes dangerous relationships. Being more self-aware should aid us in our own self-view.

No One Understands You And What To Do About It“, authored by Heidi Halvorson, explains that  few people see us the way we see ourselves. In fact, there is a clear gap between our self-views and other people’s views on us, and the bigger this gap, the more dysfunctional our relationships with others will tend to be.

Who Are We?

Aristotle believed, “We are what we repeatedly do”.  So then, to lead a family, a business, or a team, if we lack self-awareness, how can we effectively teach, build or coach  others to success?  Low self-awareness has not only been linked to poor leadership performance, but also to poor mental well-being and self-destructive behaviors, such as addictions.

Divorce, or Stay for for the Kids – The Con’s

There are obvious benefits for why some parents should stay together. Since we are discussing residual dysfunction as it relates to the trauma of divorce we will discuss the cons in this piece. When parents themselves have residual dysfunction they become poor relationship models for their children. They may begin to believe “unhappiness or toxic behavior in a marriage or unmarried committed relationship is normal.”  This places them in an unsuitable family role – “gives kids a false sense of relationships”.

Mental Health Results & The Impact on Kids

Does divorce affect children’s mental health? Yes.  According to some studies, “children who experience parental separation aged between 7 and 14 are 16% more likely to experience behavioural issues and emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, than those whose parents stay together”.

Since children watch us and “do what we do” as opposed to “do what we say”,  they soak up all the dysfunction they see. Here are some of the negative results: (How Toxic Marriages Negatively Impact Kids (culturebully.com).

  • Unrest. The process causes children to feel uneasy. If they feel like they have to walk on eggshells, it’s hard to develop confidence.
  • Low self-esteem. Sadly, children who are closely involved with toxic relationships tend to have very low self-esteem that can take years to overcome.
  • Distorted view of marriage. Do you want your children to grow up thinking a dysfunctional marriage is normal?
  • Stress and anxiety. Research shows (Adrenocortical Underpinnings of Children’s Psychological Reactivity to Interparental Conflict (nih.gov). When they see their parents fight, they experience cardiac stress and significant increases in cortisol. This interferes with their mental and intellectual development.
  • Guilt and shame. They wonder if they’re the reason for their parents’ constant quarreling.

https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/effects-of-divorce-on-children#changes-in-patterns

Can Staying in Dysfunctional Relationships Cause Situational Danger?

Lack of healing could possibly lead someone to be situationally dangerous, or put others in a potentially dangerous situation. By that, I mean one’s decision making process could be impaired. Just because you can handle being around dysfunctional people doesn’t mean your children should be exposed to them. That exposure could cause a lifetime of psychological trauma. This is all my opinion, based on my personal experience.

How to move forward with adult children of divorce – Creating New Habits

https://grottonetwork.com/navigate-life/relationships/habits-of-healing-for-adult-children-of-divorce/

An important habit for healing, then, is not to dismiss the experience of others. Our capacity for healing is clouded by our own “emotional glasses”. I cannot dismiss someone’s experience because it differs vastly (from my own) – even when the experience happened in the same room at the same time.  My trauma may cause me to interpret a situation completely different from others.

It is going to be hard work — everyone must be willing. “Divorce has affected your identity, your faith, or your relationships.  Without making an accurate diagnosis of what places we need to be healed, we can’t move forward”.

Other habits include: Practicing forgiveness. In some cases we have to forgive others and even ourselves for poor choices we made – choices that made a negative impact on us personally and those around us. 

Forgiving those who hurt us doesn’t excuse them, but it does free us.  For me, it’s been freeing for me to say (in my heart) “I forgive the hurt, because if that person had the capacity to do better, they would.


If you or anyone reading this needs help, please seek it. Here are resource links:

U.S.A.

About Us | Mental Health America (mhanational.org)

Los Angeles

Trauma Counseling Center of Los Angeles – https://traumacounseling.com/contact-trauma-counseling-center-of-los-angeles/

Highland Park Holistic Therapy – https://www.highlandparktherapy.com/

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