15 minutes reading time (2907 words)

A Child Divided: Healing the Psychological Wound of Divorce

A Child Divided: Healing the Psychological Wound of Divorce

The King's Judgment

Two women stood before the king, both stating their claim to a child they believed to be their own. Both had their child only three days apart, and after falling asleep one had awakened to the unfortunate sight of her baby lying dead next to her in bed. Having wept over the loss of her son, she soon realized that the child who lay next to her was not her own.She then brought charges against the other mother for switching the infants during their sleep; the trial was set.

Both parties, newly inducted to motherhood, stated their claim to the living baby. An air of mystery surrounded the court as to who's child was the living and to whom the recently deceased child belonged. The king, called for both mothers to bring him a sword, so he could divide the child accordingly between both parties.

The first mother, distraught with grief as to the notion of her child being killed as a means to satisfy the conflict present between both parties had a moment of clarity, begged the king to reverse the judgment, allow the baby to live, and forfeited her claim to raise the child out of a mother's inner-most compassion. The other demanded the baby be divided and given to neither. The king, wise in judgment, ruled that the first party be given rightful claim to the living boy as she was the party with compassion towards the innocent life, regardless of the unknown truth as to whom the baby belonged.In the end, she sacrificed personal interest in the light of empathic concern for the life of a child, and regardless of the other's claim, and was truly more of a caregiver than the other mother, who was vindictive and selfish in her qualities, serving personal interests at the expense of ruining a child's life. The kingdom rejoiced because of the wisdom shown by the king. (Paraphrased from 1 Kings 3:16-28.)

The Mother, Judge, and Child: Wisdom through Adaptation

Psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Gustav Jung wrote extensively on the power unconscious images have on psychological development.He called these images archetypes, and defined them as conduits of psychological energy that encourage emotional and spiritual growth during the lifecycle.Archetypes drive the life journey forward by presenting us with specific paradoxes that when worked through assists us to develop a more holistic perspective towards life.Jung called this practice Self-realization or individuation, which means to realize our ultimate Self potential.Although the above story occurs during a time long ago, its wisdom is universal, and shows insight into the ways family distress affects the developmental journey a child undertakes when exposed to dynamics of a divorcing family.

The archetypes present in this story are the Mother (the two mother antagonists), The King (father and judge), and the child (the protagonist).While no definable father is present in this family drama, its archetypal paradox of moral commandment and prohibitory influences are found in the judge's position as mediator between the opposing parties.Although no relationship is stated between the antagonists, whose primary aim in this story is to be the nurturing force behind the child's rearing, the story shows insight into the difficulties faced when issues of litigation arise within a family dividing.

The child in this story is taken from his mother, dividing it from the nurturing bond that sustained its life post-gestation.Life and death, nurturing and consuming are the paradoxes Jung associated to the mother archetype.Just as Earth gives and takes life, nurtures and consumes, the mothers in the story have given life, hunger to nurture that life forward, but inadvertently bring the possibility of death to the child they seek to raise due to the continued conflict present.Because neither party is able to resolve their conflict, a third party (The King) must then decide the fate of the protagonist, who has no say in the matter at hand between the two antagonists. Being objective to the antagonists' plight, the king is faced with no choice but to divide the protagonist between the two opposing antagonists.

While metaphoric in nature, the language of the story shows the conflict children face when their parents are unable to resolve their own interpersonal conflict without considering the effects that conflict has on the child.In the story the king orders the child be divided in two. This is symbolic of division process a child undergoes as he or she must learn to divide and navigate between two parents' set of rules that were once together in a marital union. As a third party being forced to decide the division of a child between the two parties, the judge is forced to utilize objectivity in the decision made, and divide the child in a manner that allows neither antagonistic party victory in the case. Ultimately, there can be no victor because of the behaviors preceding the judgment, and the only loss suffered is from the child who must now be divided.

Emotion drives the plot of this story, as rationale is clearly lacking between the opposing parties.While the antagonists operate from emotion, it is balanced through the cold rationale of the King archetype (Judge) who must remain objective and tend to the rules of the court. Both antagonists are clearly distraught about the loss of their child, react from a state of emotional distress, and show lack of foresight into their decision making.There is no right or wrong between the antagonists when viewed from an empathic level, as both parties have lost their child. Both mothers are stricken by grief from this loss, and because of this, the king faces the dilemma of aligning with one over the other mother's grief, while remaining objective as to which mother is telling the truth. The King in this case does the only thing he can, remain objective, sever emotional ties to the information presented, meet irrational emotions, thoughts, and behaviors with rationality, and remove emotionality from the decision rendered. The king punishes the non-conflicted party through the decision, allowing neither antagonistic party to be rewarded for the conflictual behaviors shown. In this case, the judge is faced with the most difficult of circumstances, to make rational sense of an irrational emotional state, that of Love.

Love is the only primary emotion that encompasses all other primary emotions. These include Fear (survival anxiety, flight or freeze response), Anger (fight response), Sadness (anger turned inwards), and Happiness (the ability to mitigate time to become content).The antagonists, like family members in today's courtroom, are driven by love.Parents who face losing their children undergo a real grieving process, must learn effective ways to deal with the fear of loss they face, the subsequent anger that arises when faced with that fear, and the sadness and guilt that arises from the actions they undertake to avoid that fear.This process is predictable, and can lead to immense emotional growth for both parents and their children if channeled correctly.For the antagonists in the story, fear of loss, anger, and the sadness that accompanies their loss drives this story towards its natural conclusion, and loss of a child becomes the basis from which the king must pass a ruling, meeting irrational fears and anger with rationality.The decision, divide the child, allows neither party the benefit of winning their position, and hope the child can mend the division, within that, he or she was subjected to between the two parents.

As an archetype, Love drives the themes and the underlying dynamics present between the antagonists, the protagonist, and the king who must pass a verdict based upon objectivity and rationality. Like many dynamics present in family conflict today, the division of love brings forth unwanted fear, anger, and despairing grief as it relates to the separation and division of strong emotional bonds that exists between all family members. The cost? A loose, loose, loose scenario where the child is left to heal the emotional scars caused by the parents, the court is left to issue orders within its scope that cannot take into account the emotional components that drive most custody conflicts, and where the one, or more often, both parents leave without having reached a real resolution to the problem that plagues them.

Severance, Healing the Wound, and Resilient Scarring

Divorce can have far reaching consequences on a child's psychological well-being.As a psychotherapist, I often see the aftermath divorce has on a child's emotional state. While the grieving process is predictable, its effect is oftentimes not taken into account by familial, social, and educational settings that work with and have direct access to the child. Children are expected to perform, to grow into their own beings, but oftentimes their emotions are not taken into consideration by the very people or agencies that directly affect their lives.When a child faces loss, she relies on the adults in her life to model behaviors that will help her deal with the anxiety, anger, and sadness common to the grieving process, not perpetuate these very emotions due to inability to resolve interpersonal conflict.

With having a child comes great responsibility. As parents, we grow as we learn ways to foster our children's own creative and independent spirits. Adult development is intimately tied to fostering the next generation to success; by learning effective ways to handle the stress related to meeting personal, familial, and social expectations, we develop, plan, implement, and model socially acceptable behaviors to our youth, which in turn allows them to adapt to the good, the bad, the favorable, and the adverse conditions associated with life. Through the bond formed between the a parent and his or her child, community values, stigmas, social mores, and lessons are passed on, as we teach the next generation to dream, aspire, inspire and ultimately engage life in a meaningful and driven manner.

While this is an ideal scenario, many children do not have such a picturesque home environment.Instead, they are exposed to a host of adverse conditions caused by the parents' inability to establish, secure, and maintain a healthy emotional environment that encourages healthy psychological maturation.For many children, daily arguments, fights, incidents of domestic violence, intermixed with social and community violence, and the stresses of being exposed to anger, hypertension, and the lack of a sustained loving environment causes emotional regression to a survival state, where the environment that is supposed to nurture their development becomes a battleground with divided lines.This furthers the division a child faces at the psychological level, causing excessive anxiety, guilt, repressive, and suppressive tendencies towards their emotional states, which in turn cuts off their ability to dream life forward and learn effective ways to engage life in an emotionally stable manner.Instead of learning ways to effectively channel emotional energy towards productive outcomes, children that undergo highly-conflicted divorce and custody cases oftentimes develop non-adaptive and oftentimes rigid psychological defenses as ways to handle their day-to-day stress, which in turn can affect academic, occupational, and social performance.

While a host of psychological issues can arise from the severance of the marital relationship, this need not be the case. The first step to assure psychological health post-separation is to unilaterally and completely sever the relationship bond and leave no questions as to the status of the relationship. Shifting with indecision about severing one's relationship ultimately fosters a false sense of hope in the child, prevents the healing process from beginning, and can cause deeper problems to emerge as one learns ineffective ways to handle relationship problems. Children learn through emulation, and by seeing their parents waiver with indecision, teetering between love and hate, dependence and independence, and togetherness and indifference dynamics, they learn equally divisive and non-adaptive ways to handle relationship stress.

Parents deserve to know the ramifications their divorce can have on their child(ren). Knowledge leads to options, and options allow for informed consent. Oftentimes, lack of information intermixed with indecision causes the couple's inability to cleanly sever their emotional ties, therefore drawing the lines of engagement from which the child ultimately finds themselves pulled apart by the emotional conflict present between both parents. Through education about co-parenting and referrals to appropriate mental health professionals, we can greatly limit the effects marital severance has on the emotional health of the child. From the time of initial separation to the time of final judgment, parents can be encouraged to learn new ways to effectively co-parent, or at least parallel-parent, as each party faces not only the burden of dealing with their own emotional healing but also that of their children's grieving process. As parents learn ways to handle their emotional distress, as well as understand the effects divorce has on their children, they can help their children more effectively adapt to each new home setting, therefore limiting the effects continued conflict plays on the adjustment a child faces post-divorce.

By seeking the help from professionals trained to handle emotional distress, parents can learn to overcome their intrapersonal conflicts that lead to many of the dramas played out in courtroom setting.This in turn assists in parenting, allowing the child to benefit from developing healthy interpersonal bonds with both parents in a manner not subjected to the stress caused by the severance of the relationship.While mending the wound associated with divorce will take time, it is through bonds formed with both parents that a child's wound can become scars of resilience.

The Final Judgment

There is no easy solution to assist people severing their relationship bond.In the story, no bond exists between the antagonists, but both parties assume their position without concern over the life of the child present.From this perspective, human life becomes chattel to divide between two opposing litigants bent upon proving their point.The one woman is scorned and grieves the unexpected death of her child, while the other grieves the theft of her child, being torn between her right to raise him and her motherly instinct to let him live.While tragic in its scope, this story pales in comparison to the damaging effects the dividing process can have on the child when both parties equally love and honor the child as their own.

A child does not choose her parents; she can only learn to relate to her parents in a manner that helps them assure survival in a world of uncertainty. Through the initial relationship formed between the child and her parents, she learns ways to adapt, emulate, and develop a healthy sense of self, which in turn fosters her ability to secure future healthy attachment bonds.If either party betrays the bond formed between the child and parent, the child is left to her own devices to determine what party is right, wrong, or indifferent and sever the relationship bond with one or the other party, subsequently dividing themselves from the possibilities of love and the lessons available through that parent.

In the story, the king makes the final decision. If the parties of legal majority cannot control their irrational state enough to make an informed decision, it is up to him as a third party to decide the fate of all three from a rationally objective position.The child in this case is the innocent victim, just as children are in the conflicts that accompany divorce in modern courts. While the one party comes to her senses in this story, unfortunately, in family law, this is not always the case, due to one or both parties choosing to battle their spouse or partner as if they were still together, re-opening the wound of division present with the child, never letting it mend, and ultimately dividing the child from her innate capacity to scar over with resilience.

The implementation of psychotherapy during the divorce process can greatly influence the ability children have to mend the psychological scars associated with their parent's divorce. While not all divorce or custody cases are highly contested, in cases that are, having objective, third-party evidence about the parents' emotional status and psychological profile can assist the court to make an informed decision about which parent is more fit to handle the day to day stresses associated with child-rearing. Working in cooperation, law and psychology can assist families not only to successfully sever the parental relationship, but also can encourage ways to do so that limits the after effects divorce can have on a child's psychological and emotional well-being.

While there is always some semblance of three truths present in legal proceedings, psychotherapists can assist children and parents undergoing the divorce process to make sense of their emotional states, so as to help all three parties make objective and rational decisions about their circumstances. By having knowledge of their own emotional state, as well as that of their children, parents can make educated decisions as to how to proceed with the complexities of their legal matter.

When faced with the complexities of divorce, it is imperative to seek emotional support not only from loved ones, who are oftentimes ill-informed, but also from competent professionals that can assure a party's legal rights and help him understand his emotional state, so that he can make informed and rational decisions based upon a sound plan that will help him secure his and his child's emotional health and psychological well-being during the severance process. When even ground is found between both parties, the divorce process need not be so divisive.Instead, it can open the door to deep psychological growth as the child learns to love her individual parents in a manner simply not possible during a conflicted marriage. Although the final verdict comes in the form of an order, this order simply does not account for the lifetime of co-parenting, continued communication, the attendance of birthdays, graduations, weddings, and funerals both parties will be subjected to during their lifetime as parents of a child divided. 

 

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