Childhood Wounds From Divorce Carry Long-Lasting Effects Into Adulthood

Healing Remains Crucial for Adult Children of Divorce

Marriage has always been God’s plan. Research supports the fact that the best scenario is for children to have two parents because they need the love, guidance, and support that both parents can provide.

Moms and Dads provide complementary roles in the upbringing of children that neither parent is fully equipped to provide on their own. Children who grow up with two loving parents tend to be more emotionally stable than those who grow up in single-parent households. These children have a lower risk of engaging in substance abuse and criminal activity.

When one parent is absent, children feel a sense of loss and longing for the missing parent. This can cause emotional pain, particularly when the child feels rejected or abandoned by the absent parent.

Society Glosses Over Divorce And Children Are The Victims

Divorce is a traumatic experience for children and – if left untreated – becomes an emotional injury that negatively affects their future relationships as adults. Unfortunately, children of divorced parents are not given the support they need with this all-too-common childhood trauma. Parental divorce is often not recognized as a loss to be grieved.

There is still a stigma attached to divorce and this can make it difficult for children to express their feelings openly. In today’s culture, divorce has become more and more common. Because of this normalization, the perception is that divorce is a normal part of life and not something that requires grieving.

As a result, children of divorce are made to hide their wounds and carry this baggage silently into adulthood.

Parents often don’t understand the impact that their divorce will have on their children, and may not recognize the need for grieving and healing. Because of our societal normalization of divorce, the fact that the children’s safe haven is being ripped apart is lost, and the children are left to sort out the aftermath they experience on their own.

Children Get Caught In The Crossfire Of Disunited Parents

Children do not fully process or understand their experiences until they are adults. They do not have the same coping mechanisms or communication skills as adults. Children are still developing, emotionally; and they are not able to fully express and articulate their experiences. They may not have the ability to label their feelings, which leads to confusion, and they often interpret this confusion as pressure to hide their feelings because they sense they are not acceptable.

Parents may communicate that the failure of their relationship was the child’s fault, in various explicit or implicit ways. It is not uncommon for parents to unintentionally convey a sense of blame on their children. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame in the child which may carry over into adulthood and affect their ability to form healthy relationships and live a fulfilling life.

Many adult children of divorce say they feel and believe that if it weren’t for them, their parents may have been able to salvage their relationship.

This is a tremendous burden for a child to carry.

Some parents put their children in the middle of their conflicts by asking them to take sides or relay messages to the other parent. This unreasonable responsibility creates guilt and possibly adds to the resentment the child develops.

Parents going through divorce often feel alone and isolated. To get their own emotional needs met, they’ll treat their children as a confidante and share inappropriate or adult-oriented information with the child, such as details about their relationship problems or their own emotional struggles.

Broken Children Turn Into Broken Adults

Children of divorce need to grieve and heal. This may involve counseling, support groups, or simply creating a safe and supportive environment for the child to express her/his feelings openly. By recognizing and validating the child’s feelings, we can help the child to begin processing these emotions. The pain and brokenness experienced as a child of divorce do not go away; they produce a range of long-lasting symptoms, including fear of failure, difficulty trusting, low self-esteem, and emotional numbing, just to name a few.

They may be afraid of failing in their own relationships, believing that they are inherently flawed or incapable of maintaining a healthy long-term relationship.

This symptom may be labeled as their own fear of commitment. They may enter adult relationships believing they are destined to fail even in their anxious desire to keep them from ending in a seemingly inevitable breakup.

Sometimes, this anxious desire to save relationships drives them to stay in unhealthy pre-marriage relationships when all signs point to the fact that the relationship is unhealthy. We see this in many abusive dating relationships.

Children of divorce grow into adults who have difficulty trusting others or forming close relationships, due to a fear of being hurt or abandoned – having experienced the betrayal they interpreted from their parents’ divorce.

This feeling of abandonment leads to a feeling of insecurity. They may struggle with feelings of inadequacy or low self-worth, believing that they are not deserving of love or happiness.

These children will have turned into adults who have insecure attachments with their future intimate partners, and they can also find themselves in a spiral of looking for love in all the wrong places.

Self-Compassion Means Taking It Easy On Oneself

As Christians, we know that God is the most ideal and perfectly loving and compassionate Father who cares for His children. Through prayer and God’s grace, adult children of divorce can find the love, acceptance, and security that they may have missed out on as a child, and with professional help, they can begin the journey to heal their feelings of insecurity.

Through the years, adult children of divorce may try to numb their emotions or avoid close relationships altogether – as a way to protect themselves from further hurt or rejection. Those who feel alone and isolated can find hope and comfort in remembering that God is with us in our pain and suffering.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” –Psalm 34:18

Because of the pain and disruption they’ve experienced, adult children of divorce often harbor anger and resentment towards their parents.

The process of forgiveness and reconciliation can be difficult but it is possible through the power of God’s love and grace. This process is certainly challenging but ultimately liberating. Walking this journey with a trusted mental health professional can often help. Healing from the wounds of rejection and shame is a difficult and ongoing process. It is important to practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and non-judgment. Do this by first acknowledging your pain and suffering, and by recognizing that your experiences were not your fault.

We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Often, self-care simply means learning to treat ourselves the way we want to show compassion for another who is struggling.

Community And Meditating On God

We need to identify and reframe negative self-talk. Negative self-talk can reinforce feelings of rejection and shame. Adult children of divorce can reframe their negative self-talk by challenging their beliefs and replacing them with more positive, affirming thoughts. A supportive community of friends, family members, or peers who have also experienced parental divorce can be a valuable resource.

They can share their experiences, provide encouragement and understanding, offer practical advice, and be a shoulder to lean on. As members of the Christian community, we are called to love and support one another. Galatians chapter six, verse two tells us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Coming together helps those struggling to find a sense of belonging when they otherwise feel isolated and disconnected. Community encourages healing.

Always remember that God is a loving and compassionate Father who cares deeply for His children. This can be a powerful source of comfort for those who may have experienced rejection or abandonment. We have found that journaling, meditation, and prayer are beneficial for processing emotions and finding peace.

Psalm 27:10 says, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”

Through faith in God, adult children of divorce can find comfort and healing as they turn to Him. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you – declares the Lord – plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” By trusting in God’s plan for our lives, we can find hope and healing while trusting that God is working all things together for good.

Adult children of divorce can heal. They can learn and develop healthy coping mechanisms that enable them to manage their stress and anxiety. They can reduce their risk of developing depression or other mental health issues, while establishing healthy long-lasting relationships. Shield Bearer is one of many resources you have at your disposal.

 Visit Shield Bearer Counseling Centers and read Thad Cardine’s book available at Amazon.

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Thad Cardine

Thad Cardine is the Chief Executive Officer of Shield Bearer Counseling Centers and author of Solutions to Common Parenting Dilemmas: Answers to Issues that Drive Moms and Dads Crazy. With over 30 years devoted to leading nonprofit organizations, writing curriculum, teaching in private and public schools, speaking, and raising five wonderful children with his wife and best friend Jamie, Thad Cardine feels he has found the true definition of success. "Success for me is when your faith, your values, your passions, your work, and your family all coalesce." Shield Bearer removes the barriers to receiving mental health services and provides licensed counseling, support groups, educational workshops, and seminars to help families and individuals better their lives and heal since 2005.