Study Examines Emotional Landscape, Parental Image of Children of Divorce


  • A recent study examined the emotions that children of divorce may have during a high-conflict divorce.
  • The study also examines how a parental divorce affects a child's image of their parents.
  • The results of the study show lasting consequences on a child's emotional landscape.

"In measuring these emotions and identifying what these children go through, parents become better equipped to combat the sentiments their children may be experiencing."

High-conflict parental divorce is not a beneficial experience for a child to suffer through. They often see it as their fault, due to their lack of understanding of what may have caused their parents to no longer love one another.

This level of self-reflection can have an effect on a child’s self-image, as well as the image they may have of their parents.

The study and projective methodology

A recent study published in the Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy examined the specific issues of self-image and the image of parental figures for children in families with high-conflict divorces. They sought to identify the specific way children in families who undergo high-conflict divorce represent their own self-image, their parents’ image, and their relationship with parental figures through projective methodology.

The use of projective methodology in these situations is important, because it is designed to measure aspects of personality and emotional functioning, according to the Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. It has the ability to reveal facets of conflict and emotion that were previously hidden and find out how those shape the perception of whomever they are directed toward.

This methodology is commonly used by clinical and school psychologists to assess their child and adolescent clients’ personality style, cognitive processes, feelings, emotional distress, and global psychological functioning.

This is a necessary technique that researchers employ, especially in cases of a high-conflict parental divorce. They need to be able to monitor the emotional trauma that children suffer during this difficult time in their lives in an objective way, which can be difficult.

In monitoring the emotions and conflicts that children of high-conflict parental divorces go through, they are forced to watch children relive their own traumas, in order to record the psychology behind it for future use. This is a difficult task for those who study these issues.

The participants

In the study published in the Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 80 children between the ages of 6 and 10 were divided equally into two groups. The first group was of children from families in divorce and who were recommended to the researchers by the court. The researchers mainly focused on the custody proceedings with this group.

The second group of children was from intact families, and the children were randomly selected from several schools in Bucharest, Romania.

The results

The results of the study showed that in the group of children with divorcing parents, the need for dependence and the need for safety significantly was a predominate result. The need to help the other group was significantly dominant in the group with the children with intact families.

The study also revealed the emotional landscape of children with divorcing families, as it pertains to anxiety. The study showed that the anxieties that most commonly appeared in the group of children with divorcing families are the anxiety of helplessness/being hurt, as well as deprivation anxiety.

These anxieties create the defense mechanism of avoidance to form, as well as instill them with a deep sense of sadness, due to the end of their parents’ marriage.

The study also measured how the divorce affected the image of the parents, and the results showed that the children in the group with divorced parents have a significantly greater image of having a missing mother in their lives. This is primarily due to the fact that parental authority and how it pertains to physical custody, is different in Romania, in comparison to the United States.

The results of the study showed that the group with children whose parents are going through a divorce have a tendency toward autonomy, as opposed to the other group, whose tendencies lean toward a dependency on their parents. The first group’s tendency toward autonomy breeds a sense of distrust in their parents, whereas the safety net of a parents’ marriage comforts the second group.

The sense of abandonment is greater in children whose parents are divorced, according to the results of the study. There also is a greater sense of mistrust, in relation to the mother or mother-figure in their lives. This sense predominates the preference for the father, in comparison to the second group.

Children whose parents are divorced also have a significantly more present sense of guilt, fear of punishment, and fear of general aggression and aggressive behavior.

Understanding why

This study displayed the negative impact to a child’s emotional landscape during and after a high conflict parental divorce, as well as how the high-conflict parental divorce affects how children see their parents after the divorce is finalized.

In measuring these emotions and identifying what these children go through, parents become better equipped to combat the sentiments their children may be experiencing.

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