There are many aspects one can explore on the topic of Family Crises and their consequences; ranging from physical violence to mental health and abuse.
I chose the following five to write about;
- War, conflict and loss of homeland,
- Illness in the family,
- Parental separation and Divorce,
- Resilience and good feelings.
These topics will be discussed in the above order due to my own experience and the sequence of their influence on me. I have incorporated observations from my own experience as that of close friends who have suffered similar situations.
I illustrate the challenges and effects of these experiences, as well as the options available to manage them on a daily basis – both in the short and long-term.
‘Resilience and Good Feelings’ is addressed at the end of this essay to show that no matter what obstacles life throws at us, and no matter what emotional trauma we deal with as a result, there are recognised methods we can adopt to build barriers against bad days and learn how to personally develop from these experiences.
War, conflict andloss of homeland
There are many reasons why people leave their homeland; the most common are war and conflict. The result is the displacement of people who need to integrate into new societies. It can be challenging to integrate into a different culture but children can often assimilate and learn new languages.
The Child Mind Institute suggests that people who have experienced serious harm such as terrorist attacks, disasters, or have witnessed someone being badly injured or killed, can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms of which can have a significant impact on day-to-day life.
The National Health Service explains PTSD as a mental disorder that can develop as a result of a traumatic event, such as war, conflict or loss of homeland. Symptoms include disturbing thoughts, feelings or dreams which can last for more than a month; those afflicted are at higher risk of suicide and self-harm. Young children are less likely to show distress, but may express their memories through play.
People born into stressful environments such as war and conflict may develop a heightened stress response system but do not necessarily develop PTSD. Diagnosis is therefore based on the presence of specific symptoms following a traumatic event.
Maureen Fox in ‘The Journal of Social Work Practice’,discusses how Freud investigated neurosis following the First World War recording symptoms of irritability, insomnia, anxiety, depressive mood and feelings of insufficiency, all symptoms of PTSD. Freud suggested that in trauma “the ego” is over-stimulated. The role of the ego is to regulate the amount of excitement affecting the mind from external and internal sources; subsequent overstimulation reduces or paralyses normal cognitive activity. Fox states that ‘the protective barrier that enables us to cope with anxiety within normal limits and that prevents the mind from being overwhelmed, has been breached. Without this protective membrane the normal psychic systems of mastery, control and defence that we rely on for our equilibrium, are blasted away leaving the individual unprotected, disintegrated and suffering acute mental pain.’
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It can be hard to diagnose young children with trauma. Fox describes the experience of children refugees’ as unbearable emotional pain ‘got rid of’ through projection and a way of putting unwanted feelings onto someone else. The more threatening the impending danger is to one’s survival, the more forcibly these feelings have to be expelled. Fox describes a case of a young girl, Sophie, who experiences intense grief following the loss of her family and move to the UK and who withdraws from her immediate surroundings and develops anger towards the people around her.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network notes that ‘children suffering from traumatic stress symptoms generally have difficultly regulating their behaviours and emotions. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and/or aggressive or impulsive. Many have difficulty sleeping, lose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behaviour.’
There are many refugee support centres in the UK that help with recovery from trauma associated with loss of family and homeland and support refugees’ emotional and psychological wellbeing. Centres provide specialist mental health support to help rebuild lives using resilience, strength and skills acquired on refugees’ journeys including:
- One-to-one counselling.
- Health and wellbeing workshops
- Psychosocial group sessions
- Intensive casework and crisis intervention
I left Iraq when I was 9 years old. I thought we were going on holiday to England but my parents had decided it was time to leave. They made their decision overnight and we never had the chance to say goodbye to family or friends. I have only been back twice and the last time was in 1982-83.
England has always felt like home. I don’t remember Iraq. However, watching the bombing of Baghdad in the first Gulf War which destroyed the pipelines my father had built pains me to this day. I recall thinking ‘that’s my home and those are my people’.
Due to the situation in Iraq family has been displaced around the world. I’ve listened to their stories; how they left and what they did to survive. Some had young children at the time, and this makes me wonder how they now feel about being displaced from their homeland.
Illness in the family
Asha Phillps (2008) quotes “when sickness comes into the family, it does not merely take hold of a body, but weaves a dark fabric that entangles hearts and enshrouds hope.” Muriel Barberry in ‘L’Elegance Du Herisson’ (2009) wrote: “Sickness was like a spider spinning its thread around our plans, around our very breath, as day after day it swallowed up or lives”.
Parents are supposed to be the carers; they have a duty to care for the emotional and physical needs of their children and make sure these needs are met. Sometimes one of the parents might not be able to fulfil their role either through physical or mental illness, so the child might have to step in and take over the role. This uncertain happening of events forces a child to fulfil the role of an adult in childhood.
Children might witness a depressed parent and take on the task of rescuing them by sacrificing their own needs, providing comfort, emotional support and sometimes guidance to their needy parent. This can impact on the child by making them feel unwanted, abandoned, or as if it’s their fault that their parents are having problems. It is important to remember that children are not mini adults and they depend on their parents for emotional support. When that is taken away due to illness, it’s inevitable that their childhood will be altered.
When there is more than one child involved it is often it is the first-born child who is put into this role. However, some cultures or religions, the gender is a more significant factor in that it may be the boy or the girl that is selected according to cultural preference, even if they are not the eldest child.
A child’s early home environment has a profound effect on their well-being. Parental illness can disrupt the brain’s stress response, reduce the quality of caregiving the child receives and interfere with healthy development (Blair et al, 2011).
Research has linked negative home environments during a child’s first three years with many developmental problems and poorer language development by age three (Evans et al, 2010). In addition to impaired cognitive development, potential behavioural problems can occur as a result of negative home environments (Trentacosta et al, 2008). These include truancy at school, aggression, anxiety and depression.
A commonly studied risk factor is maternal depression (Burchinal et al, 2006; Mistry et al, 2010; Sektan et al, 2010). This risk factor is a strong predictor of difficulties in later outcomes including academic performance, cognitive development, and social and emotional well-being.
Asha Phillips in ‘Saying No: Why it’s important you and your child’ described where a mother became very ill and was hospitalised for many having a serious impact on the whole family (husband, daughter Emily 15 years old and a son Josh 9 years old). The father juggled his work to be able to support his family. Emily took over the role of ‘mummy’ at home and this had a large impact on her as was still a teenager. She saw less of her friends and became serious and arrogant. She became close to her father and enjoyed feeling like his ‘little wife’. She would get irritated at Josh when he didn’t do as he was told. Josh due to worry of his mother became difficult, demanding and angry, “he paraded around the like an emperor”. His sadness and fright at his mother‘s illness translated into him becoming outraged at the world.
The World Federation For Mental Health suggest that there are many ways illness in the family can affect everyday life. The family will need to share the care giving responsibilities; this can help all the family to feel they are doing something to help, it will also protect any one family member from being the only carer. Families need to work hard to maintain a sense of “normal” life. This can benefit the ill member, as well; it may help them integrate into family life more and reduce their sense of guilt regarding the demands the illness places on the whole family
According to Lamothe (2017) some people who have to be responsible for their siblings or parents as children grow up to be compulsive caretakers. Research shows that the diagnosis of cancer or other terminal illnesses in parents can have a noticeable impact on the child’s performance at school and can affect future career earnings. The effect was most pronounced in children under the age of five at the time of their parents’ diagnosis, as found by researchers from The University of Copenhagen. A study by Matthews-King (2018) in ‘The Independent’ newspaper suggests there are a range of direct effects from having a parent fall ill, as this can affect the care and attention they receive at home and support with schoolwork. It’s also likely to affect motivation and focus in school, and increasing the like hood of absences and the chances of depression, which can further undermine learning.
Having grown up with a sick parent, initially starting with my father when I was 9 and then my mother, I was never sure if this had an effect on me or on my siblings. The more I researched the clearer it become that those experiences did indeed affect me. I believe this is why I like supporting people especially young people. Additionally, when my parents got sick, I can now see that was when I started to put on weight and continued to do so every time either of them got sicker. I remember watching TV and listening to music were my comfort and coping strategies, and they still remain even though I’m now in my late 40’s.
Bereavement can mean many things, including “to be robbed” or “deprived of something valuable”, not just a period of mourning after a loss or death of a loved one. Warden (January 24, 2019) warns that grief does not fit into neat boxes. Bereaved people will move back and forth from one task to another during grieving.
One of the best summaries of the standard psychoanalytic model of mourning, can be found in the following discussion by George Hagman in his article ‘Beyond Decathexis: Towards a New Psychoanalytic Understanding and Treatment of Mourning’: ‘Mourning is the mental process by which man’s psychic equilibrium is restored following the loss of a meaningful love object. It is a normal process to any significant loss. The predominant mood of mourning is painful and is usually accompanied by loss of interest in the outside world, preoccupation with memories of the lost object, and diminished capacity to make new emotional investments. Hagman suggests that uncomplicated mourning is does not usually require treatment. In time the individual adapts to the loss and renews the capacity for pleasure in relationships.
Fauth, B, Thompson, M and Penny, A (2009) said that bereavement in children and young people is more frequent than people think. 78% 11-16 year olds in one survey said that they had been bereaved of a close relative or friend (Harrison and Harrington, 2001). It is estimated that in 2015, 23,600 parents died in the UK, leaving dependent children (23,200 in 2014).
Shirley Thompson in her ‘Theories around Loss and Bereavement (2016) quotes “Grief is a unique experience and theories of grief & bereavement can help healthcare professionals understand how people deal with the loss of a loved one”
In our workshops we discussed Michael Rosen’s ‘Sad Book.’ One of the topics that resonated with me was how his drawings and animations depict a sense of masquerading. His pictures show how people can communicate a sense of happiness in their facial gestures when they are in fact feeling sad inside. This communicates well how people can feel pressured to show a happy façade with perhaps the fear of rejection if they do not. Ultimately, this may reflect a fear of further loss.
Freud’s theory on bereavement has been conceived as a process where the bereaved adjusts to the reality of their loss, enabling them to disconnect from the deceased and to reconnect in new relationships.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) suggests children up to the age of 3 are only concerned with separation and death can feel temporary. From 5 years old they see death as if someone has been taken away and between 9 – 10 years old a child will start to show the understanding that death is permanent.
Worden (2019) sets out four tasks of mourning:
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Work through the pain and grief
- Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing
- Emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life
Silverman and Klass (1996) don’t see bereavement or grieving as fully resolved, culminating in “closure” or “recovery”; rather than “letting go” the bereaved thinks and re-thinks the meaning of their loss over time. Death is permanent, but grieving and mourning can keep the presence of the deceased in the web of the family, they are remembered not forgotten and continue to have a role in the memories of the bereaved.
The effect of losing a loved one can be very dramatic and each person has their own way of dealing with the specific loss. When feelings of deep attachment are broken or lost, an individual will experience distress and emotional feelings such as anxiety, crying and anger. People who’ve had depression in the past can develop a reaction to loss.
Hagman suggests that the process of mourning includes three successive, interrelated phases; the success of each affecting the next: –
1) Understanding, accepting and coping with the loss and its circumstances.
2) The mourning proper, which involves withdrawal of attachment to and identification with the lost object (decathexis).
3) Resumption of emotional life in harmony with one’s level of maturity, which frequently involves establishing new relationships (decathexis).
The manner in which grief is expressed can often be culturally related. In a more male dominated culture such as the Arabic culture the expression of showing emotion may not be encouraged or even accepted and this could lead to dismissal of their feelings. We must remember that both culture and religion may also affect how a person grieves and recover.
Acts such as funeral ceremonies are a good way of saying goodbye and achieving a sense of closure. Some people remain in denial and continue to say they can see, hear and even see the deceased but this can also be a kind of comfort for the people left behind.
As discussed earlier, Kubler Ross (1996) identified the 5 stages of loss; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When I read this, I was able to identify with these stages and recognise that I experienced them myself when my very close friend who was 27 years old at the time passed away. I recall feeling anger at the time and felt she was too young to lose their life, and this felt unfair. On reflection I recognise that I felt robbed of a young close friend. Kubler also documents feelings of depression in those suffering losses. After losing my mother who had been sick for many years my feelings were mixed, I felt more of a relief for her as she was not suffering any more, but I felt completely empty and numb.
In our seminar on this topic we had two presentations. The first was a short clip from the film “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) which covers the effect of divorce on a family. Ted the father, a workaholic arrives home to discover his wife Joanna is leaving him, and he is to raise their son Billy by himself. At first, they resent Joanna leaving as Ted has no time to carry on normally with his workload and their son Billy of course is missing his mother’s love and attention. However after a few months of unrest, Ted and Billy start to cope and gradually bond as father and son. After fifteen months Joanna returns to claim Billy and they start a custody battle which becomes very brutal. Custody is eventually given to Joanna with the assumption that a child is best raised by his mother however on the day Joanna goes to pick up Billy she tells Ted that Billy’s place is with him.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” reflected a cultural shift which occurred during the 1970s, when ideas about motherhood and fatherhood were changing. The film was widely praised for the way in which it gave equal weight and importance to both Joanna and Ted’s points of view. Ebert R. (1979)
In the second presentation we were shown illustrations by the artist ‘Mac’ of how a divorce affects a family in a simple and deeply saddening comic of a family unit breaking down. When I saw these simple black and white pictures it made me think of many of my friends who have or are going through a divorce and was able to see in simple form the effect this has on the children.
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In some cultures one parent might go away for work and as a result there is a missing parent. Some children can feel separation by moving countries and losing the emotional support they might have had with extended family. In some cultures, such as South American cultures and particularly in the Catholic church there is stigma attached to divorce which can affect not only the parents but also the children.
In a paper I read about the Theory on Attachment which was developed by Harlow, Bowlby and Ainsworth (1969) determining personality and behaviour throughout an individual’s lifetime ‘attachment’ can be defined as the strong bond that develops first between parent and child, and later in peer and romantic relationships (Bowlby, 1969). It is often reported that children of divorce have trouble adapting to different stages of their lives because of their experience with broken or detached attachment bonds.
For children, divorce can be a sad, stressful, and confusing period. No matter what age a child is they may feel shocked, uncertain, or angry because their parents are splitting up. Children may believe that they had something to do with the divorce, remembering the times they argued with their parents or did badly at school. ‘Parental alienation syndrome’ is a term introduced by Richard Gardner in 1985 to describe behaviour in children exposed to family separation or divorce where children are rejected by a parent.
Divorce has sadly become “the norm” but the result is still dramatic on child and the impact it has is still the same and it can cause many different problems as the child grows up. It is true that every family deal with a divorce differently, but in some families, some come out better and stronger after the divorce.
Goldstein J, Freud A and Solnit A say that ‘the keyword here is ‘continuity.’ When it is interrupted by divorce very young children can withdraw, regress or become depressed. After studying children who were separated from their families after WWII Freud A suggested that a child’s relationship with parents should never be disconnected and ‘what counts is the child’s degree of attachment and whether the child feels wanted and needed …… not to score against a spouse in a divorce.’
Kemp G, Smith M and Segal J (2019) set out in their online help guide ‘Dealing with Divorce’ that it may help for parents to tell their children why they have decided to get a divorce to help them accept that it is not because of them. It is important to be patient with children who may go through a range of emotions throughout their lives. Reassurance is important especially for parents to tell their children that they love them and it’s not their fault. The guide suggests children are helped to find words for their feelings and to let them be honest when talking about the divorce. Children should be encouraged to acknowledge their feelings and that parents should give reassurance and love and they should never vent negative feelings about their partners to their child.
I had both parents as I was growing up, but my father that travelled a lot for his work, and he was away a lot and as a result my mother was the care giver. We left my country when I was just 9 years old and my father carried on travelling for his work. For some reason I thought it was up to me (even though I was the youngest) to keep my family safe as my father wasn’t around. I used to sleep with a toy gun under my pillow as I really believed that I could protect the family.
Resilience and good feelings
Resilience is being able to adapt in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or stress and being able to bounce back from difficult or unpleasant situations: to be able to cope with problems and setbacks on a day to day basis and come back stronger.
‘It’s the ability to stand firm and strong in the face of stressors’ Ivtzan (2015) and Cicchetti (2010) suggests resilience is ‘to remain hopeful in the face of difficulty’ which is not the same as having distress or denying it. ‘It’s the ability to manage stress and not the amount of stress someone experiences that predicts psychological and physical health outcomes.’ Sin (2015)
It can exist in a person who might uses mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting themselves from the potential negative stressful situations it can also exist in people who develop psychological and behavioural capabilities that will let them remain calm during a crisis and move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences. Positive emotions and a sense of wellbeing are linked to better and healthier outcomes.
Studies have been done to explore why experiencing adversity does not necessarily result in negative outcomes from young people. Resilience theorists tend to agree that one or more protective factors can reduce the effects of exposure to adversity. The more protective factors available, the more resilient a young person can be.
Young people need exposure to positive experiences and people as well as opportunities to gain and refine skills. It has been seen that prolonged exposure to negative life events, dangerous environments and inadequate education are likely to negatively affect young people’s life chances.
It is important to remember that resilience is not only about trying to get over a deeply stressful situation, but also coming out of the sad situation with “competent functioning”. It allows a person to rebound from adversity as a strengthened and more resourceful person.
Some people may take the ‘victim role’ by blaming others and refusing any coping methods offered even after the crisis is over. These people prefer to instinctively react, rather than respond to the situation.
Those who do respond to the adverse conditions do do by changing the way they deal with the situation, in order to put a stop on a bad situation. Negative emotions including fear, anger, anxiety, distress, helplessness, and hopelessness can weaken a person’s ability to solve the problems they face, causing them to have difficulty building their resiliency. Constant fears and worries can weaken a person’s immune system and increase their chances of continuous illness. Coping strategies may be helped by good families, schools, local communities, and social policies that can make good feelings more likely to occur.
Resilience and good feelings can be due to a person being able to connect with their everyday life, their environments, and having the well-being to protect themselves against the risk factors. In recent years the importance of resilience, wellbeing and positive affect has been taken much more seriously by researchers.
Music (2017) sets out that the psychobiological systems for processing negative and positive experiences are different, and the power of one over another will affect wellbeing and emotional and physical health. It’s possible to make a difference on many levels, whether by working with families, schools, individuals, communities, or society as a whole. ‘Resilience comes from hope and positive action, and there are grounds to have plenty of this.’ Music (2017)
He also explains that children develop a capacity to manage both good and bad experiences with good experiences protecting us when bad ones come along. However facing and managing bad experiences can also be good for us and foster resilience. Kennedy (2013) says some children, so-called ‘orchids’ are more affected by bad experiences as well as good ones.
Peer based programs can increase protective factors and increase resilience for young people through access to positive role models, a safe space, knowledge of where to get help, opportunities to learn and develop skills and the chance to build a sense of attachment and belonging.
Some factors can help a person built their resilience: – to be able to make realistic plans, being able to take necessary steps to help them get there, to be able to communicate with people and to solve problem and to control strong impulses and feelings.
My own personal experience taught me to build my resilience to cope with everyday situations, by remembering the bad times and not wanting to go back there again. I try and do positive things and to help others who might have similar experiences
When completing this assignment, re-reading the papers and researching additional information it became clear that there is a connection between my chosen topics and how they can have similar mental, emotional and physical effect on both children, young people and adults. It is important to understand the different ways in which one can help and be supportive to others who have experienced trauma of some sort and discovering the theories of different practitioners such as Freud and Melanie Klein and more recent theorists can help to further develop this understanding. It is understood that early childhood experiences and traumas that can shape later life can however also develop strength and resilience.
War, conflict andloss of homeland
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Illness in the family
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