Human beings tend to gravitate to what feels familiar, because the familiar feels safe. Change can be scary. It means letting go of old habits, old ways of thinking and beliefs that we have built up over time in order to keep ourselves feeling safe. But keeping ourselves safe can also mean keeping ourselves stuck.
So we can want to change, but at the same time, we fear the process of changing. It’s a bit like clinging to a buoy in the middle of deep water when, not far off, we can see a lush green island. In order to get there, we need to let go of the buoy that has been keeping us afloat for so long: we have to take the risk.
As young children, we depend on our parents for everything. We need to preserve an image of a good parent in our minds in order to be able to rely on them for our survival: life would be too terrifying if we didn’t. So, when something bad happens, like the death of a parent, or the break-up of a parental relationship, the child, in order to preserve the ‘goodness’ of the parents, may make sense of what has happened by assuming the bad thing occurred because of something bad in them. And if communication is not opened up to reveal and then challenge this assumption, the child can continue to believe they are bad in a powerful and dangerous way. The fear of this ‘badness’ gives rise to huge anxiety, and a desire to make things right, to please, in order to mitigate the badness.
People can often mistakenly think that it is better not to involve children in the ‘adult’ world of death and separation. But although this may be done with the child’s best interests at heart, all it does is isolate the child and leaves them alone with their assumptions and anxieties, and these can fester long into adulthood.
Open communication, on the other hand, when parents can communicate in a civilised, open way and the children can be helped to voice their anxieties, creates much more resilience in the child and the effects of divorce and separation can be minimised.