Or bullying, or the death of a parent, or living with warring parents, or a parent with a disability, or mental health issues, or poverty, 

They are called Adverse Childhood Experiences

Too many people dismiss these as life – it’s just part of life. Life is hard. And you have to just get on with it.

So as a child you get on with it. Never really understanding what exactly it is that you did wrong.

When you look around you, and you see other families functioning, caring for each other, showing up for each other you wonder why? Why don’t I have that? What happened? What did I do wrong?

And you may have a memory of being told your Dad was leaving, or that he wasn’t coming home, or that he doesn’t love us anymore, or your older brother saying it was your fault, or breaking a mirror around that time, or the cat falling out of your bedroom window: and so you develop self-worth wounds, feeling

Not good enough

Not important

Not loveable

Not worthy

And you don’t just develop one, but all four.

Which you feel in every part of your body.

And you’re told that you just have to get on with it.  To deal with it. And you are 6/7/8 (I’m not sure of the exact age because divorce doesn’t happen overnight and the dates of the decree nisi and absolute are just dates on legal documents.  And it’s not as though the occasion is commemorated. 

So I have to get on with it, and deal with it. So let’s explore what IT actually is.

A broken heart

A family that will never be the same again

A bewildered sad little girl who doesn’t know what is happening

A loneliness and a feeling of isolation that is terrifying because it’s the 80s and divorce is just starting to happen and no-one else is going through it.

And I’m only 6/7/8.

I can’t leave.

I don’t want to stay.

I don’t have anyone to talk to that can help.

I wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

And there is a deep sadness in my heart that won’t go away.

I’m told to be grateful – lucky even! Two holidays a year, double presents at Christmas, meals out, two houses…

What others don’t see is:

The friends at school walking away from you when you say that your parents are getting a divorce.

Hiding the feelings of sadness at the end of a visit to Dad, for fear that it will upset or anger Mum

The constant fear of being happy in case it upsets Mum, because she is sad

The constant uncertainty, not knowing if the other parent will turn up for their visits

Being introduced to your Dads new girlfriend – going to their new house, not knowing how to behave so just being a good little girl. And you smile and behave. You are expected to trust and connect with a new set of people simply because your parent has chosen these new people are now part of your life. Step grandparents, step uncles, step aunties, step sisters, half sisters, step mothers, step fathers – and the step isn’t given any guidance instruction support for a child who is developing and learning how to connect.

And that is just a few examples of what others don’t see.

Feelings of overwhelm, hopelessness, confusion, self-loathing, isolation and fear.

Which can lead to behaviours such as anger, frustration, aggression, emotional eating, isolation, imposter syndrome, catastrophising, people pleasing, lying, insomnia, anger, teeth grinding, chewing the inside of your mouth.

IT isn’t just two houses or more presents. IT can be toxic stress, toxic shame, trauma, dysregulated nervous system, fear.

And these can lead to chronic illness, depression, anxiety, pain.

And I’m only 6/7/8.

And that’s just the beginning of the long shadow of divorce.

What helped?

A person who cared about me. A lovely neighbour. A beloved grandad. Friends.

What didn’t help?

Government statistics broadcasting the impact of divorce on children stating that they are X % more likely to end up unemployed, on drugs, homeless and in prison. I can’t remember the exact statistic but I remember clear as day where I was in  that moment when I heard the news reporter on the BBC sharing that information.

The BBC. So it must be true.

So I got on with IT. I dealt with IT.

If you want to, you can look at the successes – after all looking at the bright side and the positives is much more comfortable isn’t it?

I have a university degree, I haven’t claimed unemployment benefit, I own my own home, I drive, I have a car, I have been married for 20 years and I have a beautiful daughter.

So if you want you can use me as an example of a positive outcome.  An example of resilience that I read on the website of The Divorce Coach as she promotes the benefits of divorce.

I would have much rather developed resilience from a stable family unit.  Like other people do.  I would have much rather my whole life experience had been based on a feeling of love and hope and dreams rather than fear and danger and eggshells.

I have had to carry feelings of:

Not good enough

Not important

Not loveable

Not worthy

It wasn’t until my mid forties that I realised that the reason why these feelings are constant is because they are in my bones.

My subconscious.

 And they have been at the root of my depression, my anxiety, my self-sabotaging, my people pleasing, my lack of healthy boundaries, my procrastinating, my imposter syndrome. 

My life experience is best described as complex, compounded, complicated traumatic stress. 

And it’s an ongoing healing journey because it isn’t over.

Not one part of my life has been untouched by my experience of divorce.

The only positive for me is that my experience of divorce means that I will continue to work on my marriage, my parenting, my role as a wife and a mother to do everything I can to ensure that my husband, my child and I know that we are:

Good enough




And other people’s behaviours and life decisions are not about us. And that I can learn how to connect from a place of self, knowing what feels right and what fulfils my sense of purpose.

And now I want to share with others what the impact has been for me in the hope that others can understand why they may feel the way they do and what they can do about it.

42% of marriages end in divorce, if you include cohabiting families who separate that’s nearer 55%.

So that leaves 45% of families intact, but are they healthy?

More needs to be done to support children of divorce, parents impacted by divorce.

Interpret behaviours differently, understand how to translate the body’s response to threat or pressure, and discover ways to help children, parents and families get on with IT – even 40 years later. 

You may not have come from a stable, healthy, connected family, but it’s not too late to create one. 

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