Do psychologists reinforce defense mechanisms?

“The kids will be fine if the adults are happy,” may serve as a buttress for a child’s defense mechanism, hindering progress in coping with the loss of his first family.


Until VERY recently, I never, ever, EVER allowed myself to dwell on my first family as an intact unit, how much I missed it, or how angry and sad I was about its demise.

Even though I was only three when my parents split up, I remember us being together in our home in Mission Viejo. I remember exactly how the inside of the home was laid out and where the home was situated on the cul-de-sac. In fact, not long after I got my driver’s license when I was 16, I was curious to see if I remembered where the house was. I drove there and sure enough, I found it. I know I found it because I later described it to my mother and she confirmed that I was correct. I also described the inside of the house, and she confirmed this as well.

quisp cerealI remember other things too, such as the color of our family car (black),  us sitting on the sofa together in the family room watching Star Trek and Petticoat Junction, and sitting at the coffee table eating Quisp cereal in a plastic bowl in the morning.

I am trying to understand the mechanics of why I literally NEVER dwelt on us being together, or on how much I missed my first family. I only recently began to allow myself to grieve its loss, over four decades later. I kept everything locked up inside, in a location I never explored. All of my thoughts and feelings about everything that happened because of the separation were blocked from my conscious mind. Nobody ever told me not to think about my first family, so perhaps this was a defense mechanism, my unconscious mind protecting me from experiencing the loss.

The defense mechanism didn’t make those things go away, it created what I now call “divorce fog” surrounding how I really felt. It confused me for years, decades, about what was really going on inside me. Psychological professionals were saying, “Don’t worry about the divorce. Your child will be fine if you are happy.” And I internalized this. It served as a sacrosanct reason to avoid thinking about my first family. After all, professionals said I didn’t need to, and I was just a child. What could I possibly know compared to somebody who has a Ph.D. in psychology?buttresses

Let me summarize what I see: we have a profound loss, a defense mechanism that kicks in to shield the child from the pain of the loss, and psychological professionals reinforcing the child’s defense mechanism, like buttresses on a wall. They do this by insisting that “the kids will be fine if the parents are happy.”

I don’t think I’m too far afield here. The adoptee community has expressed similar frustration at how the psychological profession has ignored their (first family) losses.



Author: everybodysdaughter

I'm an adult child of divorce, having been raised in multiple divorce/remarriage situations. I'm writing in order to shed light on the problems of divorce from the perspective of the child. I will also discuss problems with other non-triad family structures, since there is a lot of overlap. People often think that better parenting skills will overcome problems in non-triad arrangements. While I agree that parenting skills are important, they cannot overcome the problems I discuss such as fractured ontology and perpetual liminality. I converted to the Catholic faith in 2012, and will discuss Catholic things from time to time as well.

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