Divorce occurs in more than fifty percent of married couples. For some people, divorce causes an immense amount of stress that can result in negative health conditions, such as depression and decreased social functioning. “Although most adults ultimately fare well following the end of marriage, which is consistent with humans’ general capacity for resilience in the face of difficulty experiences, a subset of people become stuck on pathways of long-term stress and strain,” said Jessica L. Borelli, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at Pomona College in California. Curious as to why some people adjust better than others after divorce, she theorized that previous trauma affected this outcome. “Said differently, we ask if people who have experienced trauma and who respond behaviorally to their divorce in a particular way are at unique risk for poor outcomes over time,” said Borelli, of her recent study investigating the relationship between trauma and divorce adjustment.
Research has shown that there are physical changes that occur in the brains of people who have suffered traumatic events. These changes impact how they respond to future trauma. “The documented link between prior experiences of trauma and pathological reactions to subsequent trauma supports the general idea that trauma sensitizes people to respond differently to stressful events,” said Borelli. For her study, Borelli interviewed 99 adults in the midst of a divorce and again seven and half months later. “We found that the greater the number of different (self-reported) traumatic experiences, the greater the individual’s self-reported psychological distress (emotional intrusion and physiological hyper-arousal) at Time 1.” Borelli added, “The greater the number of traumatic events the participant reported experiencing, the more difficulty he or she reported experiencing when talking about his or her divorce experience.” In addition to narrative impairment, Borelli found that self-blame was a common factor for those who had experienced previous trauma. She said, “Overall, the findings suggest that trauma history is associated with more negative concurrent psychological reactions to the divorce, and when coupled with self-focused processing of the experience, increases in distress over time.”
Borelli, Jessica L., and David A. Sbarra. “Trauma History and Linguistics Self-Focus Moderate the Course of Psychological Adjustment To Divorce.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 30.7 (2011): 667-698. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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