Family Violence - Cognitive Dissidence and the Puppet Child

The saddest part of family violence and the legal abuse syndrome is the impact on children, both on them and within them. When a child is severed from their protective parenta silent epidemiclife for this child is never the same.

 

domestic violenceFirst, they are led to believe that the protective parent abandoned them. From this, they are to conclude that this protective parent "really" doesn't love them.

The net result of this thinking is: on a core level, they are not lovable. Well, this is quite a burden for a child to bear.

However, children like adults naturally seek to resolve the cognitive dissidence inherent in this internal dilemma. Before I go on to elaborate further, let's step back and define cognitive dissidence.

What is Cognitive Dissidence?

"Cognitive dissidence" is a psychological term referring to the tension state in which our "beliefs," "feelings" and "actions" are incongruent. That is, when these three aspects of our existence are not in-sink.

So for example, a child (let's say a young boy) believes his mother (the person more often in this situation) abandoned him. Yet, he feels deep in his being her loving connection to him and his to her, and his actions are to seek her out. Ouch!!!

The tension grows as this inner disharmony lingers. So, what then happens? The psyche seeks to resolve the disharmony by attempting to bring the three elements into congruence...into harmony.

How Do We Resolve Cognitive Dissidence?

Typically this is done by redefining each of these elements just as one re-calculates a mathematical operation. How do they get redefined? As with most things in life, one moves to the direction of the loudest voice, the more pervasive input, the more "in-your-face" perspective.

I bet you're getting the way the child must resolve the cognitive dissidence in this situation. With mother physically out of the picture and father's (plus his full family) ongoing input and ability to regulate the child's entire rewards system, the child will do what?

Obviously the child will let the beliefs set the norm, and both feelings and actions will follow suit to harmonize all three so as to reflect the dominant current input. And thereby, move to resolve the cognitive dissidence.

Long Term Danger for the Puppet Child

But here's the danger later in life for the child. When this child changes the actions, there can be so much external, positive reinforcement that doing so is almost effortless. New action - withdraw from mom.

But the feeling part, well that's the part that tricks you up every time. Because even though the child will swallow the loving feeling for his mother at least externally, these feelings lie dormant within. And the result of this is an incomplete resolution of the cognitive dissidence...a "puppet child."

Now I wish there was an upbeat, hopeful way to end this article, but I'm afraid there isn't. There is however, some advice I can share with anyone who is an estranged parent or has a puppet child.

It's not about you! Your experience of your inner well-being must not require your child's efforts to resolve his/her cognitive dissonance to be any way other than the way it is.

Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps people recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse. She is a 25-year seasoned psychologist, published author, speaker and leading expert in identifying the subtle communication patterns of abusive relationships.

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