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TitleThe only-child adolescent's lived experience of parental divorce
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The only-child adolescent’s lived
experience of parental divorce

DH Dorfman


Dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the
degree Masters in Social Work in Play Therapy at the
Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University

Supervisor: Mrs I.F. Jacobs

May 2015

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With much appreciation and gratitude I would like to thank the following people who

contributed to this research and provided me with assistance, guidance and much

needed encouragement and motivation to complete this study.

Issie Jacobs, my study leader – thank you for all the support, guidance,

encouragement, motivation and enthusiasm you provided throughout this process.

The participant involved in the study – thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, for

your co-operation, honesty and willingness to share your experiences with me.

My family, friends and boyfriend – thank you for having the patience and support

during this time. Your love, guidance and encouragement will never be forgotten and

I appreciate your support and patience throughout this process.

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4.2.2 Fear

Theorists, such as, Zinsmeister (1997:63) and Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik and

MacKinnon (2011:85) have conducted many studies about the fears of adolescents

who have lost a parent, especially through divorce. Schoenfelder et al. (2011:87) and

Zinmeister (1997:63) explain that after parental divorce, adolescents specifically

demonstrate fear of abandonment, and loss of love. Accompanied with these fears

adolescents most often according to Hooper (2005:191) also fear about what will

come in the future. This is often accompanied by grieving and feelings of rejection

and fear of further rejection and loss.

Schoenfelder et al. (2011:91) in particular state that adolescents that have

experienced abandonment issues are likely to experience psychological challenges,

based primarily on the fear that the abandonment will recur. For example, the

participant who felt abandoned by her father and who experienced a loss of trust in

people struggled with her anger and fear that her friends and her boyfriend will also

abandon her. The fear that her boyfriend in particular might also leave her (in other

words fear of the repetition of loss), seems to be pertinent in her thoughts as she

worries “… that one day he (her boyfriend) is just going to decide he is just gonna go

or just gonna leave or not stick around.”

The participant’s reaction to the fear of loss and love was to experience recurrent

thoughts of the traumatic events that took place. She did not only dream of these

events, but her fears resulted in her experiencing difficulty to concentrate in school

and in an effort to avoid thinking of the trauma she hung out in the wrong peer

groups, using drugs and coping with the pain by cutting. Repetition of loss

Bowlby (1998:174) defines loss as a circumstance of losing someone or something

that is in actual fact detrimental to the adolescent seeing that this person or entity,

now absent, has or should occupy a key responsibility in the beneficial functioning of

the adolescent.

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Carnes (1997:24-26) explains trauma repetition as being something experienced by

the sufferer to bring clarification to a traumatic memory. It is a way of handling old

traumas, but as an alternative to solving the past, it generates new wounds,

increasing the problem. From the sandtray scene (refer to Addendum E), it was

revealed and expressed by the participant that she experienced fear due to the loss

of a father and fear of losing friendships and more people in her life. The participant

further explained that she fear the repetition of not only actual loss but also fear of

further loss.

When taking Erikson’s (1974:90) “psychosocial crisis” stages into account, each

stage (as has also been referred to earlier) insists upon resolution before the

individual can move forward successfully onto the next stage. If milestones are not

reached in each stage, it often causes regression and the inability to achieve the

proceeding developmental goals. Many studies, according to Kelly (2000:963), have

shown that when and if this regression is present once an individual reaches the

stage of adolescence, similar patterns are often chosen, such as to follow in

response to the individual’s experience of parental divorce. Carnes (in Eckes &

Radunovich, 2007:1) sees these similar patterns as an individual who might be

repeating traumas. When a typical reaction to trauma is present many symptoms can

arise such as anxieties, fears, antisocial behaviour, sadness and fear of separation

from loved ones.

The researcher agrees with Benokraitis’ (2005:444) notion that one of the most

important changes in an adolescent’s life, when divorce and parental conflict is

present, is the way the parents handle the situation and the guidance they offer. The

researcher further agrees that if there was a more civilised handling of the divorce

(Benokraitis, 2005:445), that there would be less likeliness for a repeat pattern of the

grief and loss as well as less trauma and stress on the adolescent.

The participant shared how she has already experienced hurt by many people in her

life which might be the reason why she does not open up to people easily as she

believes they will just leave her like others have. During this discussion it seems as if

the participant has come to a new awareness for not opening up to people when she

mentioned that, “I think [not being able to open up to people] has something to do

with my trust issues.” During the discussion when the participant spoke about “the

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